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ND professor examines Kristallnacht tragedy

Meghan Price | Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dr. Ernesto Verdeja, assistant professor of Political Science and Peace Studies at Notre Dame, visited Saint Mary’s College last night to give a lecture in commemoration of Kristallnacht, an event which marked the beginning of the systematic persecution of the Jewish people in Germany and other parts of Europe. This week marks the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, a German word that translates to “the night of the broken glass.”

In his presentation, entitled “Ordinary Roots: The Nazi Holocaust and the causes of Mass Extermination,” Verdeja addressed Kristallnacht, the Holocaust as a whole and the steps that led to it.

Verdeja discussed the slippery slope that lead to genocide of so many people.
“The ends are irrational but the means or causes that lead to it are understandable and open for analysis,” Verdeja said.

He said the Holocaust resulted from what he called “cascading radicalization,” which started out as ordinary prejudice but later snowballed into mass extermination.

Verdeja explained the history of anti-Semitism in the world and particularly in Germany as the first step in this chain of causes.

Jews, Verdeja said, were prejudiced against for many different reasons. They were targeted by Christians for their faith and labeled as “chartist killers.” They were hated by nationalists who thought they did not identify themselves with Germany and were not “good Germans.”  They were also discriminated by those who believed there was some scientific and biological difference between Jews and other people.

“Their goal was national reformation and a racially pure society,” Verdeja said. “You can see how terrifying this type of prejudicial ideology can be.”

The changes in state, after World War II, were the next step. Germany was forced to make payments of land and recourses after the war. The country was humiliated and was left in political instability. This, Verdeja said, lead to the empowerment of an extreme party with a radical ideology.

“Genocide is rarely, if ever, the first goal,” he said. “Rather, it is the product of radicalization.”

On Nov. 9 and 10, 1938 the last and biggest state organized riots occurred. During Kristallnacht, 100 Jews died and 25,000 others were harassed and then taken to concentration camps.

Verdeja said after this point German power began to expand and as the Reich increased so too did the persecution of Jews, along with other minorities such as gypsies, homosexuals and smaller Christian denominations.

“There will always be prejudice,” Verdeja said. “The only way to stop this kind of thing is to re-humanize and empathize with the objects of prejudice and to remember. We do this through education.”

Verdeja has recently published a book on related topics called “Unchopping a Tree: Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Political Violence.”