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‘Broken Glass’ should serve as a solemn reminder

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Lessons of Kristallnacht go beyond the history books

by Stan Zoller
sprclogoImagine if you will, that one day your administration comes in and without cause, dismantles your journalism classroom, publication office, and burns every copy of your newspaper and yearbook.

Then, without provocation or notice, the administration corralls your student media staff and yourself and threatens you with termination and your students with expulsion.

All because of who you were and the fact that you and your students advocated and used a voice.

Sound preposterous?

Sure it does.

But in fact it has happened.

Monday, Nov. 10, was the 75th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht,’ often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” The events of Nov. 9 – 10 were an effort by the Third Reich to round up and arrest more than 30,000 Jews and destroy as much of the property as possible.   In addition to destroying homes and personal property, synagogues were targeted as well as their contents.

While Kristallnacht is often connected to broken glass, a focus of the attacks was on the books by Jewish authors. Fires raged throughout Germany as books were burned.

For those journalism educators who teach J-1, a primary lesson focuses, of course, on the First Amendment. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. How simple is that? And how many times has a young journalist rolled their eyes as they strain to remember them.

It’s easy to forget when there are other things to do – like Tweet, eat, and, of course, meet a deadline.

It’s easy to forget when we are fortunate to have freedom of expression, even if it’s challenged by an overzealous administration.

But the reality is that we can’t forget, which is why Holocaust awareness efforts often include the phrases ‘Never Forget’ or ‘Never Again.’

Cynics will say it’s a “Jewish thing” and an isolated case, but if you take a deep breath and look what at transpired after Kristallnacht, it was more than a “Jewish thing.”

Perhaps as a devout and practicing Jew I am more sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust and the events leading up to it. Like Kristallnacht.

But I am a career journalist and a journalism educator, so I have had the luxury to practice what the Germans tried to take away 75 years ago.

The images and stories of Kristallnacht are chilling, as are most stories associated with the Holocaust. It’s the lessons, however, that we need to take away.

The intent of Kristallnacht, historians say, was to silence the Jews, eradicate their freedom of expression, destroy their freedom of speech, keep them from assembly, let alone their right to petition. As for the freedom of the press – nonexistent.

Nazi Germany did not have First Amendment rights. Imagine if you will, what life would be like in the United States if we did not have First Amendment rights.

Imagine if you will, coming to school and facing the chaos of a Kristallnacht. You probably can’t. The lessons associated with the First Amendment need to go beyond rote memorization. Students, whether in a journalism class or civics class need to understand what life would be like if we did not have First Amendment rights. They also need to imagine what it would be like if prior review and prior restraint were government mandated daily routines to silence student voices and reprimand those who taught students to have that voice.

Sure, it’s “only” 45 words, but the power behind them is unprecedented as is our right to practice them.

Perhaps educators and student journalists – or maybe all journalists need to reflect on that when Kristallnacht is remembered.

Because when you think about it, it’s not just a “Jewish thing.”

One Comment

  1. Outstanding reminder of the reality of a world without freedom of speech and press. Those 45 words do make a difference in the lives of a whole nation. Wouldn’t it be great if this were true around the world?

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