Commentary: Orderly citizens of Rumburk wanted Kristallnacht
The shameful failure of the so-called peaceful citizens whom I saw on Friday in Rumburk was chilling. Meetings like this were how Kristallnacht must have started in 1938. This was probably how the massacre of Jews took place in the Polish town of Jedwabne in 1941.
During Friday's demonstration in Rumburk, I observed a man holding the hand of his son, who was probably only 11. I saw a mother with a baby carriage, boys from the local high school, dressed-up girls, pensioners, an auto mechanic, town council members and entrepreneurs. In short, the so-called "orderly" citizens of the town. At least 1 200 people were on the square listening to Mayor Jaroslav Sykáček and Czech MP Jaroslav Foldyn (both elected for the Czech Social Democrats).
"Let's not stick our heads in the sand, we want the laws to change," Foldyna told the crowd. "We want to regulate the influx of inadaptables and to have the option of banning their residency," Sykáček said. "Get the gypsies out and there will be peace," the citizens agreed.
Then things got even harsher. The Social Democrats handed the microphone to Josef Mašín of "Civic Resistance" (Občanský odpor) Rumburk, the leader of a self-appointed extremist cell. Even though the mayor had banned the anti-Roma demonstration Mašín had originally organized, in the end he invited him up onto his own podium. Mašín gave an exemplary xenophobic speech in which, among other things, he called for citizens to "face down, as soon as possible" the moving of "inadaptables" into Rumburk. Someone else said it was a shame that the crown hadn't come armed with pitchforks.
After Mašín's speech, the crowd of "decent" people transformed itself into a vigilante posse and set off on a march through the town that lasted almost three hours. "Where are you, you black swine?" called the most courageous, standing beneath the windows of apartments occupied by Romani people in the housing estate near the square. Those were strong enough words for police to have stopped the march and dispersed it. They didn't, and the forces of "street justice" marched on to another Romani home, this time the home of the parents of one of the brawlers who participated in an attack committed by a group of Romani people against a group of Czechs on Sunday 21 August after a dance at the "Modrá hvězda" disco.
"Come out here!" the mob called. Someone threw a plank through the window from the fence that had just been demolished by the "peaceful citizens". The building was being guarded by a cordon of riot police and the excitement peaked there. "Will you look at that? Protectors of the blacks," a small group of 15-year-old boys disgustedly commented on the police presence. They had decided to spice up their usual daily vacation boredom at the swimming pool with a visit to the riot. "Mom, don't worry, it's good here," another boy said into his mobile phone, assuring her that the action was succeeding.
If police had not protected the house, the fanatical masses would have broken all its windows at a minimum. At that moment, as a former history teacher, I thought of Kristallnacht, November 1938, when mobs of the orderly also plundered and burned down Jewish synagogues (by the way, they also destroyed the prayer hall in Rumburk back then). All it took was to manipulate the mob properly and show them who the enemy was, sponging off of the money and work of honest citizens. MP Foldyna also convinced his sheep on the square in Rumburk that in the Šluknov foothills, no one can live with Romani people, or with "people without education and money".
Even though the pogrom was fortunately not completed in Rumburk, as I looked at that surrounded home I thought of Jan Tomasz Gross's book "Neighbors". That publication suggestively describes how Polish residents of the little town of Jedwabne organized a hunting expedition against their Jewish neighbors in 1941, murdering 340 of them and setting them on fire. "Completely normal people carried out the attacks - pipe fitters, tailors, peasants, the mayor, everyone," Gross wrote. German soldiers just watched the massacre in surprise.
Four days on, what do all those boys and girls, those orderly moms and dads who surrounded the home of the "enemies of Rumburk" on Friday now think? Are they at least a little ashamed? Or do they have the feeling that they have finally found the correct solution for tackling their Romani neighbors? I am concerned that in a town where the mayor indirectly calls for a new Kristallnacht, there will be few who regret what they have done.
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