Kristallnacht – an Excerpt from Bonhoeffer the Assassin?

Cover ArtThe following is an excerpt from Bonhoeffer the Assassin?, by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel.


November 9, 1938, was the most blatant expression to date of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. That night, throughout Germany, many synagogues were set ablaze and many Jewish homes and businesses devastated. Many Jews were tortured; approximately one hundred were murdered and over thirty thousand were sent to concentration camps. Because of all the glass that was broken, the night has come to be called Kristallnacht.

The ostensible justification for this orgy of violence was the assassination, two days earlier, of a German ambassador in Paris by a Polish Jew. The following Sunday, in a sermon of repentance, Pastor Julius von Jan of Oberlenningen, Württemberg, said:

Who would have thought that this single crime in Paris could result in so many crimes committed here in Germany? Now we are facing the consequences of our great apostasy, our falling away from God and Christ, of organized anti-Christianity. Passions are being unleashed and the commandments of God ignored. Houses of God which were sacred for others are being burned down, the property of others is being plundered or destroyed. Men who have served our nation loyally and conscientiously fulfilled their duties have been thrown into concentration camps, merely because they belong to another race. Those in authority may not admit to any injustice, but to the healthy good sense of our people it is quite clear, even though no one dares speak of it.

Pastor von Jan was dragged out of his manse by five hundred demonstrators who were from outside his village; he was then beaten severely. He was later interrogated by the authorities and thrown into prison, where he remained until the end of the war.

However, Pastor von Jan’s response was unusual. Most of the Confessing Church was silent about this night—and its aftermath. Bonhoeffer himself was in a forest with his ordinands on the night of Kristallnacht and only learned about it after the fact. However, later “in the Bible that Bonhoeffer used for prayer and meditation he underlined the verse in Psalm 74, ‘they burned all the meeting places of God in the land,’ and wrote beside it ‘9.11.38.’ He also underlined the next verse, adding an exclamation mark: ‘We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.’”

©2013 by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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