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Cristina Merete

Persecution of the Jews; 1933-1939: Kristallnacht

On the eve of November 9, with the Evian Conference[link to Doc1.txt] a recent memory, the Nazi government decided to stage a riot against Jews all over the Reich.6 This riot is titled, Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass.

In order to carry out their plans, the Nazi government used the actions of 17year old, Herschel Grynszpan as a spring by which to mount the riot and eventually the Holocaust. This Jewish youth, shot and killed the Third Undersecretary of the German embassy in Paris, Ernst vom Rath. Grynszpan reacted this way because the Nazis expelled his family from Germany and imposed upon them brutal treatments.

Grynszpan's reaction was interpreted by Goebbels as a conspirational attack by 'International Jewry' against the Reich and symbolically, against the Fuehrer.7 As shown through Jews mode of living in Germany, the stage for the pogrom of 1938 was set; Grynszpan was used as a proponent of inciting this event.

Before Kristallnacht

In 1935, the Nuremberg laws denied German Jews of citizenship. As Kochan points out in his book, Pogrom: 10 Nov. 1938: from citizens they became guests, and therefore, in Nazi eyes, ineligible to have any voice in matters of administration or law, or to occupy any public office of any kind in the Reich.8 This act proves to be significant in showing how the Jews were gradually dislocated from their country. In turn, they were labeled as inferior and stripped of their basic rights.

In a June 14, 1938 report, entitled, "Jews in the Economy," Walter Funk, a Nazi official, stated that "insofar as the Jews in Germany are able to live off the proceeds of their commerce and other assets, they require strict state supervision"9. Funk summarizes the general feeling of anti-semitism, with respect to Jewish economic matters, that plagued the Nazi party. "This was the starting point on a process that eventually led to the justify the attempted extermination not only of German Jewry but of all Jews wherever German arms penetrated"10 Strong anti-Semitic roots are present from the time that Hitler came to power. AS the article from the Middle Tennessee State University states: "almost immediately upon assuming the chancellorship of Germany, Hitler began promulgating legal actions against the Jews."7. An example of the laws that diminished the Jews role in society are such that they forbid them to practice a profession; doctors and lawyers were denied their license to practice, Jews were also not allowed to use a listing of commercial services, required to submit to Nazi authorities or else were put to labor camps, cold not marry an Aryan, that is, a natural German, and had to turn over all property. These regulations, along with many others eliminated the Jews role in society and provided the groundwork for Kristallnacht, which served to eliminate the last of Jewish businesses and synagogues.

Kristallnacht: Nov. 9-10 1938

After Grynszpan's attack on vom Rath, who died on November 9, Goebbel took action. Goebbel assembled the Gestapo, and the SA against all the Jews. Goebbel's orders were the following:

Orders from Himmler, chief of the SS and of the German Police, to be carried out on November 9 and 10th of 1938.18

-Measures are to be limited to such as will not jeopardize German life or property (e.g., synagogues to be burned only if there is no danger to the surrounding area). -Jewish shops and houses are only to be destroyed, not to be plundered. The police are responsible for the prevention of looting and charged with the arrest of looters. -non-Jewish premises must be protected against any harm.

-Foreign citizens, even if Jews, are not to be molested.

-Provided the demonstrations follow the guidelines, the police are not to prevent them but should limit themselves to assuring the implementation of the guidelines. -Immediately upon receipt of the telex, all historically valuable archival materials are to be confiscated from the synagogues and Jewish community offices to safeguard them.

-As soon as the events of the night permit the use of police officers for this purpose, as many Jews (especially those who are well-to-do) are to be arrested as can be accommodated in the available detention areas. For the time being "only healthy Jewish males who are not too bold are to be arrested." The appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted regarding the housing of the Jews.

What followed was a show of brutality provided by the Nazi regime. "Nazi stormtroopers along with members of the SS and Hitler Youth beat and murdered Jews, broke into wrecked homes and brutalized Jewish women and children. All over Germany, Austria and other Nazi controlled areas, Jewish shops and department stores had their windows smashed and contents destroyed. Synagogues were especially targeted for vandalism, including the desecration of sacred Torah Scrolls. Hundreds of synagogues were systematically burned while local fire departments stood by or simply prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings." 11

"The result of this policy was the first violent pogrom (riot) on Western European soil in hundred of years. 36 Jews were killed (some authorities have this figure as high as 91); 30000 more were deported to concentration camps; 267 synagogues were burned and over 7000 Jewish shops, businesses and homes were vandalized and ransacked"12

Effects of Kristallnacht on the Jews

Jews were blamed for all the damage done on Kristallnacht and were forced to pay for it. The arrangements for their repayment was settled in a meeting of Nazi officials. Goebbels, Heydrich, Funk and other met, and concluded to leave the Jews financially and legally responsible for all the damage.

