Fire!


“As I drove up Berlin Tauentzien in a taxi on 10 November 1938 at about three in the morning, I heard glass shattering on both sides of the street. As if dozens of wagons filled with glass were overturned. I looked out of the cab and saw to the left and right a muscular man in front of about every fifth building, breaking the shop window with a long iron bar. When he was ready, he briskly moved on to the next one, and calmly began to break the untouched glass.

Apart from these men, wearing brown breeches, riding boots and civilian jackets, not a single person was seen near and far. The taxi turned into the Kurfürstendamm. Even here at regular intervals were men armed with long bars, smashing “Jewish” store windows. It seemed that each of them has a share of five to ten houses. A rain of cracking glass splattered onto the pavement. As if the whole town did not consist but of cracking glass. It was like a ride right through the dream of a madman.

Between Uhland- and Knesebeckenstraße I stopped the cab, opened the door, and just put my right foot on the ground, when a man stepped out from behind the closest tree, and energetically warned me: “Don’t get out. Move on immediately.” He wore a hat and a long coat. “But listen to me”, I began, “well, I’m just here…” – “No”, he interrupted me in a menacing tone. “It is forbidden to get out. Move on, immediately.” He pushed me back in the cab, gave a sign to the driver, slammed the door behind me, and the driver complied. We passed on in the spooky night of cracking panes. On the Wilmersdorfer Straße I again stopped the car. Again a man in civilian clothes approached us. “Police. Move on!” That afternoon the newspapers reported that in view of the authorities’ patience with Jewish shops, the public’s simmering soul had boiled over and spontaneously had taken matters into its own hand.”

Erich Kästner: Unser Weihnachtsgeschenk


The Berlin commemorations on the Pogromnacht of seventy-five years ago also include the small exhibition opened on the eve of the anniversary in the museum and research center Topographie des Terrors, established on the place of the former Gestapo headquarters.

The exhibition summarizes on nine columns, in nine short text blocks and archival photographs the details and precedents of the centrally organized pogroms of 9 to 10 November 1938. The semi-circular arrangement of the columns is explained by the fact that the first version of the exhibition was organized in the Neue Synagoge, destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1993 as Centrum Judaicum, and their arc followed the apse of the former synagogue. It is really fitting to an exhibition organized on the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the German synagogues that its layout recalls the shape of a non-existing synagogue.


On the effect of the Nazi boycott propaganda and the territorial “economic advisers” forcing the acquisition of Jewish shops, by the beginning of 1938 some 60-70% of the former Jewish owners already gave up their business, as we have mentioned it in the post on Willy Römer. However, the liquidation of the rest met with a strong resistance both in business and government circles. Goering, responsible for the four-year plan, sought to gradually exploit Jewish property for the re-arming of Germany, while propaganda minister Goebbels, who was also the party leader of Berlin, needed a spectacular action to confirm his position. In the autumn of 1938 it was not yet clear which position would prevail. On 17 October SS Chief Commander Himmler expelled all Jews of Polish citizenship from Germany. Seventeen thousand were deported to the Polish border, where they spent a month in inhumane conditions, because the Polish state did not want to receive them. The seventeen-year old Herschel Grynszpan, whose family was also among the deported, on 7 November shot in Paris, out of revenge, the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath. Goebbels rushed to exploit the event.


The news of the assassination reached Hitler in the evening, while he was celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch on the Munich City Hall. After a short discussion with Goebbels he spectacularly left the room, which was interpreted by Goebbels to the assembled party leaders that Hitler would not oppose a spontaneous outburst of anger of the people. Instructions from the party headquarters were sent at 22:30 to the local party organizations nationwide, and they still managed to mobilize several thousands of party members, who at that time were celebrating in the pubs. Directed by previously distributed lists, they destroyed more than seven thousand Jewish shops, many Jewish homes, and all the synagogues, and they killed or chased into suicide about 400 people.


A unique piece of the exhibition is the Jewish calendar and Berlin synagogue guide published for the year of 5698, that is, from September 1937 to September 1938, in which its owner noted by hand, which synagogue on which day was destroyed. Goebbels, the organizer of the 1931 Charlottenburg pogrom explicitly demanded in a phone call the destruction of the Fasanenstraße synagogue in Charlottenburg (lowest line, in the middle), whose image in flames became an emblem of the exhibition.



