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Bullies, Bystanders, and Upstanders: The Slippery Slope of Complicity

There’s one day next week that has profound historical significance. And no, it’s not November 8.

It’s the day after.

November 9 is a notable date in modern German history.

German historians have referred to it as a “Day of Fate” or “Schicksalstag” because several significant events have occurred on this date.

What events have happened on November 9, the “Day of Fate”?

In recent memory, many of us remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of the former West and East Germany.

On November 9, 1989, an East German governmental official unintentionally announced at a televised press conference that East Germans could freely travel to West Germany. Thousands rushed the border and the wall soon fell.

November 8-9 was also the date of Adolf Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. The Nazis, however, seized power ten years later and unleashed state sponsored terror and violence on November 9-10, 1938, which became the turning point of the Holocaust.

On this night, “The Night of Broken Glass,” or “Kristallnacht,” Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, schools, homes, hospitals, and cemeteries were vandalized, destroyed, or burned.

The broken glass refers to the damaged windows that were shattered during the plundering. Jewish communities throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudentenland were targeted and dozens of Jews died on this night alone, with thousands of Jewish men soon arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Members of the Nazi party had initiated the violence, but ordinary Germans, including the Hitler Youth, either took part in the pogrom or stood by as it spread nationwide.

The events that led to the Holocaust have been researched and explored from various perspectives and disciplines. It was unprecedented and horrific.

For most, it is difficult to understand how ordinary individuals could have perpetrated such unspeakable evil.

Reflecting on November 9th, “The Night of Broken Glass”

When commemorating “The Night of Broken Glass” this year, perhaps we can think about the ramifications of remaining a bystander and how we can act more like upstanders.

There was no unified resistance movement in Nazi Germany, yet there were still courageous individuals, upstanders, who refused to conform and were resisters and rescuers. Despite overwhelming odds, they engaged in interfaith action and ethical leadership.

Let history be our guide. There are devastating consequences to intolerance and indifference. 

Take a stand and make a social impact through education, prevention, and intervention.

Stephani Richards-Wilson

Stephani Richards-Wilson

Dr. Stephani Richards-Wilson teaches in the Social Impact graduate program at Claremont Lincoln University. She is an Assistant Professor of Management at Alverno College where she teaches organizational leadership, strategic management, and global marketing. In 2013, she graduated with her second doctorate from the German Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her first doctorate is in Education with an emphasis in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego. Her research interests include social entrepreneurship, business education, and Nazi resisters, most notably Willi Graf of the White Rose. She has been involved with social impact education and practice for several years and manages a social enterprise with her husband. Prior to her academic career, she worked as an International Marketing Specialist at Nalge Company, manufacturer of NALGENE water bottles in New York.

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1 comment

  • What a prediction about the 9th, Prof. Stephanie.
    Well we just had a historic win by Donald Trump confirmed on the 9th of November, with enough delegate votes in his favor, that he did by having his contact with the pulse of a large part of the nation, giving the frustrated and depressed people hope for a positive change in their future. And, he started the process of reconciliation and healing by his gracious complement to his opponent, Hillary Clinton and his declaration that he will be the president of all Americans and that he will work with all people and nations in a fair manner.

Stephani Richards-Wilson

Stephani Richards-Wilson

Dr. Stephani Richards-Wilson teaches in the Social Impact graduate program at Claremont Lincoln University. She is an Assistant Professor of Management at Alverno College where she teaches organizational leadership, strategic management, and global marketing. In 2013, she graduated with her second doctorate from the German Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her first doctorate is in Education with an emphasis in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego. Her research interests include social entrepreneurship, business education, and Nazi resisters, most notably Willi Graf of the White Rose. She has been involved with social impact education and practice for several years and manages a social enterprise with her husband. Prior to her academic career, she worked as an International Marketing Specialist at Nalge Company, manufacturer of NALGENE water bottles in New York.