By Daryl Temkin, Ph.D.

November 12, 2006

Last week was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, which was commemorated in Los Angeles with a lecture and ceremony at, of all places, a Catholic university, Loyola Marymount University. The audience consisted of an impressive and diverse mixture of Jesuit priests, Holocaust survivors, community members, Loyola faculty members, and a group of Jewish as well as non-Jewish university graduate students.

One of the many infamous milestones of the Holocaust years is named, The Night of Broken Glass. It occurred in Germany on November 9th, 1938. This was the night when Jewish life in Germany took another downward turn and hundreds of Jewish owned businesses, homes and places of worship were vandalized, destroyed and even burned to the ground.

Jews of Germany were shocked to watch and experience this radical change in German society. Jews were rapidly being dehumanized. They soon became regarded as non-citizens and social outcasts. Beyond all the ugly destruction that took place on Kristallnacht, there was an additional ugly occurrence. As the Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were burning, the German firemen arrived on the scene but not for the purpose of putting out the fires. The German firemen stood by with all their fire equipment ready for action, but they did not attempt to save Jewish property. The German firemen were there to make sure that the fires would destroy only Jewish property.

On that night, Jews who never thought that cultured, well mannered, and sophisticated German citizens could possibly lower themselves to behavior far worse than animals were in the shock of disbelief. Suddenly, Jewish property, including books and Torah scrolls, became the enemy of the German people and were wantonly desecrated, burned, and destroyed.

The lessons learned on that evening of Kristallnacht were many — including that when people are lawfully permitted to act in a lawless fashion, no matter how refined they might have been, riotous animalistic behavior can suddenly be unleashed. This historic contemptible event showed that when laws controlling human behavior are withdrawn, the unimaginable may occur.

The Night of Broken Glass not only shattered thousands of windows, but it shattered thousands of souls. The rude awakening of what laid ahead came into focus on this night. The horror of the burning property and broken glass led to the horror of millions of lives being physically destroyed and millions of lives being emotionally scarred with nightmares and emotional trauma that would last for generations.

Currently, we are fortunate to still have some Holocaust survivors with us, but within the next decade the Holocaust will have to be understood and remembered only from books, films, and students of history. The personal testimony of this “unbelievable” event is diminished with the natural loss of each survivor.

Unbelievable events are perplexing. Events are unbelievable because they seem contrary to what is typically called “human nature.” Human nature is what we are accustomed to as being within a “normal range” of human behavior. Behavior beyond what is considered to be “normal” is considered “unbelievable”. When the “unbelievable” or “hard to believe” event is mixed with acts of extreme evil, the event can become beyond conceivability. If not conceivable, how can it be real?

Unbelievable behavior, if not supported and clearly witnessed, can easily be questioned and even dismissed for lack of credibility. After all, who wants to believe that humankind could possibly behave with such evil and cold heartedness? This is profoundly seen with the Holocaust denial literature that has been promulgated even while Holocaust survivors are still alive.

At last week’s Kristallnacht commemoration, a survivor of that horror-filled night shared his memories of the “unbelievable”. Although he was just a child at that time, his memories contained detailed clarity. He spoke about his German childhood friends who would play with him daily; and suddenly were no longer allowed to be his friends. Childhood relationships that had been filled with friendship, fun, and intrigue, became tainted overnight with brutal anti-Semitic name-calling and multiple acts of degradation and harassment.
Then, the survivor spoke about his memories of his father. He said that his father was a great lover of German life and culture. His father was an eternal optimist. And then the survivor said something that chilled many in the room. He said, “My father’s optimism made it impossible for him to deal with the signs of the time and to properly respond to the evil that was about to happen.”

This single sentence became the outstanding thought of the Kristallnacht commemoration. It was also stated that today’s world is not so different than the events of sixty and seventy years ago. Even though many German and European Jews felt safe and protected in their pre- Holocaust host countries, now, in hindsight, we see the many signs of impending danger that were missed or refused to be taken seriously. The Jewish belief in the goodness of humankind created a “limitless optimism” which included the belief that refined European culture could never allow the evil being discussed to become a reality.

Optimism can be an enormous strength in human character and behavior allowing for steadfastness and hope to overcome great challenges. However, optimism can also become a type of blindness. Optimism can prevent one from seeing grave dangers when the danger is real and imminent. Misplaced optimism or optimism without meaningful limits can delude persons from seeing the very thing that they need to see. This applies to major episodes of human evil where unlimited optimism can rationalize the evil intentions as being “just their way of thinking”.

Healthy optimism avoids the blindness wherein distinctions can no longer be made between good and evil, and when evil becomes “good” because blind optimism infers there can be no such thing as evil. In contrast, healthy optimism effectively recognizes an impending danger and identifies evil actions as well as evil plans.

