Why Is Everyone Making Kristallnacht Comparisons?

From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Fox News pundits, the 1938 antisemitic pogrom keeps being invoked because everything is kind of the worst.

It all began with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a video posted to his social media on January 10, 2021, Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California, action movie star, Republican, and Chris Pratt’s father-in-law, compared the mob violence in the U.S. Capitol to Kristallnacht, the Nazi attack on Jews in 1938 while talking about his personal experience growing up in Austria. In other corners of the internet this week, Kristallnacht was invoked in comparison to losing followers on Twitter (one word: yikes).

Why are these comparisons to Kristallnacht suddenly everywhere? Let’s get into it.

First off, what was Kristallnacht? 

Kristallnacht was a pogrom that took place on the evening of November 9, 1938 in Germany. Under orders from Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels, a wave of violence took place throughout Germany and newly annexed Austria.

On that night, “Jewish shops, dwellings, schools, and above all synagogues and other religious establishments symbolic of Judaism were set alight. Tens of thousands of Jews were terrorized in their homes, sometimes beaten to death, and in a few cases raped. In Cologne, a town with a rich Jewish tradition dating from the first century CE, four synagogues were desecrated and torched, shops were destroyed and looted, and male Jews were arrested and thrown into concentration camps. In Berlin, where 140,000 Jews still resided, SA [Storm Troopers] men devastated nine of the 12 synagogues and set fire to them.”

The official death toll from the evening is 91, though this number is contested and thought to be much higher — with many historians arguing that the deaths by suicide of many Jews in the following weeks should be included, putting the number closer to 638.

In total, 267 synagogues were burned down or destroyed; 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed; and nearly 200 apartment blocks and houses were burned down.

Kristallnacht, which translates to “The Night of Broken Glass,” refers to the broken glass from synagogues, homes, and Jewish-owned business that were on the streets in the wake of the pogrom.

Also worth noting? Kristallnacht, it has been said, “paved the road to Auschwitz.”

Okay.

Okay.

So, back up. What does this have to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Schwarzenegger, 73, was born in Sytria, Austria in 1947.

His father was a member of the Nazi Party and served in the German army during World War II.

“I’ve never shared this so publicly because it is a painful memory. But my father would come home drunk once or twice a week and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother. I did not hold him totally responsible because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family, and so was the next neighbor over. I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes. They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and in emotional pain from what they saw or did,” he says in the video posted to social media.

What did he say about Kristallnacht?

“As an immigrant to this country, I would like to say a few words to my fellow Americans and to our friends around the world about the events of recent days,” he begins. “I grew up in Austria. I am very aware of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. It was a night of rampage against the Jews carried out in 1938 by the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys.”

“Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States,” he went on. “The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. They shattered the ideas we took for granted. They did not just break down the doors of the building that housed the American democracy. They trampled the very principles on which our country was founded.”

Wow. Strong words.

Yup.

What else did he say in his video?

“I grew up in the ruins of a country that suffered the loss of its democracy. Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away the guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history. Not all of them were rabid antisemites or Nazis. Many just went along,” he continued in the video.

It’s worth noting that many (including us) would argue that going along with antisemites and Nazis makes you an antisemite and a Nazi.

“Being from Europe, I’ve seen firsthand how things can spin out of control. I know there is a fear in this country and all over the world that something like this could happen right here. Now, I do not believe it is, but I do believe that we must be aware of the dire consequences of selfishness and cynicism. President Trump sought to overturn the results of an election and of a fair election. He sought a coup by misleading people with lies. My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead,” Schwarzenegger said.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican who served as Governor of California from 2003 to 2011, joins a small chorus of Republicans criticizing Trump’s role in inciting the mob.

How did people react to the video?

The video went viral, and people reacted, on the whole, pretty positively.

There was also a fair share of critique, with others pointing out a more apt historical comparison would be the Nazi’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.

And yet others said, we don’t need to look to Nazi Germany, we have a deep history of white supremacy in this country:

I think I have a handle on the Schwarzenegger stuff… Who else invoked Kristallnacht this week?

Prominent conservatives concerned with their follower count.

Oh no.

Oh yep.

What happened?

First, Amazon, Apple, and Google decided to ban the social media app Parler. (Parler, notoriously, is popular among the far-right, and a hotbed for antisemitism.) In the wake of de-platforming all of President Trump’s accounts, Facebook and Twitter started banning other right-wing users who they considered were “inciting violence” as well.

Naturally, as more people are banned from the platform, the accounts they were following saw a decline in followers. And who were those accounts following?

Well, as JTA reported, “Steve King, the former Iowa lawmaker who has said the term ‘white supremacist’ isn’t so bad, said he lost thousands of Twitter followers in the crackdown.”

“I have lost 8,000 followers on this twitter account in one day. Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” he tweeted.

Then, on Fox News today, January 11, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro made a similar comparison: “They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht,” she said.

Oh no, again.

Yeah. Losing Twitter followers is in no way the same as what happened during Kristallnacht, when actual human beings were murdered. At least when Schwarzenegger made the comparison, he was drawing on his own childhood growing up in Austria and what he saw then — and comparing it to an event that has so far resulted in five deaths.

How did Twitter react to Jeanine Pirro and Steve King’s comparisons? 

Pretty strongly:

Others put it more simply:

TL;DR?

While some feel it’s accurate to compare the Capitol mob attack to Kristallnacht, it is beyond inappropriate and offensive to compare losing Twitter followers to a deadly pogrom. So maybe let’s find some new analogies, people?

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