In 1933, approximately 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe, comprising 1.7% of the total European population. This number represented more than 60 percent of the world’s Jewish population at that time, estimated at 15.3 million. The majority of Jews in prewar Europa resided in eastern Europe : Poland, 3.000.000; Soviet Union, 2.525.000; Romania, 756.000; Germany, 500.000; Hungary, 445.000; Czechoslovakia, 357.000; Great Britain, 300.000; France, 250.000; Austria, 191.000; Netherlands, 156.000; Lithuania, 155.000; Latvia, 95.600; Greece, 73.000; Yugoslavia, 68.000; Belgium, 60.000; Bulgaria, 48.500; Italy, 48.000; Sweden, 5700; Denmark, 5700; Estonia, 4560; Spain, 4000; Finland, 1800; Norway, 1400; Portugal, 1200; Albania, 200. Before the Nazis seized power in 1933, Europa had a richly diverse set of Jewish cultures, many of which were dynamic and highly developed, that drew from hundreds and, in some areas, a thousand or more years of Jewish life on the continent. The diverse nature of individual Jewish communities in occupations, religious practices, involvement and integration in regional and national life, and other areas made for fruitful and multifarious Jewish life across Europe. In many countries, Jews stood as cultural and political luminaries, and had marched alongside non-Jews in World War I. In little more than a decade, most of Europe would be conquered, occupied, or annexed by Nazi Germany and its Axis partners, and the majority of European Jews – two out of every three – would be dead.
The term Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) refers to the November 9 and 10 1938, organized Anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria. These riots marked a major transition in the Nazi policy, and were, in many ways, a harbinger of the Final Solution. Nazi antisemitic policy began with the systematic legal, economic, and social disenfranchisement of the Jews. This was accomplished in various stages (e.g. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which, among other things, stripped German Jews of their citizenship).
Nuremberg Race Laws 1935
At the annual party rally held in Nuremberg in 1935, the Nazis announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. The laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of German or related blood. Ancillary ordinances to the laws disenfranchised Jews and deprived them of most political rights. The Nuremberg Laws, as they became known, did not define a Jew as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism for years found themselves caught in the grip of Nazi terror. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were defined as Jews.
The Nazis staged vicious pogroms—state sanctioned, Anti-Jewish riots—against the Jewish community of Germany. These came to be known as Kristallnacht (now commonly translated as Night of Broken Glass), a reference to the untold numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed during the pogroms. Encouraged by the Nazi regime, the rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside. Kristallnacht was a turning point in history. The pogroms marked an intensification of Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust : the systematic, state-sponsored murder of Jews.
Historical Correction : by Prof. Dr. Meier Schwarz, Synagogue Memorial, Jerusalem in cooperation with Karin Lange.
1 : The events surrounding the night between November 9/10 1938 in Germany are often referred to as (Reichs-)Kristallnacht (Crystall Night) – even today, and even by respected historians. Horst Stickmann justifiably calls this word a description, that plays down this event, suggesting that all that happened were a few shattered windows. (Verharmlosende Bezeichnung, die suggerieren soll, als seien damals lediglich einige Fensterscheiben zu Bruch gegangen). The expression Kristallnacht disguises all the atrocities committed to the Jewish population during this one night. As Avraham Barkai puts it in his essay Schicksalsjahr 1938 (Doom’s Year 1938) : Kristallnacht! It flashes, glitters and twinkles – just like a celebration! It’s about time for this ill-natured belittling term to disappear from historiography. (Kristallnacht! Das funkelt, blitzt und glitzert wie bei einem Fest! Es wäre längst Zeit, daß diese böswillig-verharmlosende Bezeichnung zumindest aus der Geschichtsschreibung verschwände. Calling it a pogrom would be more accurate.
2 : More than 60 years after the pogrom it is not only linguistics that needs to be fixed. Even more important is to debunk the lies surrounding the Kristallnacht, concerning the number of martyrs and destroyed synagogues. The head of the security forces, Reinhard Heydrich, mentions on Nov 11 1938, in a temporary report of the planned pogrom carried out two days ago in all of Germany, that within the Jewish population there were 36 casualties and another 36, that were severely injured. Even though the secret account of the High Court of Germany revised this number on Feb 13, 1939, and talks about 91 casualties, it is this number, 36, that was considered the final numbers of victims in academic literature – to this very day. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Center mentions in a memorial text on the 50th anniversary of the pogrom, that the number of casualties was 36, even though some consider it to be 91. 91, then, is the highest number of casualties mentioned in academic literature. This figure, however, is far below the true number. Furthermore, it is considered to be the newest scientific stand, even though current research has disproved it : Hermann Graml, for example, pointed out in 1988, that the victims of the November pogrom consist not only of the Jews who died on the actual night of the pogrom, but also of those that were taken to the concentration camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen) that night and died there later as a result of cruel abuse. Graml estimates the number of people, who didn’t return home from the camps to be several hundred people. Also Wolfgang Benz estimates (in a research conducted in 1988) the number of casualties to be higher than hitherto estimated. He stresses, that the number of victims includes not only those people who died as a result of consequential damage and injuries, but also those who committed suicide as a result of the pogrom, even if the suicide occurred later. They (the ones who committed suicide) must be considered direct victims of the pogrom (müssen als direkte Opfer des Pogroms gelten). Already in 1981 Heinz Lauber mentions that the number of suicide cases connected directly or indirectly to the pogrom can hardly be reconstructed (Zahl der Freitode in direktem und vor allem indirektem Zusammenhang mit dem Judenpogrom November 1938 kaum noch rekonstruieren lässt). Spreading awareness of the high number of martyrs, including the suicide and concentration camp victims, was the starting point of a research project of the synagogue memorial. After detailed work with documents from the former concentration camps, interviews with descendants of the victims etc., our research team concluded, that the overall number of victims of the pogrom night lies around 1300-1500. It is our aim to complete this list, including hitherto unknown victims. It has to be mentioned here, that the victims of the pogrom are normally not included as victims of the holocaust, since it preceded it. However, we think, that the burning of synagogues was an omen of Auschwitz (brennenden Synagogen […] Voraussignal für Ausschwitz).
