Posts tagged 1930s.

November 10, 1938: Kristallnacht takes place.

The anti-Jewish pogrom known as Kristallnacht (“crystal night”), or the “Night of Broken Glass” - after the shattered glass windows of Jewish-owned stores and other buildings - took place seventy-five years ago on November 9 and 10. After the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 the new regime in Germany implemented a series of laws, including but not limited to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, that defined racial status, placed boycotts on Jewish-owned businesses, and deprived Jews of German citizenship. In the period of economic recovery directly preceding Kristallnacht, non-Aryans (primarily Jews) were economically disempowered: Jewish businesses were transferred to non-Jewish owners, employees were fired, property was confiscated, to the benefit of many German banks and major companies. 

What had primarily been persecution through economic/legislative means took a turn for the violent during Kristallnacht, which occurred in reaction to the shooting of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a young Polish Jew whose family had been deported from Hanover. Joseph Goebbels’ announcement - which clarified that any spontaneous demonstrations that might take place using the shooting as a pretext would not be hampered by party officials - was interpreted as a call to action. Local party leaders organized “spontaneous” riots that targeted Jewish property - businesses, synagogues, homes, mostly carried out by civilians and SA men, many of whom wore civilian clothing to give the violent acts the appearance of an uncontrolled public outburst instead of an organized pogrom. Kristallnacht lasted from the evening of November 9 through November 10. By the end, hundreds of synagogues had been burned or destroyed, and at least 7,000 businesses had been vandalized, destroyed, and/or looted. At least ninety-one people were killed, and tens of thousands were incarcerated. 

I did not hear fire engines and we understood then that they didn’t come because they wanted the synagogues to burn. (NPR)

The end of the pogrom was not even remotely the end. The day after the violence ceased, a new decree excluded Jews from engaging in most economic activities, and the Jewish community as a whole was fined one billion marks for vom Rath’s murder. The destruction and violence incurred upon Jews across the Reich marked a shift in the nature of the German government’s implementation of its anti-Semitic policy, and for this reason Kristallnacht is often considered one of the opening events of the Holocaust. 

World War II - the European Theatre (September 1, 1939 - May 8, 1945)

and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?

The Atlantic

September 1, 1939: The Invasion of Poland begins.

One week after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a treaty of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, German forces launched an attack against Poland. Preceding events like the occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Munich Agreement, and overall the gradual revitalization of all parts of the German military (despite restrictions placed by the Treaty of Versailles) bode ill for Europe, but World War II is considered to have officially begun with the invasion of Poland, and with the declarations of war on Germany by France and Great Britain two days later. Though outmatched, Polish forces held off German (and Russian, after the Soviet invasion began on September 17) forces until the final Army unit surrendered on October 6. Though often viewed as weak, backwards, and obsolete, the Polish military inflicted heavy damage upon German forces within the first days of fighting. Around 200,000 Polish civilians were killed during the action.

The conquered territories were subsequently divided up; some portions were directly annexed by Germany, while one area, which contained Warsaw and Krakow, became the separate General Government. Each of the six major Nazi extermination camps (Auschwitz II, Chełmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka) - used in the systematic extermination of nearly 3.5 million people - was established in either the annexed territories or in the General Government of Poland. 

August 9, 1936: Jesse Owens wins his fourth gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics. 

One can unfortunately experience that often the free man must even fight with blacks, with Negroes, for the victory trophy. This is an unparalleled disgracing and a degrading of the Olympic idea.

In 1932, the NSDAP newspaper Volkischer Beobachter openly expressed contempt at the prospect of black athletes competing alongside white Aryan athletes for Olympic medals; in 1933, the party mouthpiece wrote plainly of the upcoming 1936 Summer Olympics: “the blacks must be banned”. In the end, Jewish, black, and other undesirable non-Aryan athletes were allowed to compete. While anti-Semitic signs and the like were removed, the event was molded into a showcase of Nazi ideals, meant to project an image of a peaceful but powerful Nazi Germany. The absolute victory of Germany’s superior Aryan athletes would complete this image.

Though Germany did trump every other nation in the overall medal count, one athlete captured international attention and became the most successful individual athlete at the games by winning four gold medals: Jesse Owens, African-American track and field athlete, Alabama native. Between August 3 and August 9, Owens won the 100m sprint, the long jump (for which he set a record that stood for a quarter century), the 200m sprint, and the 4x100 sprint relay. While Owens later famously stated “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me” in response to the American president’s  failure to acknowledge his achievements, the Führer’s response was not entirely a fountain of goodwill. Albert Speer later wrote in his memoir Inside the Third Reich that Hitler rationalized Owens’ victory by claiming that “people whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive” (referring to people of African descent) and that “their physiques were stronger than civilized whites”. 

Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976 by Gerald Ford, forty years after his performance at the Olympics. 

James Van Der Zee's photographic chronicle of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American life in Harlem during the 1920s/30s (source)

In these photographs, you will not see the common images of black Americans — downtrodden rural or urban citizens. Instead, you will see a people of great pride and fascinating beauty.

July 7, 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident begins.

The battle on the Marco Polo (or Luguo) Bridge, located kilometers outside Beijing, then called Beiping, marked the beginning of the full-scale invasion of China by the Japanese Empire and the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the largest war in Asia of the 20th century. It coincided with and eventually merged with World War II, becoming a part of the larger conflict in the Pacific and much of Asia. 

In 1931, Japan seized the northeastern portion of China called Manchuria and installed there a puppet state under the name “Manchukuo”; under the governance of the former Chinese emperor Puyi and the direction of the Japanese Empire, Manchukuo was effectively detached from the rest of China. Over the next few years, Japan continued to industrialize the region and build its influence in the regions surrounding Manchukuo, expanding its territory and stationing troops along the railways leading to Beijing, until finally, a skirmish between Japanese and Chinese troops on the Marco Polo Bridge over a lost Japanese soldier (later determined to have wandered off to relieve himself) heightened tensions between the nations - and eventually, escalated into war. The incident has often been interpreted as both the result of a series of misunderstandings and accidents to the fault of both the Japanese and Chinese, and as an incident intentionally staged by the Japanese as a pretext for a full-blown invasion of China. 

The Japanese forces outmatched the KMT National Revolutionary Army, then also entangled in civil war with Communist forces, in terms of industrial strength, technology, and training, and quickly overwhelmed them, occupying Beijing and taking Shanghai after a bloody bout of urban warfare in August to November 1937. A war marked by great loss of life (both military and civilian), unspeakable atrocities, and strategic stalemates began at Marco Polo Bridge on July 7, 1937, and it would not end for eight years.