Kristallnacht 2013

My fondest memories of the times I lived in Germany are about the nation’s luxurious thermal baths.  Most of these locales feature a number of near-sinful ways to get wet and happy.

Take the Kristall Sauna Wellnesspark in the German state of Thüringen.  This particular destination includes one bathing pool with mineral salts, one which features fresh spring water, and another with a good bit of natron water for special healing of body, soul and skin.  There are twelve different kinds of saunas, including a “gem sauna,” a “rose quartz sauna,” a “crystal sauna” and a “hay sauna” (heat produced by burning horse feed – seriously?).  The saunas also feature a range of temperatures as well as significant and pleasing differences in décor.

As you would expect, there is also a lovely restaurant and a sauna bar where, the website tells you, you may enjoy “leckere” (delicious) cocktails and “wellness beverages.”

Okay, you get it.  Geo-thermal hedonism on a grand scale.

Here’s the kicker.  In the gut, if you please.

This very thermal bath house recently ran an advertisement for a special event.  It was described as a “lange romantische Kristall-Nacht” (long, romantic, crystal night).

You have to be pretty ignorant (or deeply disengaged) to be German and not react – even if you are a youngish person.  The words “crystal” and “night” are indelibly joined in German history.  Together, they have become the name for a nation-wide pogrom against the Jews of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia in which dedicated Nazis destroyed over two hundred and fifty synagogues and countless stores and homes. Thirty-thousand German Jewish men were dragged off to Dachau.

But please, excuse me.  This is not actually the whole kick in the gut.  

This special event was scheduled for November 9, which is actually the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Laugh or cry?

To their credit, the Kristall Sauna Wellnesspark issued an abject apology.

We would like to offer our unreserved apology for the insensitive nomenclature we used for our event on Nov. 09, 2013.  OF COURSE that was patently inappropriate.  One timid attempt at an explanation: Many of our events receive the affix ‘Kristall’ because of our company branding.  That is what happened here, too.  We regret this thoroughly, and it goes without saying that this was ENTIRELY unintentional – and believe us, we are quite ashamed ourselves that we made this mistake.

The name of the event has been changed to “the long romantic night.”

So where do we stand on the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht?

Not so good, where remembering, acknowledging, and honoring this particular attempt at genocide is concerned.

My students (including the Jewish ones) have actually been exposed to so much thinly presented material on the Shoah that they enter college convinced that the murder of 12 million souls was a “really bad thing.”  But not something that they can distinguish much from other “bad things” that have happened in history.  They have learned that there were certain groups that were persecuted, but they know absolutely nothing of the history of European antisemitism that set the stage for the murder of six million Jews.

Understanding the implications of the Holocaust has now been reduced to a generic argument about being nice.  Ask my students and they will tell you that the Holocaust teaches us how important it is to be tolerant of people who are different. 

I bet that if they had seen this ad in English, they would not have reacted at all – either to laugh or to cry, because they don’t know enough to be aware of the pivotal importance of Kristallnacht.
Look: I do not believe that the way to strengthen Jewish identity is by repeating, ad nauseam (literally) the horrors of the Holocaust.
 Nor do I believe that we need to assume the worst in this case (that Germans still have not accepted responsibility for what happened under Hitler).
Maybe we can laugh about this. When I told my 22-year-old son about this little gaffe, he remarked dryly, “Gee, do you suppose the decorations included six-pointed stars?”

But the kind of laughter evoked here is the bitterest kind.  In less than seven decades, in less than the length of one human life, the Holocaust has been reduced to a nightmare of history—a really bad one, yes, but one of so many, one that is indistinguishable from any other.

The kind of self-indulgence these thermal baths represent is eclipsed – by far – by the self-indulgence of human beings who would rather not contend with the dark and complex questions the Holocaust presents.  One wonders if we can ask those questions in a way that leads us to learn something – as a species.  Permanently and indelibly.



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