3 : Historiography not only underestimates the number of martyrs. Also in the topic of destroyed or burned synagogues incorrect numbers have constantly been quoted. In the above mentioned letter of Heydrich to Göring (Nov 11, 1938) the number of burned synagogues is mentioned as 191, with another 76 damaged (An Synagogen wurden 191 in Brand gesteckt, weitere 76 vollständig demoliert.) This number of 267 ruined synagogues found its way into practically every work of historical research related to this topic. There is hardly any researcher who doubted this number or at least tried to prove its correctness. Whether this naive belief in the truthfulness of one written source is an indication of scientific quality, may be up to the reader to decide. The few researchers who did doubt this number, such as Avraham Barkai and Ronald Flade were considered dissident voices and often attacked for their findings. After years of research Synagogue Memorial found, that the true number of destroyed or burned synagogues during the pogrom is 1574 (more than 5 times as many as the hitherto used number). Our aim is to remember each and every one of them.
4 : The scars of the pogrom will probably never heal ! Nevertheless, recounting this historic event in its full scale will make it easier for the victims and their descendants to cope with it. Together with the synagogues the centers of Jewish life were burned down. The step to the destruction Jewish life itself, to genocide, was very small. It began the same night The holocaust began there, in view of the whole German population. They knew enough not to want to know more.
One of these steps involved the deportation of Polish Jews who were residing in Germany (est. 56.500). On the night of Oct 27, 1938, 18.000 Polish Jews were deported, but were initially refused entry into Poland by the Polish authorities. Caught in between, the Jews were forced to camp out in makeshift shelters. Upon hearing that his family was so trapped, 17 year-old Herschel Grynszpan, a student in Paris, shot the third secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst vom Rath, whom he mistook for the ambassador. This assassination served as a welcome pretext for the German initiation of the Nov 1938 Pogrom known as the Kristallnacht. Reinhard Heydrich (the head of the Reich Main Security Office which oversaw the Gestapo, police and SD operations) sent a secret telegram at 0120, Nov 10, 1938 to all headquarters and stations of the State Police; all districts and sub-districts of the SD. He gave instructions for the immediate coordination of police and political activities in inciting the riots throughout Germany and Austria.
Secret (Most Urgent telegram from Munich, of November 10, 1938, 0120) To :
All Headquarters and Stations of the State Police
All districts and Sub-districts of the SD
Urgent! For immediate attention of Chief or his deputy !
Re : Measures against Jews tonight
Following the attempt on the life of Secretary of the Legation vom Rath in Paris, demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in all parts of the Reich in the course of the coming night, Nov 9/10, 1938. The instructions below are to be applied in dealing with these events :
1 : The Chiefs of the State Police, or their deputies, must immediately upon receipt of this telegram contact, by telephone, the political leaders in their areas – Gauleiter or Kreisleiter – who have jurisdiction in their districts and arrange a joint meeting with the inspector or commander of the Order Police to discuss the arrangements for the demonstrations. At these discussions the political leaders will be informed that the German Police has received instructions, detailed below, from the Reichsfuehrer SS and the Chief of the German Police, with which the political leadership is requested to coordinate its own measures : (a) Only such measures are to be taken as do not endanger German lives or property (i.e., synagogues are to be burned down only where there is no danger of fire in neighboring buildings); (b) Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police is instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest looters; (c) In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage; (d) Foreign citizens – even if they are Jews – are not to be molested.
2 : On the assumption that the guidelines detailed under para. 1 are observed, the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the Police, which is only to supervise the observance of the guidelines.
3 : On receipt of this telegram Police will seize all archives to be found in all synagogues and offices of the Jewish communities so as to prevent their destruction during the demonstrations. This refers only to material of historical value, not to contemporary tax records, etc. The archives are to be handed over to the locally responsible officers of the SD.
4 : The control of the measures of the Security Police concerning the demonstrations against the Jews is vested in the organs of the State Police, unless inspectors of the Security Police have given their own instructions. Officials of the Criminal Police, members of the SD, of the Reserves and the SS in general may be used to carry out the measures taken by the Security Police.
5 : As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts – especially the rich – as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps. Special care is to be taken that the Jews arrested in accordance with these instructions are not ill-treated …
Der Ewige Jude (film review by Joseph Goebbels 1938)
The film begins with an impressive expedition through the Jewish ghettos in Poland. We are shown Jewish living quarters, which in our view cannot be called houses. In these dirty rooms lives and prays a race, which earns its living not by work but by haggling and swindling. From the little urchin to the old man, they stand in the streets, trading and bargaining. Using trick photography, we are shown how the Jewish racial mixture in Asia Minor developed and flooded the entire world. We see a parallel to this in the itinerant routes of rats, which are the parasites and bacillus-carriers among animals, just as the Jews occupy the same position among mankind. The Jew has always known how to assimilate his external appearance to that of his host. Contrasted are the same Jewish types, first the Eastern Jew with his kaftans’, beard, and sideburns, and then the clean shaven, Western European Jew. This strikingly demonstrates how he has deceived the Aryan people. Under this mask he increased his influence more and more in Aryan nations and climbed to higher-ranking positions. But he could not change his inner being.
After the banishment of the Jews from Europe was lifted, following the age of Enlightenment, the Jew succeeded within the course of several decades in dominating the world economy, before the various host nations realized – and this despite the fact that they made up only 1 per cent of the world population. An excerpt from an American film about the Rothschild’s, made by Jews, reveals to us the cunning foundations of their banking empire.
