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America's Kristallnacht

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    The History Channel reminds us that today is the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht.

    On November 9, 1938, in an event that would foreshadow the Holocaust, German Nazis launch a campaign of terror against Jewish people and their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or “Night of Broken Glass,” after the countless smashed windows of Jewish-owned establishments, left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged and hundreds of synagogues, homes, schools and graveyards vandalized.

    The Nazis used the murder of a low-level German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew as an excuse to carry out the Kristallnacht attacks. On November 7, 1938, Ernst vom Rath was shot outside the German embassy by Herschel Grynszpan, who wanted revenge for his parents’ sudden deportation from Germany to Poland

    "The night of the broken glass " was a clear signal to German Jews to "get the hell out of Dodge". Nearly 1000 of them tried to escape on the S.S. St. Louis on May 27, 1939, but were refused admission to Cuba, American, and Canada:

    Today, of course, the Nazi in the White House is trying to turn back as many refugees as possible from our borders, an act that is eerily similar to what happened in 1939.

    Kristallnacht, however, does have a connection to America that is remarkably similar to what happened in Germany in 1938.

    In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma was a prosperous, but highly segregated, oil town. The vast majority of the city's black citizens lived in a 35 block area known as Greenwood.

    On May 30, 1921, a young black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator at the Drexel Building, an office building on South Main Street. At some point after that, the young white elevator operator, Sarah Page, screamed; Rowland fled the scene. The police were called, and the next morning they arrested Rowland.

    By that time, rumors of what supposedly happened on that elevator had circulated through the city’s white community. A front-page story in the Tulsa Tribune that afternoon reported that police had arrested Rowland for sexually assaulting Page.

    Over the next several hours, groups of white Tulsans—some of whom were deputized and given weapons by city officials—committed numerous acts of violence against blacks, including shooting an unarmed man in a movie theater. The false belief that a large-scale insurrection among black Tulsans was underway, including reinforcements from nearby towns and cities with large African-American populations, fueled the growing hysteria.

    As dawn broke on June 1, thousands of white citizens poured into the Greenwood District, looting and burning homes and businesses over an area of 35 city blocks. Firefighters who arrived to help put out fires later testified that rioters had threatened them with guns and forced them to leave.

    According to a later Red Cross estimate, some 1,256 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.

    In the hours after the Tulsa Race Massacre, all charges against Dick Rowland were dropped. The police concluded that Rowland had most likely stumbled into Page, or stepped on her foot. Kept safely under guard in the jail during the riot, he left Tulsa the next morning and reportedly never returned.

    In the years to come, as black Tulsans worked to rebuild their ruined homes and businesses, segregation in the city only increased, and Oklahoma’s newly established branch of the KKK grew in strength.

    Both of these events are reminders that even the flimsiest of excuses can generate massive havoc.

    Remember Rodney King?

    The video of him being beaten by police does not include the fact that he was resisting arrest after a high speed chase on California freeways. Once the video became public, riots erupted in Los Angeles. By the time order was restored, the riots had resulted in 63 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Smaller riots occurred in other U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada, Seattle in Washington state, and as far east as Atlanta in Georgia and New York City.