Remembering This Day

A group of Jewish men being humiliated before a crowd - courtesy of Yad Vashem archives

A group of Jewish men being humiliated before a crowd – courtesy of Yad Vashem archives

In the late hours of this day, November 9th, the sounds of glass breaking, shouts, and the sight of flames sent a clear warning to the world of what was to come. It has been 77 years now, but it still remains a clear warning.

On Kristallnacht, November 9-10th, 1938, over 1,000 synagogues in Germany and Austria were destroyed. Sacred objects were desecrated. Jewish hospitals and homes were attacked by mobs incited by Nazi leadership. They destroyed Jewish owned businesses and schools as the night wore on into early morning of November 10th.

At least 91 Jewish citizens were killed. Another 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Many more sustained various injuries. All were afraid.

Most view this night as the beginning of the Holocaust. It is believed that the pogram was planned long before and only awaited a “reason” for the violence. The assassination of German diplomat Ernest vom Rath in Paris by a Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan on November 7, 1938. He had recently received a postcard from his family explaining that they had been expelled from the German city of Hanover. When he was arrested for the shooting, he carried the postcard in his pocket and said, “May God forgive me… I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do.”

The unfortunate choice of vom Rath lies in the politics of this career diplomat. He is believed to have held strong anti-Nazi sympathies and was actually under surveillance by the Gestapo at the time of his death. However, Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine never wasted an incident they could spin. Suddenly, vom Rath became a patriotic German who was slain mercilessly by a dangerous Jew. Of course, Grynszpan had no way to know that he was killing a friend and not enemy.

In fact, his protest was heard around the world. The resulting pogrom in Germany and Austria was as well. It was reported by international journalists as it happened. The message was very clear that Jews were being targeted and were not safe. To the dismay of the Jews of Europe, the world did not act upon this message. The Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews and other minorities would continue for years and cost more than 6 million lives in the Holocaust.

For further learning:

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass – a children’s book from the point of view of a cat. A fantastic and gentle way to introduce children to the story of this night.

Kristallnacht: The Nazi Terro That Began The Holocaust – a collection of primary sources regarding the events of November 9th and 10th, 1938

American Experience: America and the Holocaust – a fantastic (as always) look at the American response to Kristallnacht and the Holocaust as a whole

Background and Overview of Kristallnacht – resources and other links from the Jewish Virtual Library

Archival Footage of Synagogue Burning – shot by a fireman who was watching the synagogue burn but on hand to ensure the fire did not spread to any non-Jewish property

Overlooked History: Indian Boarding Schools

Education is a gift. It is the key to many things we as a country hold dear: freedom, democracy, and upward economic mobility. It can never be a bad thing, right?

Except it can be and has been. The Indian Boarding School Movement was a dark period in education from the late 18th century into the early 20th century in the United States. These were often began by Christian missionaries and then funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The philosophy of most can be summed up in the words of the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, Richard Henry Pratt, “Kill the Indian. Save the man.” These schools sought to assimilate Native children by (often forcibly) removing them from their families and tribes and punishing them for any signs of “Indian” while at the school. They were not allowed to speak their Native language or follow any customs, including manner of dress or hair.

The proponents of these schools spoke in flowery terms of opening opportunities to the students to join “civilized” society and be successful. The result however was the near extinction of many Native languages and cultures. The children were often subjected to physical abuse in addition to the emotional damage caused by the removal from family and being taught that their very essence was wrong and something of which to be ashamed.

To learn more about this movement and the impact on Natives to this day, you can check out:

Our Spirits Don’t Speak English – d1x“a Native American perspective on Indian Boarding Schools. This DVD produced by Rich-Heape Films, Inc. uncovers the dark history of U.S. Government policy which took Indian children from their homes, forced them into boarding schools and enacted a policy of educating them in the ways of Western Society. This DVD gives a voice to the countless Indian children forced through a system designed to strip them of their Native American culture, heritage and traditions.

View collections of photographs at:

An Indian Boarding School Photo Gallery and Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center

Further Reading:

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences, 1879-2000

Julius Rosenwald and His Legacy of Fighting Oppression

Julius Rosenwald is not a household name. He is not held up as one of the great heroes of the twentieth century. I would argue, though, that his reach far exceeds those of many whose names are more often uttered.

Julius Rosenwald was an astute businessman. In fact, he was the mind behind Sears, Roebuck, and Company becoming the household name that he never was. At the turn of the twentieth century, amid the robber barons and the gilded age, a man with that fortune lived a life of luxury unseen before among any but royalty. What did Rosenwald do with this well-earned fortune? He founded the Rosenwald Fund.