At the same time there began a wave of the public humiliation of the Jews. During the night the Gestapo ordered the arrest of 30 thousand wealthy Jews, who were deported to the concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Some of the detainees were previously forced to gymnastic exercises, led through the town in a musical procession, or thrown in the nearby lakes and rivers, where some of them drowned. The German population in most places did not participate in such actions – the secret report of the party emphatically missed public cooperation –, moreover, some even accommodated those who remained without a home, and in a few places civil resistance took place against the SA troops.


In the previous version of the exhibition the apse of the New Synagogue was the background of the nine columns. In the Topographie des Terrors this background is replaced with the photos of twenty-seven synagogues from all Germany (including Austria, the scene of the hardest pogroms, and the Sudetenland) ordered along the flat wall. The images of the Pogromnacht in the individual synagogues run through it as a single black stripe. The photos above the stripe show the synagogues before the destruction, and those below the stripe their slow, gradual metamorphosis after it. From the twenty-seven I highlight here four, of which three do not belong to present-day Germany.



A Georgian Epiphany


Just a nun.


Just candles.
Just stones.
Just a church.
Just a graveyard.
And walls.
And pipes.

And trembling images.


And just children.
Just cats.
Just monks, just priests.
Just birds.
And men.
And women.



And forlorn objects that still live their forgotten lives among the ruins.

And the sky above everything.



Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

From Ithaca, Constantin Cavafy


And melancholy too. From war and exile. From absence. From decay.

Lado Pochkhua is a Georgian painter and photographer whose works were presented this month in the Tbilisi National Museum. He was born in Sokhumi but was forced to move to Tbilisi in 1993 after the civil war when Abkhazia proclaimed its independence and separatists expelled Georgian populations from the region.

“At the age of twenty-three I lost everything: family, friends, my hometown, my house, my documents. In Tbilisi I discovered a new, disorderly and hungry life as a refugee from Abkhazia. That is, I’m no one. Zero. A person without a social function. After receiving my first package of humanitarian assistance, a US Army kit of beans and meat packed in tinfoil, I promised myself that I would get out of the trouble I had fallen into”.

The photographs of the series “Anatomy of the Georgian Melancholy” (1993 – 2004) were taken while living in Tskneti, a suburb of Tbilisi where refugees had settled after escaping the war in Abkhazia: at the time, Lado Pochkhua was learning English from a copy of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.


Kristallnacht


The pogrom organized on Goebbels’ suggestion seventy-five years ago, on the night from 9th to 10th November, got its nice-sounding euphemistic name from the broken windows of the several thousand looted Jewish shops, synagogues and buildings. Only the recent German public discourse replaced it with the much more unambiguous “Pogromnacht”, which suggests taking on responsibility. This is reminded by the stores of Berlin on the locations of the former destruction with the broken glass transparencies applied on their shop windows.



Only 27 photos survived on the situation after the looting of at least three thousand shops in Berlin, which is a good indicator of the by then total control of photography in public space, to which we have referred in connection with Roman Vishniac’s Berlin photos. The twenty-seven photos have just been published together with commentaries and contemporary newspaper articles by the Kulturprojekte Berlin with the title Kristallnacht? Bilder der Novemberpogrome 1938 in Berlin. We will come back to it in detail.


“Lichtenstein Taschen”, Tauentzienstr. 6 (Schöneberg)
Although the shop of the Berliner Schirm-Manufaktur Lichtenstein & Co., founded in 1877, was shortly before sold by its Jewish owner to a non-Jewish purchaser, the obligatory identification sign of Jewish property was still there on the shop window, this is why it was looted.

„S. Kaliski & Co.” Nünberger Str. / Tauentzienstr. 7b (Charlottenburg)
Although this is the only surviving photo on the Nürnberger Straße, but it clearly shows that the whole street’s shop window front – thus the Neugebauer hat shop and the Schiffner patisserie – are in ruins. The Jewish owners were obliged to immediately clean up the debris. Göring – who at the time, as the leader of the “ministry of the execution of the four-year plan”, was an opponent of Goebbels, and planned to expropriate the Jewish property not in a quick, popagandistic way, but in a gradual manner – warned that the huge insurance amounts would ruin the German insurance system. This was finally resolved so that these amounts were directed to the Treasury rather than to the owners, and used for the German preparations for war.

“Beleuchtungshaus des Westens”, Kurfürstendamm 203 (Charlottenburg)
In the debris of the shop window one can still recognize the identifier of the Jewish owner, Wilhelm Philippi, which served as a guidance for the SS squads in civilian clothes. Immediately after the devastation, Philippi gave over his shop to a non-Jewish owner. Next to the shop, Berthold Neumann’s similarly looted wholesale piano shop (Kurfürstendamm 205).

