INTRODUCTION TO :
The Bizarre Story of Kristallnacht by Ingrid Weckert
“Crystal Night” is the name that’s been given to the night of 9-10 November 1938. In almost all large German cities and some smaller ones that night, store windows of Jewish shops were broken, Jewish houses and apartments were destroyed, and synagogues were demolished and set on fire. Many Jews were arrested, some were beaten, and some were even killed. The “Reich Crystal Night” (Reichskristallnacht) was one of the most shameful events of National Socialist Germany.
Although the Jews suffered initially, the greatest harm was ultimately done to Germany and the German people. Even people who are sympathetic to National Socialism cannot understand how this event could have happened. Julius Streicher, the so-called “number one Jew baiter” for example, was shocked when he first learned about the demonstrations and destruction the next morning. The all-important question is: Who was responsible for the incident? It is generally accepted, especially by contemporary historians, that the Nazi gang organized and carried out the pogrom, and that the chief instigator was Propaganda Minister Dr.Joseph Goebbels.
The truth of the matter is that Adolf Hitler was so disgusted by the incident that he forbade anyone from discussing the matter in his presence. Dr. Goebbels complained that he would now have to explain this terrible affair to the German people and the world, and that he simply did not know what kind of credible explanation to give. If he had actually been responsible for the Crystal Night, he surely would have had a well- prepared explanation. The explanation he gave on the morning of the 10th was extremely unconvincing and was generally not believed by the German public.
The generally accepted sequence of events, according to most writers on the subject, is this: In early October 1938 the Polish government announced that all Polish passports would become invalid at the end of the month unless they received a special stamp before then, obtainable only in Poland. This measure was meant to rid Poland effectively for all time of all Polish Jews living in foreign countries, most of whom were in Germany.
Many of the approximately 70,000 Polish Jews living in the Reich at the time had arrived after the First World War. Of course, the German government now feared that it would have to permanently accept these 70,000 Jews. The German government tried to negotiate this issue with the Poles, but they flatly refused. On 28 October, just two days before the deadline, German police rounded up between 15,000 and 17,000 Polish Jews, mostly adult males, from across the Reich and transported them to the German-Polish border. The deportees traveled in regular German passenger trains with more than adequate space. Contrary to some claims, they were not crammed into cattle cars. The deportees were well provided with food and medical care. Red Cross personnel and medical doctors accompanied them on the trains. The Polish border officials were surprised when the first trainloads arrived at the border, and they let the Jews enter Poland. At about the same time, the Polish government was deporting German Jews back to Germany. The next day, 29 October, the Polish and German governments suddenly agreed to stop the deportations of their respective Jewish populations to each other’s countries. The deportations were completely halted that night.
Among the Polish Jews deported was the family of Herschel Feibel Grynszpan (Gruenspan), a l7-year-old then living Paris. What followed next is generally reported either incorrectly or very one-sidedly. On 7 November Grynszpan went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot Embassy Secretary Ernst vom Rath. It is said that Grynszpan did this because he was furious over the deportation of his family. The truth about his motivation is very different.
Ernst Eduard vom Rath (3 June 1909 – 9 November 1938) was a German diplomat, remembered for his assassination in Paris in 1938 by a Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan.
It is also claimed that the German population, upset by the news of vom Rath’s death on the 9th, organized anti-Jewish demonstrations, destroyed Jewish stores, and demolished or set on fire all the synagogues in Germany. Demonstrations and destruction did take place, but the truth is that they were not organized by the German people and did not affect most of the synagogues in the Reich. Finally, it is claimed that the Crystal Night was the beginning of the extermination of the Jews in Germany. This is entirely false.
Before explaining how the events surrounding the Crystal Night differ from what is generally believed, I must first give some background information about the peaceful years in Germany after Hitler came to power in 1933. Anyone who is aware of the true situation in Germany during the Third Reich era recognizes that the Crystal Night episode was quite extraordinary. It was a radical aberration from the normal pattern of daily life. The outburst was not in keeping with either the official National Socialist Jewish policy nor with the general German attitude towards the Jews. The Germans were no more anti-Semitic than any other people. In fact, Jews who had to leave other European countries preferred Germany as a place to live and work. Within the National Socialist-Party itself there were two distinct anti-Semitic factions. One was scholarly and one was vulgar. The scholarly faction was centered around the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question (Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage) . It published several journals and gave lectures to civic and political groups. Its activities were consistent with the policy of peacefully removing the Jews from Germany and resettling them elsewhere. The SS was totally committed to this policy and rejected vulgar anti-Semitism. The vulgar anti-Semitic faction tried to influence popular feeling. The chief exponent of this approach was Julius Streicher, who published the unofficial monthly Der Stuermer.