Rosenwald partnered with Booker T Washington to construct more than 5,000 schools for rural African-American communities in the southern United States. This alone would earn him accolades of how generous he was as a wealthy businessman from Chicago to care about children that were not his and communities that were as far removed from his as possible at the time. It was his legacy that shows this was more than a kind gesture.

His sons, Lessing and William, worked within various organizations in the US to help refugees of World War II before the US was part of the war. Hundreds of people were able to escape the atrocities of Nazi Germany due to their efforts. His granddaughter Nina has been an activist and funder of various initiatives as well.

What does this say about him? We cannot be sure but I believe it shows that he taught his children explicitly to use their position, influence, and financial strength to benefit humanity. I see generations of a family following his example because it was very real and not just a check written and forgotten.

So, what do we have to learn from Mr. Rosenweld? I will tell you what I have learned. It does not matter whose child is in need. It does not matter if they look like me, talk like me, or worship like me. It does not matter if they are useful to me. It does not matter if they live near me or far away. What matters is that there is a human being in need. What matters is whether or not I have the means to help. What matters is that my sons learn that they are on this planet to love and care for ALL of mankind. That is all.

What will your legacy be?

Overlooked History: Orphan Trains

Beginning in 1853, the Orphan Trains ran from major cities on the East coast of the United States to various communities westward. Most of the trains final destinations were in the Midwest or pioneer communities that were growing at the time of the early trains. More than 200,000 children were placed in new homes through this predecessor to our current foster care system. The Children’s Aid Society based in New York City and later the New York Foundling Hospital were a major source of the children but there were also other organizations involved at various points.
The children that were placed on the trains were often homeless or abandoned. Some were relinquished by impoverished parents or removed from abusive homes. They were mostly placed in rural communities and on farms. While some stories reveal abuse and neglect at the hands of the foster families, many children were given placements with loving and caring parents that were able to provide a life that would have never been possible in the slums of the major cities from which they came.
The children headed west on passenger trains accompanied by usually two adults who then met with the person in charge of placements at each stop along the route. The adults interested in taking in a child would meet the group at a designated place and select a child then.
There are various first hand accounts written by the children that discuss this process and the life that came afterwards.
The Orphan Trains continued until 1929 (some records say the early 1930s) but ended due to the development of modern foster care, the Great Depression, and the enactment of laws in various states that forbid the bringing in of orphans from out-of-state.
Today, researchers believe that there are more than two million descendents of the train riders. There are various historical societies that preserve the records and memories of local riders.

To learn more, you can check out these resources among many others:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/ – American Experience: Orphan Trains on PBS.org is a fantastic documentary to introduce the stories of the train children

http://orphantraindepot.org/history/ – introductory information and links to various other historical sites about the Orphan Trains

Historical fiction: A Family Apart by Lois Lowry is a great tween/young adult introduction to the story and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a great introduction for young adults and adults alike

If you find other resources, please share here.

Hobby Historians and the Plethora of Poor Sources Online

I do much of my research online and I love access to information for free. The amazing ability to have information at my finger tips has one significant downside: any deranged conspiracy theorist can upload their speculation and present it as fact.

I have spent so many wasted hours doing research only to have the sinking realization that the source is not credible. Have you ever watched a Youtube video about history only to realize that the creator of the video has a delusional agenda and nothing you have heard is credible?

So, how do you separate the real from the delusional? Well, you have to look at a few factors and think critically. There are also some great resources that provide accurate information to compare new sources and fact check.

How to Check for Accuracy and Bias:

  1. Who is the author? Is there an about page that may show more information? Does this person claim special “secret” knowledge or access to information not available to the public?
  2. Some keywords that point to conspiracy rantings are: secret, elite, Rothschild, illuminati, Big Pharma, Bilderberg,  wake up, and many others.
  3. Look at the links to other pages or the sponsors. Is this person linked to more obvious sources of conspiracy or hate? Is this person profiting off the “secret knowledge” they provide? This is especially common in the “Big Pharma” conspiracists.  They inevitably are selling a “natural” or “safe” alternative to legitimate modern medicine.
  4. Does it all fit together just a little too neatly? Does it claim a single cause for world events or for illness/harm? Truth is complicated and complex. There is rarely a single cause of any event. It is almost always a complex series of events that lead to anything.
  5. Are the sources used current and reputable? Here is a hint: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is never a sign of reputable information unless the writer is holding them up as false. Do they reference primary documents anywhere or do they only reference works by other historians that do not have credentials? If a historian has only been self-published or has no creditable education, read with caution.

Reliable Sources for Fact Checking the Claims Made:

WhoWhatWhen – A site that allows you to search famous people and events

Smithsonian Institute – Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities.

