Kristallnacht in Canada?


Bob Friedland

A note to the reader: I have never met Mr. Friedland, who resides in Victoria, BC. He has kindly permitted me to publish his article, which I believe bears an eloquent - but sad - reminder for us all. November, 1997

For a small moment, I thought that I had stepped onto the film set of a motion picture production company. Two, very ordinary-looking, middle-aged businessmen were casually discussing their desire to murder men, women and children. But it was no Hollywood, horror-movie script these men were reciting.

I was in a downtown Canadian city, in a very ordinary office building, in the year, 1997. Perhaps it was because the door of the elevator had opened without much sound. Or it may have been that the two businessmen were so pre-occupied with their conversation that they were oblivious to their surroundings. But as I stepped off the elevator, and found my way blocked by the two of them, they failed to notice that I was waiting for them to step aside so that I might complete my errand.

The two men were wearing very ordinary suits and ties. They were speaking in ordinary speaking voices, not in hushed conspiratorial tones. So I heard them quite clearly. The first one said, "The Jews need to be thinned out again, like the Germans did in the war." The second businessman nodded agreement, and said, "Yes, but you have to be careful who you say that to." At that, they both looked around, and noticing me, the second businessman added, "See?" Then they parted quickly, one ducked down the nearby stairway. The other went into an adjacent office.

For a moment, I stood there, transfixed, quite amazed by the transaction. I tried to think if there was any other possible construction that could be put on the words that I had so clearly heard. It did not seem likely.

What did it mean? People seldom hold unique opinions, but rather tend to share the same opinion held by a number of others. These were two businessmen, apparently from more than one business. They evidently shared the same opinion that, "Jews should be thinned out." With how many other residents of this city, of Canada, did they share this genocidal imperative?

Thirty-seven years ago, when Adolf Eichmann was tried in Israel for his World War II role as one of the chief Nazi bureaucrats of the Holocaust, political philosopher and author, Hannah Arendt, coined the phrase, "the banality of evil". This is what so struck me about the two businessmen - their extremely everyday appearance. Eichmann was a lower echelon sales manager in an oil company before the war. He would go on to become Germany's traffic manager of mass murder, re-routing rolling stock from all of Europe's railroads to expedite his consignments of proscribed humans for extermination.

Was there anything encouraging in this episode? At least these two particular anti-Semites were not denying the reality of the Holocaust. In addition, they seemed to be aware that it was not entirely socially acceptable to publicly advocate the murder of their fellow citizens, in Canada, in 1997.

One might fairly conclude from a study of history and sociology, that racism is a constant thread in the social fabric of all nations and all peoples. Certainly, this century has more than once witnessed the awful consequences for a society, and particularly for its demonized minority,when that twisted thread of hate penetrates public discourse, and becomes the official policy of the state. In Germany, and in the Nazi-occupied lands of Europe, during the second world war, virtually every institution of government and society, including the law, the courts, the churches, and the universities, failed.

In, William Golding's terrifying, 1954 novel, "Lord of theFlies," a group of very proper, uniformed, English schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island, are soon reduced to a state of savagery, and murder a number of their fellow students. At the height of the killing frenzy, one of Golding's schoolboys comes before the flyblown, flybuzzing, rotting head of a wild boar they have killed and erected upon a pike in a bloody ceremony of death. The voice of the head observes, "Fancy thinking that the beast was something you could hunt and kill."

Many Canadians honestly wonder why we still need human rights commissions. They believe that the battle against racism and discrimination is one that has been won, once and for all, that, "the beast was something you could hunt and kill." For our own reasons, many of us would prefer to believe that racism no longer exists in our society, or in our city. It is more comfortable. It is less threatening to our sense of well-being. It requires little thought, and no action.

This November 9, will mark the fifty-ninth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass." On that date,in 1938, government organized, anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria resulted in the killing of 36 Jews, the deportation of 30,000 others to concentrations camps, the burning of 267 synagogues, the looting of 7,000 Jewish shops and businesses, and the levy of a billion mark fine on theJewish community. Kristallnacht was, in fact, the prelude to the Holocaust.

It has been said, that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I will not forget that, on a certain Monday in October, two, very ordinary businessmen in a downtown Canadian city, casually discussed the murder of Jews.

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Revised November 6, 1997