This site has sat moribund for a while, as I’ve concentrated on teaching, job apps, conferences, and the like. And, as someone who is on the market, I should probably refrain from a political post.
Screw that. I’m an ethnomusicologist who studies the intersection of music and politics in the former GDR, and yes, I’m a lefty on the political spectrum. This is probably not a shock to anybody.
Last night we elected a demagogue to be president of the U.S. Almost immediately my friends on social media started asking what went wrong (so, SO much). Shortly thereafter, friends who are parents started asking “what the hell do I tell my kids in the morning?” And then this morning I was reminded that today is the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
But that isn’t the only anniversary today. It’s also the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germany’s Schicksalstag (“Day of Fate”) has taken on lots of different forms.
This morning, I told my 9-year-old son that Donald Trump had won. He replied that he wanted to move. Wanted to know if Germany or Canada would be easier. I told him we wouldn’t be moving. Not yet. Because people were going to take Trump’s win as a indication that it’s OK to be mean. That it’s OK to mistreat people because they are of a different race or religion, because they are girls, because they love differently. And we need to stay and fight that. To stand up for all the friends that he worries will be deported.
“I don’t want to fight. I just want to run away!”
“Me too, kiddo.”
And maybe at some point we will have to. But right now, we have an advantage. We are white, middle- to upper-middle-class, CIS-gendered, and in a male-female marriage. That means we have the responsibility to help protect the people who don’t have those advantages. All those people who have been put on the margins, who are going to have a much harder time of things now, are going to need allies. We need to be allies for them.
“Sweetie – your daddy and I will keep you safe. And together we will help keep other people safe.”
“I still want to move.”
Today is both an awful anniversary and a wonderful one, and I am trying to observe both at once. In spite of what seemed like a sudden out-of-nowhere uprising in 1989, the fall of the Wall didn’t really come from nowhere. It started decades before, with people on the margins. Punks, hippies, the avant-garde – people who were never going to fit into the idealized society that state functionaries wanted, and so had little to lose. Eventually the movement reached the more bürgerlich portions of the GDR populace. Some of these folks were doing fine under state socialism. Getting by. Lots of standing in line, but no imminent fear of arrest or deportation. One of the women I interviewed for my fieldwork talked about what moved her to action: it was when the Hungarian border opened, and she and her friends realized that their children were going to leave. That brought it home for her.
She became radicalized, and she organized. She worked the vigils at the Gethsemanekirche that whole autumn. She accumulated a significant Stasi file, and gave her teenage kids instructions for what to do if she were arrested.
So that’s the anniversary I am choosing to remember today, and the anniversary I will be sharing with my son. Because Kristallnacht – among its many horrors – was a night on which people who could have helped didn’t. But the events leading up to that other Day of Fate show what happen when people who could have stood by, who didn’t really need to stick their necks out, chose instead to act.
“…nicht nur die Opfer unter dem Rad zu verbinden, sondern dem Rad selbst in die Speichen zu fallen.”
“…we cannot only bind the wounds of victims beneath the wheel [of injustice], but rather throw ourselves into the spokes of the wheel itself.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Church and the Jewish Question”