UH-Digital History –  Includes: a U.S. history e-textbook; over 400 annotated documents, primary sources on slavery, Mexican American and Native American history, and U.S. political, social, and legal history; short essays on the history of film, ethnicity, private life, and technology; multimedia exhibitions; reference resources that include a searchable database of 1,500 annotated links, classroom handouts, chronologies, glossaries, an audio archive including speeches and book talks by historians, and a visual archive with hundreds of historical maps and images. The site’s Ask the HyperHistorian feature allows users to pose questions to professional historians.

Local Historical societies and university-affiliated history projects

The Greenwood Massacre

There are always overlooked stories in history.  These are almost always the stories of the minority and the marginalized. Oklahoma is no different.

In recent years, there has been a focus on uncovering and discussing the horrific tragedy of Greenwood in 1921. It is important to know about the destruction of the incredibly affluent and successful “Black Wall Street” that occurred.  It is a horrific tragedy that was unfortunately not rare for the time.

Throughout African American communities across the country, Tulsa was known as a place of economic opportunity throughout the first decades of the 20th century.  There were Black owned hotels, stores, and various businesses.  The success of this community was often held up as a standard to other communities.

The events of May 31, 1921 are often referred to as the “Tulsa Race Riot” by journalists and historians.  I prefer to refer to it as the Greenwood Massacre.  In less than 24 hours, hundreds were killed, businesses and homes burned to the ground, and countless citizens of Greenwood were injured.

It all began with an incident at the Drexel Hotel.  A young African American employee stumbled leaving an elevator and was charged with rape for having fallen into another employee, Sarah Page. The press at the time portrayed Sarah as an “innocent orphan” that was “scratched and attacked” by a vicious Dick Rowland.  The characterization of both was loaded and mostly inaccurate.

There was mob crying for the lynching of Rowland.  At a time when an average of two African Americans were lynched daily in this country, this was not an empty threat.  A group of men from Greenwood went to the jail to protect Rowland from the mob.  It was then that all hell broke loose.

The mob attacked the men as they walked down the street toward the jail. They quickly deputized multiple white men and were given the authority of the government to attack.  Most of the mob was originally organized by the Ku Klux Klan.

They then marched on Greenwood. There are reports of military equipment being used in the attack as well. The district was attacked at the sound of a whistle while the people of Greenwood were sleeping.  As people attempted to flee, the mob shot indiscriminately at those running. The emptying houses and businesses were looted by the mob of anything of value. There were women seen walking with the mob carrying shopping bags to carry away looted belongings.

It was a night of terror and thievery. The homes and businesses were set afire after they were looted. The telegraph and phone lines were cut in order to make it impossible for any news of the attack to spread. The fire department stood by in order to protect the property of white citizens that was near the district as it burned but provided no assistance to the people of Greenwood.

This was no unorganized gang of criminals. The truth is that the mayor, the police department, and the Ku Klux Klan had orchestrated an attack of near-military precision. It was initiated block by block and systematically. Military planes dropped bombs on the district, including a 42 day old church. Hospitals with patients inside were burned down.  Women carrying infants were shot and killed while running for safety.

It did not end until National Guard troops arrived on June 1st from Oklahoma City. They worked for hours to put down the unrest. They did however pause to eat breakfast before declaring martial law a few hours later.

Black people were rounded up into detention centers.  They were only allowed to leave if vouched for by a white person. Those who were able to leave Tulsa often did not ever return. Those who remained fought to rebuild a community literally out of the ashes. This was further hindered by the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange and City Commission with changes in building codes that rezoned the district for commercial and industrial construction only and that increased requirements for construction to make it economically prohibitive to rebuild.

Generations later, there is a thriving movement to rebuild and preserve the heritage of the Greenwood District. It was not until 1996 that the incident was investigated fully and the truth told.

For further reading:

James S. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2002

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 a thorough and well written examination of the events available online

“Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 archive”, University of Tulsa McFarlin Library, Special Collections, links to inventory, related materials, and photographs

Tulsa Race Riot – A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Tulsa Reparations Coalition Website

“Tulsa Race Riot”, Oklahoma Historical Society

Lesson Plans:

Linda Christensen. “Why Teaching the Tulsa Race Riot is More Than Just Teaching History”, 28 May 2013, GOOD Magazine.

Linda Christensen. “Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silent Voices of the Tulsa Race Riot”, 8-page lesson plan for high school Students, 2013, Zinn Education Project/Rethinking Schools.

Multimedia Resources:

Tulsa race riot Collection of 11 real photographic postcards of the race riot that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Pictures illustrate the devastation to the Greenwood District’s African American community, including whole blocks burned to the ground, bodies of victims and the convention hall where Greenwood citizens were detained.

“Black Wall Street, Little Africa, Tulsa, Oklahoma”  full version of documentary streaming at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4IvFXPGYNA