Then we see how Jews, working for their international finance, drive the German people into the November Revolution. They then shed their anonymity and step out openly on to the stage of political and cultural life. Thus the men who were responsible for the disgraceful debasement of the German people are paraded before us. Incontestable examples are shown of how they robbed the country and the people of immense sums. As well as gaining financial supremacy they were able to dominate cultural life. The repulsive pictures of so-called Jewish “art” reveal the complete decline of cultural life at that time. Using original sequences from contemporary films, the degrading and destructive tendency of Jewish power is exposed. For hundreds of years German artists have glorified figures from the Old Testament, knowing full well the real face of Jewry. How the Jew actually looks like is shown in scenes shot by Jews themselves in a “culture film” of a Purim festival, which is still celebrated today to commemorate the slaughter of 75,000 anti-Semitic Persians, and the doctrine with which future Rabbis in Jewish schools are educated to be political pedagogues. We look into a Jewish ‘Talmud’ class and experience the oriental tone of the ceremony in a Jewish synagogue, where Jews conduct business deals among themselves during the holy services. However, the cruel face of Judaism is most brutally displayed in the final scenes, in which original shots of a kosher butchering are revealed. These film documents of the inhuman slaughter of cattle and sheep without anesthesia provide conclusive evidence of a brutality which is simply inconceivable to all Aryan people. In shining contrast, the film closes with pictures of German people and German order which fill the viewer with a feeling of deep gratification for belonging to a race whose Führer is fundamentally solving the Jewish problem.
To : Chiefs of all Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police
Subject: Jewish question in the occupied territory
I refer to the conference held in Berlin today and once more point out that the planned overall measures (i.e., the final aim) are to be kept strictly secret… The planned measures demand the most thorough preparation in their technical as well as economic aspects. It is obvious that the tasks that lie ahead cannot be laid down in full detail from here. The instructions and guidelines below will at the same time serve the purpose of urging the chiefs of the einsatzgruppen to give the matter their practical thought. For the time being, the first prerequisite for the final aim is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside into the larger cities. This is to be carried out with all speed.
In doing so, distinction must be made (1) between the areas of Danzig and West Prussia, Posen, Eastern Upper Silesia, and (2) the rest of the occupied territories. As far as possible, the area mentioned (in item 1) is to be cleared of Jews; at least the aim should be to establish only a few cities of concentration. In the areas mentioned in item 2, as few concentration points as possible are to be set up, so as to facilitate subsequent measures. In this connection, it is to be borne in mind that only cities which are rail junctions, or at least are located along railroad lines, are to be designated as concentration points. On principle, Jewish communities of fewer than 500 persons are to be dissolved and to be transferred to the nearest city of concentration. Within this area, only an improvised census of Jews is to be carried out. Furthermore, Councils of Jewish Elders, as discussed below, are to be set up.
Councils of Jewish Eders (Judische Alteestenrate)
1 : In each Jewish community, a Council of Jewish Elders is to be set up,to be composed, as far as possible, of the remaining influential personalities and rabbis. The council is to comprise up to 24 male Jews (depending upon the size of the Jewish community). The council is to be made fully responsible, in the literal sense of the word, for the exact and punctual execution of all directives issued or yet to be issued.
2 : In case of sabotage of such instructions, the councils are to be warned of the severest measures.
3 : The Jewish councils are to take an improvised census of the Jews in their local areas—broken down if possible by sex (age groups) : (a) up to 16 years of age, (b) from 16 to 20 years of age, and (c) over, as well as by principal occupational groups—and are to report the results in the shortest possible time.
4 : The Councils of Elders are to be informed of the dates and deadlines for departure, departure facilities, and finally departure routes. They are then to be made personally responsible for the departure of the Jews from the countryside. The reason to be given for the concentration of the Jews into the cities is that Jews have most influentially participated in guerrilla attacks and plundering actions.
5 : The Councils of Elders in the cities of concentration are to be made responsible for appropriately housing the Jews moving in from the countryside. For general reasons of security, the concentration of Jews in the cities will probably necessitate orders altogether barring Jews from certain sections of cities, or, for example, forbidding them to leave the ghettos or go out after a designated evening hour, etc. However, economic necessities are always to be considered in this connection.
6 : The Councils of Elders are also to be made responsible for appropriate provisioning of the Jews during the transport to the cities. No objections are to be voiced in the event that migrating Jews take their movable possessions with them, to the extent that this is technically possible.
7 : Jews who do not comply with the order to move into the cities are to be allowed a short additional period of grace where circumstances warrant. They are to be warned of strictest punishment if they should fail to comply with this latter deadline.
The chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen will report to me continuously on the numerical survey of the Jews present in their territories (broken down as indicated above, if possible). The numbers of Jews who are being evacuated from the countryside and those who are already in the cities are to reported separately.
Heydrich and Goering discuss the Jewish question (1938)
At a high level meeting in November 1938, days after Kristallnacht, Reinhard Heydrich and Hermann Goering discussed what to do about the Jewish question : Reinhard Heydrich : A second way of getting the Jews out would be an emigration operation for all Jews in the rest of the Reich, spread over at least 8 to 10 years. We cannot get out more than the maximum of 8000 to 10000 Jews a year. That would leave a great many Jews here. Because of Aryanization and other restrictions, the Jewry will be unemployed. We will see the remaining Jews becoming proletarians. I would have to take measures in Germany to isolate the Jews, on the one hand, so that they will not enter into the normal life of the Germans. On the other hand, I must create possibilities of permitting the Jews certain activities, in the matter of lawyers, doctors, barbers, etc., while yet limiting them to the smallest possible circle of customers. This question will have to be studied. As far as isolation is concerned, I should like to put forward a few suggestions, purely police matters, which are important in part for their psychological effect on public opinion. For instance, the identification of the Jews, saying: Every person who is a Jew in accordance with the Nuremberg Laws must wear a certain distinguishing mark. This is a possibility which would simplify many other matters I don’t see any danger of excesses against the Jews and it would make our relationship with foreign Jews easier.
