A truly unbelievable rumor circulates the streets of West Berlin: the East German government will allow its citizens the freedom to leave East Berlin for the first time in 28 years.
"I'll believe it when I see it, " many skeptics utter under their breath.
Ermfried Prochnow, a West Berlin taxi driver, is one such skeptic. However, as he passes a corner near the wall that has separated East from West traffic begins to slow. Is it possible?
Five minutes later Prochnow turns onto a street jammed with confirming evidence: hundreds of revelers approaching the wall.
"A traffic jam!" the cabby proclaims with joy. "A perfect, beautiful traffic jam!"1
The rumor was true. The Berlin Wall - stretching more than 103 miles, standing some 10 feet high and supplemented by watchtowers, alarms, mines, trenches, dogs and guards with machine guns - was about to come tumbling down."East Berliners ...forced their way into the no man's land that had been closed to the public for decades. West Berliners clambered over the 10-foot wall and dropped into the arms of those below. East German border police watched, first with detached amusement, and then with undisguised glee. A dozen Western TV crews besieged a group of East German policemen. ‘Are you happy?' shouted a reporter. A young guard broke into an enormous grin then turned his back to hide it. Nearby, a young man beat on the wall with a hammer and handed out fragments to the crowd. ‘The wall is gone!' the people chanted deliriously. ‘The wall is gone.'"2 A great throng of humanity streamed across the once immovable border like an unstoppable force.
Throughout the entire day and into the night a great throng of humanity streamed across the once immovable border like an unstoppable force. As midnight approached, young West Germans stood atop the wall, raising bottle after bottle of champagne to shake and spray on the thousands who had gathered to watch and to welcome.
"Remember the ninth of November, " shouted a middle-aged man over the roar of the jubilant crowds.3
The ninth of November. Truly a day history was made.
However, 51 years earlier, on November 9, history was also made - a history that Germany would rather forget.
The Other November 9
Fueled by years of the most grotesque Jew-hatred, emboldened by the weakness of the policy of Appeasement (which saw the Western Powers give Hitler Austria and then half a year later Czechoslovakia, just weeks earlier), frenzied mobs burned more than 250 synagogues across Germany and Austria, many of which had existed for centuries on the night of November 9, 1938.
Dozens of people were killed, more than 7, 000 Jewish businesses were ransacked and 30, 000 Jews were arrested for no reason and sent to concentration camps (1, 000 would die due to mistreatment within a couple of months.). So many stores owned by Jews had their glass fronts shattered that it took Belgium's total plate glass production (Germany did not produce glass at the time) about six months to replace all the windows that were broken. As a result the night became known to posterity as Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass, " took place.
The barbarity of Kristallnacht occurred on a scale so grand that even a world hitherto relatively silent about Nazi treatment of Jews had to take notice. Papers in every Western country reported and even put it on their front pages. The United States withdrew its Ambassador to Berlin days afterward, President Roosevelt stating that he, "could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization."Because the free world did so little in practical terms to respond to it, Kristallnacht only emboldened the Nazis.
Despite public sympathy for the plight of the Jews, the West did virtually nothing practical to help beleaguered Jews. Indeed, with a few exceptions they did not even loosen their immigration policies, which had effectively kept Jews trapped in Nazi lands. The doors to safety remained barred and condemned an entire generation.
Because of its brazenness, and because the free world did so little in practical terms to respond to it, Kristallnacht only emboldened the Nazis. Rightfully, then, many historians mark it as the beginning of the Holocaust.
2009 Isle of Man Proof Sterling Silver 20th Anniv Fall of the Berlin Wall Coin
Home (Pobjoy Mint)
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