November 9: a fateful day in German history

People from West Berlin climb over the Berlin Wall after its fall on November 9, 1989 | © AFP/File | Françoise CHAPTAL
People from West Berlin climb over the Berlin Wall after its fall on November 9, 1989 | © AFP/File | Françoise CHAPTAL

Berlin (AFP) | 9 November 2018 1:41

The date carries extra weight this year as it marks 100 years since the end of the monarchy, as well as the 80th anniversary of the infamous “Kristallnacht” night of Nazi attacks against Jews.

Here’s a look at four times history was made on November 9 — not always by coincidence.

– 1918: The last emperor –

With Germany on the brink of defeat in World War I and a revolutionary mood sweeping the country, the unpopular emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate, ending Germany’s monarchy.

On November 9, 1918 the Social Democrats’ deputy chairman Philipp Scheidemann rushed to the balcony of Berlin’s Reichstag parliament to announce the birth of what would become the Weimar Republic.

“Long live the German republic!” he shouted.

Two days later, Germany agreed to sign an armistice that ended the Great War against the Allied forces.

The terms of Germany’s surrender were deemed so humiliating that historians believe they helped sow the seeds for World War II.

– 1923: Hitler’s ‘beer hall’ putsch –

Adolf Hitler, the then relatively unknown Nazi Party leader, and his cronies tried to seize power with a coup that started in a crowded Munich beer hall on November 9, 1923.

After climbing onto a chair and firing into the ceiling, Hitler proclaimed the end of “the government of the November criminals”, a term used by critics of the 1918 surrender.

But police and soldiers quickly crushed the attempted putsch, and Hitler was arrested.

He used his trial to gain notoriety and spread anti-Jewish hatred, and ultimately spent barely nine months in prison.

It was in his cell that Hitler began writing “Mein Kampf”.

– 1938: Night of Broken Glass –

Nazi thugs torched synagogues, smashed Jewish-owned shops and rounded up Jewish men across Germany on November 9, 1938, in what became known as “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of Broken Glass”.

The timing was no coincidence — that evening senior Nazi figures like Joseph Goebbels had riled up crowds at events honouring Hitler’s 1923 coup bid.

At least 90 Jews were killed and 30,000 deported to concentration camps in the outbreak of violence, which historians say ushered in the start of the Nazis’ drive to wipe out Jews.

Today, Germans remember the Kristallnacht pogrom by polishing or placing flowers on “Stolpersteine”, small brass plaques on cobblestones commemorating Nazi victims.

In Berlin last year, 16 plaques were dug up and stolen just before the anniversary, fuelling alarm about a resurgence in anti-Semitism.

– 1989: Berlin Wall comes down –

The fall of the Berlin Wall in a bloodless revolution on November 9, 1989 is a joyous milestone in German history, ending 28 years of Cold War separation.

But because of the dark chapters associated with the date in the past, it was considered an ill choice for a public holiday. Germans instead celebrate October 3, 1990, the official reunification of East and West Germany.

The wall came down almost by accident, after communist East German bureaucrat Guenter Schabowski was caught off guard during a live press conference on the question of when exactly new, more relaxed travel rights would take effect.

“As far as I know… as of now,” he improvised, sending thousands of East Berliners streaming towards checkpoints where baffled guards eventually opened the barriers.

© 2018 AFP

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