The pogrom also claimed four hundred lives, and 30 thousand Jews were arrested and deported in the next day to the concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. This was the first organized deportation of Jews. They and the other deported were remembered yesterday by the inhabitants of Berlin with the organized clean-up of the more than five thousand Stolpersteine, stumbling blocks in Berlin.



The largest-circulation Berlin daily newspaper BZBerliner Zeitung – entirely devoted its yesterday’s edition to the stumbling blocks: not just its front page, on which, as a virtual stolperstein, draws attention to the anniversary, but also in each page, where, not intrusively, but clearly spread over the news, publishes the photo of a stumbling block together with the portrait and biography of the person referred to by it.



And the Berlin churches organized for the afternoon a three-hour memorial march in the old town, along the Lutheran and Catholic cathedrals, along the scene of the Nazi book burning, along the portrait gallery set up in the Lustgarten of those expulsed in 1933, through the Wilhelmstraße, the former Nazi administrative district, all the way to the great synagogue. In front of the thousands of participants, the Mayor of Berlin, the Lutheran Bishop and the Catholic Archbishop, as well as the Chief Rabbi and a female rabbi of the synagogue gave a speech.

“Seventy-five years after the Reich’s pogrom night, we want to remember the evil deeds and the victims in silence, and to take on the responsibility that falls upon us from history.”




Dzhurdzhur


La carretera hacia la catarata mayor de Crimea sube desde el pueblo de Generalskoe –llamado Megapotamos y Ulu Özen, Río Grande, hasta la deportación de los griegos y tártaros de Crimea en 1945–. Son dos kilómetros hasta Dzhurdzhur, «la que murmura» –después de las deportaciones solo se pasaron al ruso los nombres de los asentamientos; las montañas y aguas aún conservan los nombres tártaros–, y pueden hacerse a pie, pero es mucho más aventurero subirse a uno de los muchos jeeps de descarte del ejército que esperan a las afueras del pueblo y emprender una loca carrera a lo largo de los caminos erosionados por el agua hacia la cabecera del valle..





«Unas semanas antes les habíamos paseado [a unos jefes beduinos] por la Saboya. Su guía les había conducido hasta una cascada que retumbaba, caudalosa, como una columna trenzada, y frente a ella les dijo:
– Disfrutad del espectáculo.
Era agua dulce. ¡Agua! ¡Cuántos días de marcha se necesitan aquí para llegar al pozo más cercano y, si se encuentra, cuántas horas para excavar la arena que lo llena y conseguir una suerte de barro mezclado con orín de camello! ¡Agua! En Cabo Juby, en Cisneros, en Port-Étienne, los niños de los moros no piden dinero, sino que, con una lata de conservas en la mano, piden agua.
– Dame un poco de agua, dame…
– Si eres bueno.
El agua, que vale su peso en oro, el agua cuya gota más pequeña hace brotar en la arena la verde chispa de una brizna de hierba. Si en algún sitio llueve, un gran éxodo anima el Sáhara, las tribus se encaminan hacia esa hierba que brotará a trescientos kilómetros de distancia… Y esa agua tan escasa de la que, desde hacía diez años, no había caído ni una sola gota en Port-Étienne, retumbaba allí abajo, como si toda la provisión del mundo se estuviera derramando de una cisterna resquebrajada.
– Tenemos que irnos.- Les decía el guía.
Pero ellos no se movían.
– Déjanos un poco más…
En silencio, serios, mudos, presenciaban el desarrollo de un misterio solemne. Lo que brotaba así, del vientre de la montaña, era la vida, la sangre misma de los hombres. El caudal de un segundo hubiera resucitado caravanas enteras que, borrachas de sed, se habían hundido para siempre en el infinito de los lagos de sal y los espejismos. Aquí Dios se manifestaba: no se le podía volver la espalda. Dios abría sus esclusas y mostraba su poder: los tres moros permanecían inmóviles. – ¿Qué más queréis ver? Vámonos…
– Hay que esperar.
– ¿Esperar qué?
– El final.
Querían esperar hasta el momento en que Dios se cansara de su locura. Se arrepiente pronto. Es un avaro. – Pero, ¡si esta agua lleva mil años brotando!
Así que, esta noche, ellos no hablan de la cascada. Es mejor no hablar de ciertos milagros. Es mejor no pensar demasiado en ellos, de lo contrario ya no se comprende nada. De lo contrario, uno empieza a dudar de la existencia de Dios…
– Mira, el Dios de los franceses…»

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Tierra de hombres