In the case of an impending danger or evil plans, optimism can become a creative force to make new decisions and prevent potential catastrophe. Optimism in the face of potential catastrophe responds to the necessity to develop new choices for life to be preserved and for the catastrophe to be diminished or even extinguished.

At the present time in history, misplaced and misused optimism which blocks the ability to properly respond to an impending peril could jeopardize the entire future of humankind.

Kristallnacht shattered glass and shattered the optimistic illusion that “modern” humankind was immune to committing barbaric evil acts. Now, almost seventy years later, we realize that modern humankind is not so “modern” but is actually potentially more dangerous and more evil than the horrors of the Nazi era.

Over the past decades, blind optimism without limits has once again returned to many Jews and non-Jews thereby making it difficult to recognize evil, to respond to evil, yet alone to know when to resist evil. Now is the time when we need a realistic and healthy optimism to help us recognize new options to explore. This type of optimism will show that we have learned from Kristallnacht and that this time we hopefully will make the right decisions to preserve and protect the future of cultured, educated and civilized humankind.

_____________________________________________

Daryl Temkin, Ph.D. is the director of the Israel Education Institute which is devoted to teaching history and contemporary issues of Israel to Jews and Non-Jews throughout the world. He can be reached at DT@Israel-Institute.com.

This weekly column is published in Shalom LA, Israel- Jewish Life, and also appears in various North American and European publications, web magazines, and blogs. Requests for publishing this or other writings by Dr. Temkin can be sent to, Publishing@Israel-Institute.com.

For speaking engagements and lecture dates, contact: DarylTemkin@Israel-Institute.com.

For Membership and Donor Leadership to the Israel Institute, contact: Membership@Israel- Institute.com.

Dr. Temkin will be speaking on Sunday, November 19th at 11:00 A.M. in Los Angeles area for the San Fernando Valley Hadassah at 5450 Vesper Avenue, Van Nuys, CA. Lecture Topic: “Israel After Lebanon-Crisis and Hope” An analysis of Israel’s current circumstance and a presentation on seeing hope in crisis.

Daryl Temkin, Ph.D.
Israel Institute

——————————————————————————–

email: daryltemkinphd@gmail.com
phone: 310.508.0950
web: http://Israel-Institute.com

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Subj: “Optimism and The Night of Broken Glass”
Date: 11/16/2006 4:10:11 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
From: daryltemkinphd@gmail.com
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Sent from the Internet (Details)

Optimistic Limits
By Daryl Temkin, Ph.D.

November 12, 2006

Last week was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, which was commemorated in Los Angeles with a lecture and ceremony at, of all places, a Catholic university, Loyola Marymount University. The audience consisted of an impressive and diverse mixture of Jesuit priests, Holocaust survivors, community members, Loyola faculty members, and a group of Jewish as well as non-Jewish university graduate students.

One of the many infamous milestones of the Holocaust years is named, The Night of Broken Glass. It occurred in Germany on November 9th, 1938. This was the night when Jewish life in Germany took another downward turn and hundreds of Jewish owned businesses, homes and places of worship were vandalized, destroyed and even burned to the ground.

Jews of Germany were shocked to watch and experience this radical change in German society. Jews were rapidly being dehumanized. They soon became regarded as non-citizens and social outcasts. Beyond all the ugly destruction that took place on Kristallnacht, there was an additional ugly occurrence. As the Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were burning, the German firemen arrived on the scene but not for the purpose of putting out the fires. The German firemen stood by with all their fire equipment ready for action, but they did not attempt to save Jewish property. The German firemen were there to make sure that the fires would destroy only Jewish property.

On that night, Jews who never thought that cultured, well mannered, and sophisticated German citizens could possibly lower themselves to behavior far worse than animals were in the shock of disbelief. Suddenly, Jewish property, including books and Torah scrolls, became the enemy of the German people and were wantonly desecrated, burned, and destroyed.

The lessons learned on that evening of Kristallnacht were many — including that when people are lawfully permitted to act in a lawless fashion, no matter how refined they might have been, riotous animalistic behavior can suddenly be unleashed. This historic contemptible event showed that when laws controlling human behavior are withdrawn, the unimaginable may occur.

The Night of Broken Glass not only shattered thousands of windows, but it shattered thousands of souls. The rude awakening of what laid ahead came into focus on this night. The horror of the burning property and broken glass led to the horror of millions of lives being physically destroyed and millions of lives being emotionally scarred with nightmares and emotional trauma that would last for generations.

Currently, we are fortunate to still have some Holocaust survivors with us, but within the next decade the Holocaust will have to be understood and remembered only from books, films, and students of history. The personal testimony of this “unbelievable” event is diminished with the natural loss of each survivor.