Hermann Goering : A uniform !
Reinhard Heydrich : A badge. This would also prevent the foreign Jews whose external appearance is no different from that of the local Jews, from suffering the same disadvantages.
Hermann Goering : But my dear Heydrich, you will not be able to avoid having ghettos in the cities on a really big scale. They will have to be established.
Reinhard Heydrich : As for the matter of ghettos, I would like to make my position clear right away. From a police point of view I think that a ghetto, in the form of a completely segregated district with only Jews, is not possible. We would have no control over a ghetto where the Jew gets together with the whole of his Jewish tribe. It would be a permanent hideout for criminals, a source of epidemics and the like. The situation today is that the German population forces the Jews to behave more carefully in the streets and the houses. The control of the Jews by the watchful eyes of the whole population is better than putting thousands upon thousands of Jews together in a single district of a city where uniformed officials will be unable to check on their daily activities.
Hermann Goering : We only have to cut off the telephone link with the outside.
Reinhard Heydrich : I could not stop the movements of Jewry out from this district completely.
Hermann Goering : And in cities really all their own ?
Reinhard Heydrich : Yes, if I put them into cities entirely their own. But then this city would become such a center for criminal elements that it would be very dangerous. I would try a different way.
Hermann Goering : I shall choose the definition that the German Jews as a whole, as a punishment for their abominable crimes, etc. will have to pay a contribution (fine) of one billion marks. That will do it. The swine won’t hurry to commit another murder. In general I must say once again : I should not like to be a Jew in Germany.
Immediately after the Kristallnacht, a fine of one billion marks was levied, not upon the criminals, but upon the victims, the Jewish community of Germany. Along with the fine came a decision, taken in a conference of Nazi leaders on Nov 12, 1938, to Aryanize the German economy, to get the Jew out. Nazi policy had now moved into the overt destruction of all Jewish life in the Third Reich. The violence of the Kristallnacht aroused the world to condemn the Nazi actions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled the American ambassador from Berlin stating that he could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization. However, even the condemnations failed to change western immigration policies. With a few exceptions (e.g. England, which increased its absorption of refugees after the Kristallnacht), the doors to safety remained barred. As one leader of German Jewry stated two months after the Kristallnacht (Jan 25, 1939), from America, nothing tangible (in immigration possibilities) has arrived. With violent antisemitism now institutionalized, and with few places to flee, the Jews of Germany, Austria, and later, occupied Europe, were trapped and doomed.
Apathy in the Western World
The Kristallnacht serves as the symbol of that destruction. The synagogues and Torah scrolls that were burned and desecrated, signified, as Rabbi Leo Baeck had earlier realized, that the thousand year history of the Jews in Germanv had come to an end. It is that noble history and glorious legacy of German Jewry that we remember on the Kristallnacht, a legacy of religious scholarship, intellectual creativity and scientific achievement. Nobel Prize winners and rabbinic scholars, businessmen and soldiers, government ministers and social activists all had their worlds shattered, along with the thousands of windows that gave the Kristallnacht its name.
The Legacy of Kristallnacht
There are important lessons to be drawn from the Kristallnacht, for it served as a bridge experience for both Jews and Nazis. For the Jews, there was the terrifying realization that political antisemitism can lead to violence, even in Western Civilization. It also demonstrated that apathy can still pervade the world when the lives of Jews or other minorities are threatened. For the Nazis, the Kristallnacht taught that while the world might condemn their pogroms, it would not actively oppose them. World opinion, however, taught the Nazis the value of secrecy in the perpetration of future actions against Jews. Added to the complaints of Germans offended by the random violence of the Kristallnacht, the stage was set for the Final Solution – the organized, bureaucratically efficient genocide of 6000000 men, women, and children. In retrospect, the Kristallnacht was more than the shattering of windows and illusions. It portended the physical destruction of European Jewry. As such, this commemoration must be observed both as a memorial and as a warning.
November 9 & November 10 1938
Sites : Jewish communities throughout Germany and Austria.
Perpetrators : Mobs of Germans and Austrians, acting under instructions of the Nazi hierarchy.
Damage : Arrested, sent to camps, Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, 30000 Jews (8,000 from Austria).
Murdered : “36” Jews (other sources put this figure at “91”) “36” more severely injured.
Vandalized and/or set ablaze : “7500” Jewish homes, businesses, “267” synagogues, “76” destroyed.
Pretext : Assassination of German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, by Polish-Jewish refugee, Herschel Grynszpan, in an attempt to protest the forced deportation of his family, among the others, to the Polish-German border.
Causes : Nazi policy decision based on :
1 : Internal Nazi Party power struggles as segments of the party (i.e. The SA, the propaganda section) wanted a greater role in the anti-Jewish activities.
2 : Urge to expedite the exclusion of Jews from German life.
3 : Economic factors such as the necessity to raise large amounts of money to pay for the rearmament of the German military.
4 : 15th anniversary of Hitler’s “Beer-Hall Putsch” of 1923 created an atmosphere that encouraged street violence.
1 : The Jewish community is immediately fined 1.000.000.000 Reichsmarks Nazi government confiscates all insurance claims.
2 : Nazis expedite plan for “elimination of the Jew from (the) economic life” of Germany established as official policy, November 12, 1938.
LEO BAECK (1873-1956) Rabbi, leader of organized German Jewry during Nazi era. Although realizing that when the Nazis took power, “the thousand year history of German Jewry had come to an end,” he refused all offers to escape, insisting that he could flee, “only when he was the last Jew alive in Germany.” He was arrested several times and finally sent to Theresienstadt, where he clandestinely taught philosophy and theology. He survived the Holocaust and died in London in 1956.
