The Night of Broken Glass
Almost immediately upon assuming the Chancellorship of Germany,
Hitler began promulgating legal actions against Germany's Jews.
In 1933, he proclaimed a one-day boycott against Jewish shops, a
law was passed against kosher butchering and Jewish children began
experiencing restrictions in public schools. By 1935, the Nazis.
deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited
from participation in parliamentary elections and signs reading
"Jews Not Welcome" appeared in many German cities. (Incidentally,
these signs were taken down in the late summer in preparation for
the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.)
In the first half of 1938, numerous laws were passed restricting
Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities. In July,
1938, a law was passed (effective January 1, 1939) requiring all
Jews to carry identification cards. On October 28, seventeen thousand
Jews of Polish citizenship, many of whom had been living in Germany
for decades, were arrested and relocated across the Polish border.
The Polish government refused to admit them so they were interned
in "relocation camps" on the Polish frontier.
Among the deportees was Zindel Grynszpan, who had been born in western
Poland and had moved to Hanover, where he established a small store,
in 1911. On the night of October 27, Zindel Grynszpan and his family
were forced out of their home by German police. His store and the
family's possessions were confiscated and they were forced to move
over the Polish border. Zindel Grynszpan's seventeen-year-old son,
Herschel, was living with an uncle in Paris. When he received news
of his family's expulsion, he went to the German embassy in Paris
on November 7, intending to assassinate the German Ambassador to
France. Upon discovering that the Ambassador was not in the embassy,
he settled for a lesser official, Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath.
Rath, was critically wounded and died two days later, on November
9. The assassination provided Goebbels, Hitler's Chief of Propaganda,
with the excuse he needed to launch a pogrom against German Jews.
Grynszpan's attack was interpreted by Goebbels as a conspiratorial
attack by "International Jewry" against the Reich and, symbolically,
against the Fuehrer himself. This pogrom has come to be called Kristallnacht,
"the Night of Broken Glass."
Photo: Germans pass broken window of Jewish-owned shop.
Photo: The Berlin Great Synagogue in flames.
Map showing sites of synagogues destroyed on Kristallnacht (Map
courtesy of A
Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust )
On the nights of November 9 and 10, gangs of Nazi youth roamed through
Jewish neighborhoods breaking windows of Jewish businesses and homes,
burning synagogues and looting. In all 101 synagogues were destroyed
and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. 26,000 Jews were
arrested and sent to concentration camps, Jews were physically attacked
and beaten and 91 died (Snyder, Louis L. Encyclopedia of the Third
Reich. New York: Paragon House, 1989:201).
The official German position on these events, which were clearly
orchestrated by Goebbels, was that they were spontaneous outbursts.
The Fuehrer, Goebbels reported to Party officials in Munich, "has
decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized
by the party, but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are
not to be discouraged either." (Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg.
New York: Harper & Row, 1983:165)
Three days later, on November 12, Goering called a meeting of the
top Nazi leadership to assess the damage done during the night and
place responsibility for it. Present at the meeting were Goering,
Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Walter Funk and other ranking Nazi
officials. The intent of this meeting was two-fold: to make the
Jews responsible for Kristallnacht and to use the events of the
preceding days as a rationale for promulgating a series of anti-Semitic
laws which would, in effect, remove Jews from the German economy.
An interpretive transcript of this meeting is provided by Robert
Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983:164-172):
It was decided
at the meeting that, since Jews were to blame for these events,
they be held legally and financially responsible for the damages
incurred by the pogrom. Accordingly, a "fine of 1 billion marks
was levied for the slaying of Vom Rath, and 6 million marks paid
by insurance companies for broken windows was to be given to the
state coffers. (Snyder, Louis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich.
New York: Paragon House, 1989:201).
Today's meeting is of a decisive nature," Goering announced.
"I have 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.
"Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the
economic angle it shall have to be tackled. Because, gentlemen,
I have had enough of these demonstrations! They don't harm the
Jew but me, who is the final authority for coordinating the
German economy. `If today a Jewish shop is destroyed, if goods
are thrown into the street, the insurance companies will pay
for the damages; and, furthermore, consumer goods belonging
to the people are destroyed. If in the future, demonstrations
which are necessary occur, then, I pray, that they be directed
so as not to hurt us.
"Because it's insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse,
then have a German insurance company make good the loss. And
the goods which I need desperately, whole bales of clothing
and whatnot, are being burned. And I miss them everywhere. I
may as well burn the raw materials before they arrive.
"I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the
aim of today's meeting. We have not come together merely to
talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies
to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the
German economy, and to submit them to me."
Kristallnacht turns out to be a crucial turning point in German
policy regarding the Jews and may be considered as the actual beginning
of what is now called the Holocaust.