November 9

This day is an important one in German history:

• On November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in favor of a provisional government, later termed the Weimar Republic. It was this regime that signed an armistice with the Allies, ending the First World War, before Germany was actually invaded by them. This allowed the promulgation of the Dolchstoßlegend by the German Right following the war: that we could have won the war, but we were “stabbed in the back” by Jews and Socialists, the “November criminals” who deserved a terrible fate.

• Thus did the Nazis attempt their Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on November 9 in 1923. They were going to take over the Bavarian government, and then march on Berlin and take over the country, as Mussolini had the previous year in Italy. This was a failure, but it did win them a great deal of publicity.

• That Kristallnacht took place on November 9, 1938 was a coincidence, but I’m sure that for some people it was a gratifying one. On that day, Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat stationed in Paris died of having been shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, who was protesting the treatment of his people by the Nazi regime. Goebbels took full advantage of the assassination to encourage the “spontaneous” uprising of Germans against Jews and Jewish interests – by the next morning, mobs had murdered some 100 Jews, smashed the storefronts of some 7500 Jewish businesses, and over burned over 1400 synagogues and prayer rooms. This exposed Nazi anti-Semitism for all the world to see, although by this point it was too late to do much about it.

• But in 1989, the date was redeemed, so to speak, when East German border guards, unsure of what they were supposed to do, opened the checkpoints between East and West Berlin, allowing the free movement of people across the border for the first time since 1945. Of all the events of 1989 representing the fall of Communism, fall of the Berlin Wall was probably the most significant.

But on account of Kristallnacht, the Germans do not celebrate German reunification on November 9, but on October 3, the day in 1990 when the West legally annexed the East.