JOSEF GOEBBELS (1897-1945) Nazi Minister of Propaganda, who organized the Kristallnacht pogrom, asserting his power and authority in internal Nazi policies.
HERMANN GOERING : (1893-1946) Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia and second in authority to Hitler. On November 12, 1938, he convened a conference to deal with the results of the Kristallnacht, at which time heavy sanctions were imposed on the Jewish community.
HERSCHEL GRYNSZPAN (1821-19?) 17 year-old Polish Jew, living in France, who shot Ernst vom Rath upon hearing of his family’s plight (deported from Germany to no-man’s land between Germany and Poland). Grynszpan was arrested, never tried, and later handed over to the Nazis. His eventual fate is uncertain.
REINHARD HEYDRICH (1904-1942) Head of Reich Main Security Office, he issued a telegram of instruction to rioters on November 10, 1938. On November 12, he participated in a meeting designed to plan the removal of Jews from German economic life. Later, in 1942, he convened and participated in the Wannsee Conference where the “Final Solution” was adopted. Heydrich was second in importance to Heinrich Himmler in the Nazi SS organization. Nicknamed “The Blond Beast” by the Nazis, and “Hangman Heydrich” by others, he had insatiable greed for power and was a cold, calculating manipulator without human compassion who was the leading planner of Hitler’s Final Solution in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe
ERNST VOM RATH (19? -1938) Diplomat (Third Secretary) in the German legation in Paris. Neither particularly pro-Nazi nor important, his assassination provided the excuse for the Kristallnacht.
Telegraph 1 – TELEGRAM RECEIVED FROM JR
This telegram must be Leipzig closely paraphrased before being communicated Dated November 10, 1938 to anyone.
Rec’d 8:40 a.m. Secretary of State, Washington.
November 10, 11 a.m.
Violent anti-Semetic program pogrom in progress in Leipzig. Three synagogues in flames one next Consulate burning but fire under control. Hundreds of shop windows throughout city smashed no American property or lives molested as yet. Fur district badly damaged.
A Letter by a Firefighter
This letter was written by a retired fireman, who remembered “Crystal Night” in Laupheim (Germany).
The alarm went off between 5-5:30 A.M., and as usual, I jumped on my bicycle towards the firehouse. I had a strange feeling when I got there and saw many people standing in front of it. I was not allowed to go into the firehouse to take the engines out, or even to open the doors. One of my friends, who lived next to the Synagogue, whispered to me, “Be quiet – the Synagogue is burning; I was beaten up already when I wanted to put out the fire.” Eventually we were allowed to take the fire engines out, but only very slowly. We were ordered not to use any water till the whole synagogue was burned down. Many of us did not like to do that, but we had to be careful not to voice our opinions, because “the enemy is listening.” Only after one of the party members was worried that his house was going to catch fire, were we allowed to use water. But, even then, we just had to stand and watch until the House of Prayers was reduced to rubble and ashes. In the meantime, the marshals rounded up the Jews and dragged them in front of the Synagogue, where they had to kneel down and put their hands above their heads. I saw with my own eyes how one old Jew was dragged down and pushed to his knees. Then the arsonists came in their brown uniforms to admire the results of their destruction. Everyone seemed rather quiet and subdued… We had to stand watch at the Synagogue to make sure there were no more smoldering sparks. My turn was from 10-11 and 2-3 P.M. The brown uniforms paraded around to admire their work. As I was watching the destroyed Synagogue and the frail old Jews, I wondered whose turn would be next! When would it be our turn ? Will the same thing happen to our Protestant and Catholic Churches !
(Source : www.motlc.wiesenthal.com)
A Personal Memoir By Michael Bruce
Michael Bruce, a non-Jewish Englishman, provided this eyewitness account :
Hurriedly we went out into the street. It was crowded with people, all hurrying towards a nearby synagogue, shouting and gesticulating angrily. We followed. As we reached the synagogue and halted, silent and angry, on the fringe of the mob, flames began to rise from one end of the building. It was the signal for a wild cheer. The crowd surged forward and greedy hands tore seats and woodwork from the building to feed the flames. Behind us we heard more shouts. Turning, we saw a section of the mob start off along the road towards Israel’s store where, during the day, piles of granite cubes, ostensibly for repairing the roads, had been heaped. Youths, men and women, howling deliriously, hurled the blocks through the windows and at the closed doors. In a few minutes the doors gave way and the mob, shouting and fighting, surged inside to pillage and loot. By now the streets were a chaos of screaming bloodthirsty people lusting for Jewish bodies. I saw Harrison of The News Chronicle, trying to protect an aged Jewess who had been dragged from her home by a gang. I pushed my way through to help him and, between us, we managed to heave her through the crowd to a side street and safety. We turned back towards Israel’s, but now the crowd, eager for fresh conquests, was pouring down a side road towards the outskirts of the city. We hurried after them in time to see one of the foulest exhibitions of bestiality I have ever witnessed. The object of the mob’s hate was a hospital for sick Jewish children, many of them cripples or consumptives. In minutes the windows had been smashed and the doors forced. When we arrived, the swine were driving the wee mites out over the broken glass, bare-footed and wearing nothing but their nightshirts. The nurses, doctors, and attendants were being kicked and beaten by the mob leaders, most of whom were women.
