Kristallnacht 2015: Boycotts, Munich and the Jews
Last week, Israeli Consul General in Munich Dan Shaham implored Dieter Reiter, the mayor of Munich, Germany, to rescind the official approval for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to use a taxpayer-funded city building for an anti-Israel boycott under the smokescreen of a “cultural program.” Mayor Reiter refused.
Charlotte Knobloch, the Holocaust survivor who leads the Munich Jewish community, has warned that: “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement disguises the socially unacceptable ‘Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish state.’” She charged that the Munich event is part of “a continued effort to defame, delegitimize, [and] ostracize Israel under the cloak of allegedly legitimate criticism,” and was the launching pad for “a comprehensive boycott against Israel … aimed at hurting economics, science, culture, and all areas of life.”
Jews throughout Germany and the world are especially appalled by the fact that the Munich event was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Kristallnacht — the 1938 Nazi pogrom that torched German synagogues, and left hundreds of Jews dead and tens of thousands in concentration camps.
Most people know that the Nazi Party was organized in Munich, but few know that the Bavarian capital was also, in the words of Avraham Barkai, author of the definitive From Boycott to Annihilation (1987), “the center” of the Nazi anti-Jewish boycott campaign that was a prelude to the Holocaust.
Following Hitler’s assumption of power on January 30, 1933, the Nazis organized an official boycott of Jewish businesses. On April 1, the first nationwide boycott was ordered, with Berlin’s 50,000 Jewish businesses in the crosshairs. In broken store windows, signs were posted that read “Jews Are Our Misfortune!” and “Go back to Palestine!” Berlin may have led in the number of Jewish businesses targeted, but Munich Nazis reveled in their hate like no other.
The official boycott was soon called off, but it set a precedent for similar campaigns in Austria, Hungary, and Poland, as well as Brown Shirt activity against Jewish businesses in the US and Canada.
This, however, was not the whole story. In 1935, a second, less known boycott campaign against Jewish businesses was launched — with Munich in the lead. According to a local newspaper, Westfalische Landeszeitung, the boycott began spontaneously in Dortmund with “a prank by frolicsome school kids out for a holiday romp” who pasted stickers reading “I am a traitor of the people. I just shopped at a Jewish store” on the backs of customers exiting Jewish stores. But this led to riots in Munich, with show windows of Jewish stores smashed — all of which was reported on personally to Hitler. Supposedly, Economics Ministry head Hjalmar Schacht tried unsuccessfully to curb the agitation because he feared that adverse foreign press reports would negatively affect German exports to the US.
The years 1937-1939 were also “the boom period” for Aryanization — i.e., coercing Jewish businessmen, from Warburg and Bleichroder to humble shop keepers, to sell out at fire sale prices to predatory non-Jewish “parvenus.” The Munich Nazis boasted that their Aryanization campaign was so successful that Jewish businessmen sold their companies even before they were summoned to appear at government offices.
Munich was also at the heart of the 1938-1941 campaign to conscript Jews for dirty and difficult menial jobs with scant food allowances. Those forced to report for slave labor included mothers, even if they had small children at home who had to be left alone unattended.
Fast forward to 2015. The BDS movement’s publicly-stated goal is to “end occupation in the territories.” Yet Israel, under siege by terrorists today, has already unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 and is ready to accept a two-state solution — if only it had a willing peace partner ready to accept a Jewish neighbor. But everyone knows the truth, including Munich’s mayor. Not a single Palestinian life has been improved by BDS campaigns. Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) confirmed to Palestinian students that the BDS movement is really a public relations stunt designed to prepare the ground for the ultimate goal of the destruction of Israel.
As Germany welcomes 21st century refugees, Germans must not endanger the lives of the descendants of millions of Jewish citizens who were boycotted; stripped of their rights, jobs, and dignity; cast out as refugees; or shot, starved to death in ghettos, or gassed by the German Third Reich. The Munich mayor’s decision to validate BDSers is an ominous sign that some in Germany, while expressing regret over the murder of 6 million dead Jews in the Holocaust, have no problem in empowering those who would destroy the democratic State of Israel, home to 6 million living Jews.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.