Unbelievable events are perplexing. Events are unbelievable because they seem contrary to what is typically called “human nature.” Human nature is what we are accustomed to as being within a “normal range” of human behavior. Behavior beyond what is considered to be “normal” is considered “unbelievable”. When the “unbelievable” or “hard to believe” event is mixed with acts of extreme evil, the event can become beyond conceivability. If not conceivable, how can it be real?

Unbelievable behavior, if not supported and clearly witnessed, can easily be questioned and even dismissed for lack of credibility. After all, who wants to believe that humankind could possibly behave with such evil and cold heartedness? This is profoundly seen with the Holocaust denial literature that has been promulgated even while Holocaust survivors are still alive.

At last week’s Kristallnacht commemoration, a survivor of that horror-filled night shared his memories of the “unbelievable”. Although he was just a child at that time, his memories contained detailed clarity. He spoke about his German childhood friends who would play with him daily; and suddenly were no longer allowed to be his friends. Childhood relationships that had been filled with friendship, fun, and intrigue, became tainted overnight with brutal anti-Semitic name-calling and multiple acts of degradation and harassment.
Then, the survivor spoke about his memories of his father. He said that his father was a great lover of German life and culture. His father was an eternal optimist. And then the survivor said something that chilled many in the room. He said, “My father’s optimism made it impossible for him to deal with the signs of the time and to properly respond to the evil that was about to happen.”

This single sentence became the outstanding thought of the Kristallnacht commemoration. It was also stated that today’s world is not so different than the events of sixty and seventy years ago. Even though many German and European Jews felt safe and protected in their pre- Holocaust host countries, now, in hindsight, we see the many signs of impending danger that were missed or refused to be taken seriously. The Jewish belief in the goodness of humankind created a “limitless optimism” which included the belief that refined European culture could never allow the evil being discussed to become a reality.

Optimism can be an enormous strength in human character and behavior allowing for steadfastness and hope to overcome great challenges. However, optimism can also become a type of blindness. Optimism can prevent one from seeing grave dangers when the danger is real and imminent. Misplaced optimism or optimism without meaningful limits can delude persons from seeing the very thing that they need to see. This applies to major episodes of human evil where unlimited optimism can rationalize the evil intentions as being “just their way of thinking”.

Healthy optimism avoids the blindness wherein distinctions can no longer be made between good and evil, and when evil becomes “good” because blind optimism infers there can be no such thing as evil. In contrast, healthy optimism effectively recognizes an impending danger and identifies evil actions as well as evil plans.

In the case of an impending danger or evil plans, optimism can become a creative force to make new decisions and prevent potential catastrophe. Optimism in the face of potential catastrophe responds to the necessity to develop new choices for life to be preserved and for the catastrophe to be diminished or even extinguished.

At the present time in history, misplaced and misused optimism which blocks the ability to properly respond to an impending peril could jeopardize the entire future of humankind.

Kristallnacht shattered glass and shattered the optimistic illusion that “modern” humankind was immune to committing barbaric evil acts. Now, almost seventy years later, we realize that modern humankind is not so “modern” but is actually potentially more dangerous and more evil than the horrors of the Nazi era.

Over the past decades, blind optimism without limits has once again returned to many Jews and non-Jews thereby making it difficult to recognize evil, to respond to evil, yet alone to know when to resist evil. Now is the time when we need a realistic and healthy optimism to help us recognize new options to explore. This type of optimism will show that we have learned from Kristallnacht and that this time we hopefully will make the right decisions to preserve and protect the future of cultured, educated and civilized humankind.

_____________________________________________

Daryl Temkin, Ph.D. is the director of the Israel Education Institute which is devoted to teaching history and contemporary issues of Israel to Jews and Non-Jews throughout the world. He can be reached at DT@Israel-Institute.com.

This weekly column is published in Shalom LA, Israel- Jewish Life, and also appears in various North American and European publications, web magazines, and blogs. Requests for publishing this or other writings by Dr. Temkin can be sent to, Publishing@Israel-Institute.com.

For speaking engagements and lecture dates, contact: DarylTemkin@Israel-Institute.com.

For Membership and Donor Leadership to the Israel Institute, contact: Membership@Israel- Institute.com.

Dr. Temkin will be speaking on Sunday, November 19th at 11:00 A.M. in Los Angeles area for the San Fernando Valley Hadassah at 5450 Vesper Avenue, Van Nuys, CA. Lecture Topic: “Israel After Lebanon-Crisis and Hope” An analysis of Israel’s current circumstance and a presentation on seeing hope in crisis.

Daryl Temkin, Ph.D.
Israel Institute

——————————————————————————–

email: daryltemkinphd@gmail.com
phone: 310.508.0950
web: http://Israel-Institute.com