"Following the meeting, a wide ranging set of Anti-Semitic laws were passed which had the clear intent, in Gorings words of 'Aryanizing' the German economy. Over the next two or three months the following measures were put into effect:"13

Following the November 12 meeting, Goring announced having "received a letter written on the Fuehrer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another. The path to the 'final solution' has now been chosen. And, all the bureaucratic mechanisms for its implementation were now in place."13

How Kristallnacht set the groundwork for the launching of the Holocaust

The Middle Tennessee State University discussion forum on Kristallnacht outlines why the events at Kristallnacht turned out to be a seedbed for the Holocaust. The following is a list of conditions that were reflected through this event:14

1. By now it is clear to Hitler and his top officials that forced immigration of Jews out of the Reich is not a feasible option.
2. Hitler is already considering the invasion of Poland.
3. Numerous concentration camps and forced labor camps are already in operation.
4. The Nuremberg laws were in place.
5. The doctrine of Lebensraum has emerged as a guiding principle of Hitler's ideology.
6. The passivity of the German people in the face of the events of Kristallnacht made it clear to the Germans that the Nazis would encounter little opposition--even from the German churches.

The pogrom represented the opening stages of the Holocaust. Many Jews who until that point had lived in the hope that Nazism would wither away or become more tolerant, suddenly found themselves face to face with another reality.15

World Response to events taking place November 9 -10th, 1938

There is not a single voice by which to express the feelings and reactions felt by the entire world. However, a series of articles and commentaries demonstrate the mixed feelings that Kristallnacht gave rise to.

The world's headline news read words of chaos and outrage. The Chicago Tribune headlined its piece "Chaos Rather than Government" while the St. Paul Dispatch referred to "A Throwback to Barbarity". The Boston Herald used the headline "Germany Sanctions Lynch Law" and the Buffalo Courier-Express spoke of "Officials as Provocateurs." "Nazi poison is spreading" was how the Gloversville Morning Herald topped its comments. Strong editorial comments appeared in papers from coast to coast, from the Los Angeles Times to the Baltimore Sun.16

The World Jewish Congress with its headquarters in Geneva published the following statement on the evening of November 10:17

Though the Congress deplores the fatal shooting of an official of the German embassy in Paris by a young Polish Jew of seventeen, it is obliged to protest energetically against the violent attacks in the German press against the whole of Judaism because of this act and, especially, to protest against the reprisals taken against the German Jews after the crime.

The following article by a prominent French newspaper also denounced the treatment of the Jews during the pogrom of 1938.17

Statement by the French Alliance Israelite: demonstrates attacks on the occurrences by the French press. However, nothing is done on their part to help the Jews escape.17

We remain faithful to the inalienable integrity of the human person and reject once again all forms of violence, regardless of author or victim of such an act. We condemn the act of homicide which resulted in the loss of a German official and indignantly protest the barbarous treatment inflicted on an entire innocent population which was made the scapegoat for the crime of an individual.

Despite the strong arguments constructed against Nazism, the world did not do anything to control the mass killing that was to follow. In fact, the situation remained as it had been settled during the Evian Conference.


1"The Refugee Crisis and the Persecution Years." (Holocaust Documentation and Education Center at FIU, Lesson 4) 8.

2Schwaab, Gerald. The Day the Holocaust Began: the Odyssey of Herschel Grynszpan. (Praeger: New York, 1990) 23-24.

3("The Refugee" 13-14)

4Middle Tennessee State University. Kristallnacht. (online, Internet, 23 Feb. 1999) 3.

5(Middle Tennessee 4)

6("The Refugee" 29)

7(Middle Tennessee 1)

8Kochan, Lionel. Pogrom: 10 November 1938. (Andre Deutsch: London, 1957) 21.

9Fridlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews. vol. 1, The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. (Harper Collins Publishers, 1997) 260.

10(Kochan 21)

11USHMM. Holocaust Timeline: Kristallnacht. (1997: online, Internet, 23 February 1999) 1-2.

12Simon Wiesenthal Center Multimedia Learning Center. Kristallnacht. (1997: online, Internet, 23 February 1999) 2.

13(Middle Tennessee 3)

14(Middle Tennessee 2)

15(Schwaab 193)

16(Schwaab 34)

17(Schwaab 41)

18(Schwaab 22)