Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Fall of the Wall

Today, November 9, is marked on some calendars as World Freedom Day in tribute to the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the iron curtain changed the world and had a tremendous impact on many communities.

The Berlin Wall, which was erected in August 1961, was intended to stop the flow of East Germans choosing democracy over communism. When Berlin was divided, most of the Jews who were still in Germany lived in the West. Many of these Jews were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe or refugees who fled Stalinism. The several hundred Jews who remained in East Germany were, generally, those who wished to remain in the east for ideological reasons.

While there was freedom of religion in the west, there was also freedom of movement. Jews continued to leave West Germany and the population declined. In East Germany, where the population was even smaller, many Jews were swallowed into the larger population, choosing complete assimilation over the discomfort of a religious affiliation in a Communist state.

When the wall came down, the two populations reconnected. Shortly thereafter, the new united community was reinvigorated by the flood of Russian Jews who were finally able to leave Soviet Union. There is now a flourishing Jewish community in Berlin, and there is even a great deal of Jewish activity located in East Berlin, on what used to be communist land.

It is fascinating to note that November 9th is a day of great significance in German history. In 1918, the November Revolution ended the German monarchy and established the Weimer Republic. The “Beer Hall Putsch,” which was one of Hitler’s first strong political acts, occurred on November 8-9, 1923. November 9th is also the date of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when anti-Semitic demonstrations destroyed massive amounts of Jewish property and thousands of Jews were attacked, marking the beginning of the end for most German Jews.

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