(Source : www.motlc.wiesenthal.com)
Kristallnacht at the Dinslaken Orphanage
Reminiscences – By Yitzhak S. Herz
At 0700, the morning service in the synagogue of the institution was scheduled to commence. Some people from the town usually participated, but this time nobody turned up. About 0730 I ordered 46 people, among them 32 children, into the dining hall of the institution and told them the following in a simple and brief address. As you know, last night a Herr vom Rath, a member of the German Embassy in Paris, was assassinated. The Jews are held responsible for this murder. The high tension in the political field is now being directed against the Jews, and during the next few hours there will certainly be antisemitic excesses. This will happen even in our town. It is my feeling and my impression that we German Jews have never experienced such calamities since the Middle Ages. Be strong! Trust in God! I am sure we will withstand even these hard times. Nobody will remain in the rooms of the upper floor of the building. The exit door to the street will be opened only by myself! From this moment on everyone is to heed my orders only! At 0930 the bell at the main gate rang persistently. I opened the door, about 50 men stormed into the house, many of them with their coat or jacket collars turned up. At first they rushed into the dining room, which fortunately was empty, and there they began their work of destruction, which was carried out with the utmost precision. The frightened and fearful cries of the children resounded through the building. In a stentorian voice I shouted “Children go out into the street immediately!” This advice was certainly contrary to the order of the Gestapo. I thought, however, that in the street, in a public place, we might be in less danger than inside the house. The children immediately ran down a small staircase at the back, most of them without hat or coat – despite the cold and wet weather. We tried to reach the next street crossing, which was close to Dinslaken’s Town Hall, where I intended to ask for police protection. About ten policemen were stationed here, reason enough for a sensation-seeking mob to await the next development. This was not very long in coming; the senior police officer, Freihahn, shouted at us : “Jews do not get protection from us ! Vacate the area together with your children as quickly as possible ! Freihahn then chased us back to a side street in the direction of the backyard of the orphanage. As I was unable to hand over the key to the back gate, the policeman drew his bayonet and forced open the door. I then said to Freihahn “The best thing is to kill me and the children, then our ordeal will be over quickly!” My officer responded to my “suggestion” merely with cynical laughter. Freihahn then drove all of us to the wet lawn of the orphanage garden. He gave us strict orders not to leave the place under any circumstances. Facing the back of the building, we were able to watch how everything in the house was being systematically destroyed under the supervision of the men of law and order – the police. At short intervals we could hear the crunching of glass or the hammering against wood as windows and doors were broken. Books, chairs, beds, tables, linen, chests, parts of a piano, a radiogram, and maps were thrown through apertures in the wall, which, a short while ago, had been windows or doors. In the meantime, the mob standing around the building had grown to several hundred. Among these people I recognized some familiar faces, suppliers of the orphanage or tradespeople, who, only a day or a week earlier had been happy to deal with us as customers. This time they were passive, watching the destruction without much emotion. At 1015 we heard the wailing of sirens! We noticed a heavy cloud of smoke billowing upward. It was obvious from the direction it was coming from that the Nazis had set the synagogue on fire. Very soon we saw smoke clouds rising up, mixed with sparks of fire. Later I noticed that some Jewish houses, close to the synagogue, had also been set alight under the expert guidance of the fire brigade. Its presence was a necessity, since the firemen had to save the homes of the non-Jewish neighborhood.
(Source : www.motlc.wiesenthal.com)
Kristallnacht – Susan, Germany, 1938
A young Jew in Paris had killed a German diplomat. This event was used as a trigger to commence long planned raids on Jewish homes and businesses, well organized pogroms. That night I woke up to noise, shouting and screaming. About 8 young storm troopers, drunk or crazed in some other way, smashed up our home. By the time they came into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, they had done a lot of damage to other rooms and had locked my parents into their bathroom. My parents were terrified for their children and I could hear them screaming and shouting and then I became very frightened. I could not imagine what was happening to them. When the storm troopers came into our room, they pulled me out of bed and tore my night-dress to shreds. As a l5-year old, I was above all embarrassed. They then told me to get dressed and to get my clothes out of my wardrobe. This was of the heavy, continental type. When I stood in front of it, the 8 young men threw it over. No doubt this was to kill me and they left the room. Luckily there was so much destruction in the room, that a table, previously turned upside down, held the wardrobe at an angle long enough for me to wriggle out from underneath. The memory of that event will stay with me forever. My concern was also for my little sister. She had crawled under her blankets, and her bed was completely covered with broken glass, but she was all right. The men departed to do more damage in other houses, and we were able to release our parents and survey the wreck which had been our home. Our elderly maid could not believe that Hitler, whom she admired, could be responsible for anything like this! (“If only our Führer knew about this!”) A friend of mine, who was staying with us, was hiding on the balcony; she was freezing cold in her night-dress on a cold November night. She had told me the day before that she did not know whether to accept what her much loved Jewish step-father had explained about the Nazis, or what she had been told by her aunt, who was an ardent Nazi supporter and whom she had just been to visit. After that night she knew. When I took her to the station the next day, she begged me to come and stay on their farm near Munich with my family, so that no harm would come to us.
The following morning, at my father’s request, I got onto my bicycle and went to check on our family friends. No one dared to use a telephone, and this was the only way to see that they had all survived. All had terrible stories to tell of events the night before. The general opinion was to get out of Nuremberg that day. The reason for this was, that Nuremberg was administered by Julius Streicher, Hitler’s chief Jew hater, and he had called a big public meeting for that evening. All sorts of dreadful things could happen after that. My family’s aim was to get to Munich, where the British Consul had told my father to come to shelter at the Consulate, if ever things got too difficult. (It would have been nice for me to know that in that town there was a l7-year old boy, who would one day be my husband). We packed a few things, and my father gave me his important papers to hide in my underwear, so that he would not be carrying them and we departed during the evening.
