This weekend was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass, when thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed across Germany. Ninety-one Jews died that night. That was the night of November 9/10, 1938. (Awkward anniversary tie-in – on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.)
Media around the anniversary spooled up in all the expected ways, except there was this: Kristallnacht on Twitter, presumably so we can mark the anniversary, or relive the destruction in so-called realtime. Naturally, I found out about it via Twitter, in an inappropriately cheery message:
What would it have been like indeed? For the German participants or witnesses? For the Jewish victims? For Americans reading about it at home? What, indeed?
I have trouble understanding what I’m supposed to do with a series of Tweets about Jews in Germany being beaten and harassed 75 years ago. The account (9Nov38) is in German, so I can’t comment too extensively, but one example tweet reads
Sunrise in Kassel. Few people on the street, but a lot of glass shards and destroyed furnishings in front of more than 20 shops.
Historically relevant, and perhaps that’s the point – a small teaching moment injected into the weekend. The organizers – a group of history professors from across Germany – certainly hope so. But I have trouble reconciling the horrors of Kristallnacht and beyond, with the here-today-gone-tomorrow throwaway nature of Twitter. I mean, this is the place we go to make fun of our mayor’s weight and one-up each other in a #drunkenstupor.
A few years ago, I wrote about Facebook profiles for Holocaust victims such as Anne Frank. It’s still strange and awkward and uncomfortable. If Facebook put the whole thing into a suspended animation – immortalizing otherwise dead people and avoiding true engagement with their final fate, Twitter does the opposite. Everything is real and happening now, but it goes by in a blur of updates and quickly disappears. On Facebook, you can at least leave messages, but on Twitter, you’re just one retweet among millions.
Twitter mostly works in the moment. It’s great for getting information about a devastating typhoon in the Philippines and organizing donations. Likewise during Hurricane Sandy last year. A quick shot of disaster? Twitter is all over it. But ongoing, severe crises tend to get drowned out by all the shouting, shouting, shouting to be heard.
Today is Remembrance Day, which my four-year-old tells me is about “PEACE ON EARTH.” (No, really, it was that loud.) In some parts of the country, people are bickering over whether wearing a white poppy for peace dishonours our fallen soldiers who, not very long after Kristallnacht, marched into Europe for six years of NOT-PEACE-ON-EARTH. In other, more desperate parts of the world, like Syria, desperate surface in our feeds to little effect. You can pick those tweets up next to a Kristallnacht feed, should you choose. It’s all a little weird.
Sidebar – Global News released an interactive map of the city’s war dead last year. It’s 6,160 soldiers over 3 wars – WWI, WWII, Korea. You can see if there was a fallen soldier in your home, or your neighbour’s. That’s a tech-y form of memorial that makes sense.