The fiercely antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Edited by Julius Streicher, it warned of a Jewish program for world domination in this 1934 issue. The article, titled “Who is the Enemy?” (Wer ist der Feind?) blamed Jews for destroying social order and that Jews wanted war, while the rest of the world wanted peace.
It used crude caricatures to portray Jews in the most horrible way in an effort to convince readers that the Jews were as evil as Satan. For years the motto “The Jews Are Our Misfortune” (Die Juden sind unser Unglück!) appeared on the front page of every issue. The Stuermer often employed improper and undignified means to make its point.
German National Socialism basically regarded the Jews as non-German aliens who had proven themselves destructive to any nation that permitted them to dominate. Therefore, the only way to prevent further problems was to separate the Jews from the Germans. In other words, they had to emigrate. On this point the National Socialists and the Zionists were in full agreement. Although the Jews made up less than one percent of the total German population in 1933, they had power and influence in finance, business, cultural affairs and scientific life far out of proportion to their small numbers. Jewish influence was very widely regarded as harmful to German recovery after the First World War. No legal measures were taken against the Jews in Germany until after the international Jewish “Declaration of War” against Germany, as announced, for example, on the front page of the London Daily Express of 24 March 1933.
Jewish shops and stores throughout Germany. This action was in direct response to the international Jewish boycott of German goods already in effect.
However, the German response was a rather absurd affair and it was therefore limited to a single day, the first of April 1933. Hitler and Goebbels privately recognized that the German counter-boycott was a failure and would only turn people against the new government. Furthermore, this one-day action came on a Saturday, the Jewish sabbath. Religious Jews took malicious pleasure at the discomfort of the Jews who normally kept their stores open on Saturdays and were now, in effect, forced by the government to obey the Jewish law against work on the sabbath. The National Socialist regime thereafter sought to diminish Jewish influence and power by strictly legal means. The first German law which could be considered anti-Jewish was dated 7 April 1933. Although the legal status of the Jews was restricted, each and every Jew knew what his legal rights were and to what he was still entitled. There were no secret or extra-legal measures against the Jews.
SA (Sturm Abteilung or “Brownshirts”) call for the boycott of Jewish shops in Friedrichstraße, Berlin; April 1, 1933. The sign reads: “Germans, Attention! This shop is owned by Jews. Jews damage the German economy and pay their German employees starvation wages. The main owner is the Jew Nathan Schmidt.”
Ironically, it was precisely the official discrimination policy against the Jews which reduced the effectiveness of anti-Semitic propaganda to almost nothing. The Germans are a generally fair-minded people. When Germans saw their Jewish neighbors being treated unjustly, they considered that far worse than the dangers which the Jews supposedly represented simply because they were Jewish.
Furthermore, the examples of Jewish criminality and perversion described in the Stuermer were widely regarded as exceptions to normal Jewish behavior.
The average German was convinced that the Jews whom he knew personally were completely unlike the criminal types sometimes described in newspapers. In my home town of Berlin most of the doctors and lawyers were still Jewish. And even the public health officer for children in the district of Berlin where my family lived was a Jew who kept this job throughout the war. I still remember one day when my mother returned from her Jewish doctor. She told us that she hadn’t been able to see him because he was no longer there. He had been taken away — hauled off the previous night. My mother was very upset. A crowd of people had gathered outside his house. They were all shocked, and they discussed the injustice of this measure quite openly. My parents later talked about what had happened, and they both agreed that the doctor had never really done anything wrong. Their reaction was typical. A few days later our family pediatrician, who was also Jewish, was likewise taken away. At the time I did not know what it meant to be taken away. It was only many years after the war, when I started reading the Holocaust literature, that I learned that I was supposed to believe that to be taken away meant deportation to a concentration camp and probable death. But like so many thousands of others, these two doctor families were not exterminated.
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