On our approach to Munich we could see that cars leaving town were being stopped. Our driver told us not to worry, because he knew Munich quite well, and would take us in on a back street where there were not likely to be road blocks. He was wrong, we were stopped and my father was removed from the car after being asked whether he was a Jew. He was put into a lorry with other Jews who had been rounded up. As the lorry drove off, my mother gave instructions to follow it. Eventually it pulled into the courtyard of some barracks, where although it was the middle of the night, there were people standing around jeering. As the lorry was unloaded, my mother bravely followed her husband into the building. My sister and I were tired and frightened of the aggressive mob around us. One of the storm troopers came over to us and told me to start walking back to Nuremberg, as we would not see our parents again and they were confiscating our car. Obviously I had no idea how to walk to Nuremberg. I decided to do nothing and hoped my parents would come back soon. My mother did come back after a while. She was distressed. She had not been able to achieve anything, not even to see my father. She decided to try again the following morning and meanwhile to find a hotel for us to spend the night. She had traveled a lot with my father and knew several hotels in Munich. At the first one, where she had stayed not long before, there was a notice at the entrance, which read “no Jews”. We found that similar notices were on the doors of all other hotels we tried. It was too late at night to go to the British Consulate, and while we wondered what on earth we could do, the doorman of one hotel followed my mother to the car. He gave her the address of a small hotel belonging to his sister and a note requesting his sister to look after us.
We got there, were given a room, and we children went to sleep immediately. We woke up late and found that mother was not there. She had left us a note, to tell us that she was going back to the barracks and that we were to stay in our room. Eventually she returned. She had not been able to see my father, had not been told where he was, but was told “we will send you his ashes”. In fact he was by then on his way to Dachau concentration camp. My mother decided to take us two children to my friends’ farm, and to go back to Nuremberg to see what she could do to help him. She found out that at that time one could get released from the concentration camp if one had a business or property which one signed over to the Nazi authorities. My father had both, and she prepared the necessary papers. One also needed a visa to go to another country before being released. and she worked on this with the help of friends. She tried to obtain visas for America, for England, for Palestine and maybe other countries.
After a week or two, an uncle in Switzerland sent his lawyer to collect my younger sister, so one member of the family was safe. I stayed on the farm and helped with all the work there. Life on the farm started about 4 a.m. The farmer was a former diplomat, who found out that he was Jewish, although his family had converted to Christianity before he was born. He was not able to remain a diplomat, and therefore he and his family had settled on a farm. Everyone worked hard, but after breakfast, while his wife and daughters and I did mending or vegetable cleaning, he read serious literature to us for at least an hour. My father was released early in December while I was still on the farm, but only after giving all his property to the Nazis. I was shocked when I saw him. In a month he seemed to have aged l0 years. His head had been shaved, and the stubble which came through, was gray instead of brown. He would not wear his hat, as he normally did. He wanted “them” to be ashamed, since he had nothing to be ashamed of, yet had been imprisoned. He told us of some of the horrific experiences of the previous month. He had always been kindly and patient, but now he was angry and nervous.
(Source : www.timewitnesses.org)
Unedited account by my father, Johannes U. Hoeber
The night of November 9-10, 1938 in North German, (Düsseldorf)
[…] The conversation had centered around the recent political events, Chamberlain’s Munich surrender and its repercussions on Germany’s internal policy. Munich undoubtedly had bolstered the regime’s declining morale and everybody viewed with alarm the reviving arrogance of the Nazis after a period of relative moderation. Incidentally our friend told us that he had heard on his way to our house that Herr vom Rath, secretary of the Paris German embassy, who had been shot by a young Polish Jew, driven to despair by the treatment of his parents by the Nazis, had died that afternoon. We did not discuss the implications of this news item. Not because we did not fear them. But in the past six years of our life under the Nazi government we had developed a habit that might be called a technique of mental self defense : not to speculate on the possibilities of disaster implied in any news, before we were confronted with this disaster and could cope with the concrete emergency by concrete maneuvers. No one of our company that night was Jewish but we all had some very close Jewish friends. I myself have some Jewish ancestors, not enough to make me subject to the humiliating clauses of the infamous Nüremberg laws, yet enough to brand me as a second class citizen in the Germany of today, the Germany of the Bohemian born Hitler, the Egyptian born Hess and the Baltic born Rosenberg.
The possible consequences of vom Rath’s death were uppermost in my mind, when I drove to the station at about 2300 to mail some letters. In the streets I noticed an unusually large number of brown shirts. First I thought they were on their way home from some of the day’s celebrations. Then I noticed that they did not go in the direction of the residential quarters but hurried towards the center of the city. So, on my way home, I drove through some of the main thoroughfares of the downtown business section and found on two different places brown shirts gathering quietly in front of Jewish business establishments. I went home and without telling my wife what I had seen offered our friend who had to leave at midnight to drive him to the station and asked my brother in law to accompany us. After having dropped our friend at the station we hastily drove downtown. We had not to drive very far to find what we had anticipated. In front of a large shoe-store, owned by a Jewish woman whose husband had been killed in action during the First World War and who therefore, despite of six years of Nazi boycott, had still one of the largest businesses in the field, a detachment of brown shirts had assembled. We just came in time to see two of them starting – on a given signal – to break the shop windows. This done they forced the entrance and the whole group rushed into the store. It was one of those modern outfits with plenty of glass, attractive wood paneling on the walls, every shelf full of shoe-boxes. Twenty minutes later it was so completely devastated that no bombshell could have done a more thorough job. No piece of glass, no piece of wood was unbroken. The carpets were cut up, the lamps torn from ceiling and walls, shelves, tables, chairs smashed to pieces. The problem to destroy thousands of shoes in a hurry otherwise than by fire had been solved in an ingenious way : they had been strewn all over the place and then oil paint had been poured over and into them. When they had finished their job the wrecking crew on the blow of a whistle assembled in front of the store, in a line two deep, stood at attention in perfect military discipline, drilled into them by endless training, and marched off.
We got into our car and drove on. A few blocks away we encountered another group of stormtroopers looting a fashionable lady’s outfit store. This was on our city’s Fifth Avenue and the wrecking crew corresponded to the distinction of the district. Our city is the seat of a higher district leader of the Nazi party. Every such district leader has a staff of his own and a body guard of his own whose members are easily recognized by red squares on the lapels of their brown uniform coats. The squad that wrecked this store was composed almost entirely out of members of the district leader’s staff and body guard under the personal command of a well known Nazi-Lawyer and SA officer. A few yards away a police car with two higher police officers was parked at the curb. The two officers watched with apparent interest the work of destruction carried out under the leadership of the chief aide of their superior.
The next time we stopped in front of a tailor’s workshop. Here a particular problem presented itself to the wrecking crew : how to destroy the stock of bolts of cloth. It was solved no less efficiently than the shoe problem had been solved : one man unrolled the bale and another poured ink over it from one end to the other. Then they left it lying in the street.
After an hour of driving around town we were convinced that not one single Jewish business in Düsseldorf would survive that night and that more than a hundred thousand people would have to pay for one man’s act of despair with the destruction of their lives’ work and their basis of existence. What happened during the next hour, however, outgrew the wildest anticipations any one of us, trained by six years’ lessons of terror and used to incredible brutalities, had ever entertained. At 0130 we stopped in front of an apartment house, because we noticed two SA sentries guarding the house-door. On the opposite pavement stood a small group of civilians looking at a brightly lighted apartment on the fourth floor. We joined them and asked one of them what were going on. They are revenging von Rath he said. Which firm has its offices up there ? I asked. That is no office, that is a private apartment occupied by a Jewish tenant. Before we could continue our conversation one of the SA sentries came across the street and ordered us to move on. A few seconds later the windows of the apartment came down in splinters and one after the other the lights went out in the apartment, the last one being a large crystal lamp that we saw wildly swinging up and down before we heard it crashing to the ground. Then panic gripped us.
(Source : www.hoebers.files.wordpress.com
Hanna Tennenhaus (Montréal, Canada)
That fateful night, November 9 1938
I studied late. After finishing my homework, I took a piece of paper from a notebook, wrote Ich hasse Hitler (I hate Hitler), then quickly burned it in the dying embers remaining in the red tiled stove and went to bed. At 0200 there was a great commotion in the street. Juden Raus, Juden Raus (Jews out, Jews out) went the awful shouts. Our bell rang incessantly. My mother, in a long white nightgown, went from room to room in great agitation, while my father prayed silently. Finally, I opened the door to our apartment. The front door had already been opened by the deputy mayor of our town, who lived on the second floor and was obviously aware of all the horrors to follow. In front of me stood three machine-gun toting SA men, who told us to get dressed quickly and come with them. I was not quite 15, my anger was greater than my fear, and I told those thugs, You’ll have to wait while I brush my teeth. They obeyed, dumbfounded by my defiance, which could have cost me my life. We crossed the park, small but lovely, where I had spent many happy hours playing or reading, and we were led to a large square where the whole Jewish community was being herded together. Mrs. Einstein, our paralyzed neighbor in her 80s, was dragged there, suffering shock and numerous bruises as a consequence. The square was surrounded by armed Nazi.
Someone asked to go to the bathroom and was scornfully told : Jews don’t need that ! Men, women and children were ordered to stand apart. Not wanting to leave my trembling mother. I disobeyed. Our usually awe-inspiring principal and physics teacher arrived in pyjamas with his family, including twin baby girls in a carriage. The November night was exceptionally cold. We were standing there shivering and dazed, in shock and fear. Suddenly, the sky turned pink. The synagogues, not far away, were burning, together with the community center, the library and and the mikvah. Some people were screaming, They are going to burn us alive ! Around 0700 they led us through the streets to a hall once donated by a Jewish philanthropist. We were jeered by emerging towns people. Then the women and children were sent home, the men incarcerated in the hall. Some beatings and sadism took place, but none of the fathers ever spoke about it.
A few hours after the release of the women and children, a neighbor came to our apartment asking me to accompany her to the hall to give her imprisoned husband his heart medicine. When we arrived there, an
armed Nazi guard sneeringly told the poor lady : Your husband won’t need his pills. We are going to burn you
all, together with your swinish Torah scrolls. Soon after we arrived home, the bell rang once again : more armed Brown Shirts looking for men. I trembled for two hours. Later in the day, news spread that we could bring food to our captive men. I hardboiled two eggs, added some bread and set out once more into the hostile streets. A solitary figure was walking to wards me – it was my father, who was the only man released. The others would be sent to the Dachau concentration camp.
To this day I remember the in credible joy I felt, comparable only to my overflowing gratitude when my brother Joseph came home from Dachau, eight long weeks later. Meanwhile I had witnessed the disintegration of my home and school life, the premature end to my child hood and the decimation of my ancient community. I was sent to England with the Kindertransport; my brother and sister also escaped to England. Sadly, my parents with 900 others from our community (almost half) perished in concentration camps. May their martyrdom never be forgotten.
(Source : www.shturem.org)
The tragedy of the Kristallnacht was not the destruction. No nation has been free of violence. No nation has been free of the rowdiness of the ignorant. The tragedy, rather, was that government, which should protect the individual and his property against violence, in this instance encouraged and abetted the violence against the Jews. The violence was a joint act by the government and the populace. Early on the day of November 9 a message went out from Gestapo headquarters: “There will be very shortly in Germany actions against the Jews, especially against the synagogues. These actions are not to be interfered with.”
– Leonard Baker
Images Sources :
Souvenir coin with a swastika and Star of David owned by a young German Jewish girl
Birmingham Holocaust Education Center (Der Ewige Jude)
Encyclopedia US Holocaust Memorial
www.ashkenazhouse.org (Historical Correction)