Eyridiki Sellou | Apr 8, 2023

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Kristallnacht (in German historiography Novemberpogrome or Reichskristallnacht ) was the wave of anti-Semitic pogroms that flared up nationwide in Nazi Germany between November 9 and 10, 1938. The triggering episode was the attack conducted on November 7 in Paris by 17-year-old Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan against German diplomat Ernst Eduard vom Rath.

From the beginning of the autumn of 1938, the brutalization of anti-Semitism in Germany weighed heavily on the political atmosphere: pressure was growing from the regime and its most active supporters for the definitive expatriation of German Jews, and the attack was immediately exploited by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. He, with Adolf Hitler's acquiescence, quickly tacked on a massive propaganda campaign against German Jews and described it as a deliberate attack by "international Judaism" against the Third Reich, which would entail the "heaviest consequences" for German Jews. On the evening of November 9, when the news of the German diplomat's death came, a full-fledged physical attack on Jews and their property in all territories under German control, coordinated and ordered by Goebbels, was triggered. The pogrom was initially attended by simple members of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) and German civilians, who, as the news of the diplomat's death spread, were joined by members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the Sturmabteilung (Sturmabteilung), and Reinhard Heydrich's Sicherheitsdienst (SD), who, later informed of what Goebbels had decided, gave orders to the police not to suppress the riots.

During the riots and in the following days until November 16, about 30,000 male Jews were indiscriminately arrested and then taken to the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. Official Nazi reports spoke of 91 Jewish deaths, but the actual number was actually far higher (probably between 1,000 and 2,000), especially considering the mistreatment inflicted after the arrests. Symbols, community structures and the livelihoods of the Jewish community were hit; more than 520 synagogues were burned or completely destroyed, hundreds of prayer houses and cemeteries were demolished, schools and orphanages and thousands of Jewish gathering places were stormed, along with thousands of businesses and private homes of Israeli citizens.

In common parlance, the Novemberpogrome 1938 ("November Pogrom 1938") was renamed Reichskristallnacht ("Reich Crystal Night") or more simply Kristallnacht (an expression circulated by the National Socialist side and later spread in common historiography), terms of a certain derisive valence as they recall smashed shop windows. The pogrom gave an acceleration to the tightening of Judenpolitik ("Jewish policy") in the territory: at a ministerial meeting on November 12, it was decided to enact a series of decrees that would give concrete form to the various plans to expropriate Jewish property that had been discussed in the preceding months. A clampdown on racial legislation that was a prelude to future forced emigration of Jews from Germany.

The persecution machine

In the early years of power of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) in Germany, legislative measures against Jews were asystematic in nature, and uncoordinated and savage anti-Jewish brutality caused unease among many Germans: some were opposed to gratuitous violence, although many within and outside the party had no firm opinion about the kind of provisions to be made or tolerated against the ethnic minority. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws and subsequent decrees framed racial discrimination in the legal system of Nazi Germany, clearly defining who should be considered Jewish, or partially Jewish, and imposing a wide range of prohibitions consistent with the eliminationist program of German Jews.

These laws in fact were enacted to codify the exclusion of Jews from the social and civic life of Germany and, more generally, to separate them from the Volk. The provisions that comprised them, namely the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor and the Reich Citizenship Law, stripped Jews of citizenship and prohibited mixed marriages and sexual relations outside of marriages already in place. They were very well accepted regulations by Germans, so much so that a Gestapo report from Magdeburg reported how "the population regards the regulation of relations with Jews as an emancipatory act, which brings clarity and, at the same time, greater firmness in protecting the racial interests of the Germanic people."

After the Nuremberg Laws, violence experienced a marked decline until 1937, although verbal and physical assaults on Jews continued and Germany went ahead with their legal, economic, professional and social exclusion. Economy Minister Hjalmar Schacht himself, although he did not oppose the legislation, considered the violent initiatives of the party and its militants inappropriate, as they put the nation's standing in the world in a bad light, with direct consequences in the economy: it was no coincidence that he lamented losses of foreign contracts of German firms due to anti-Semitism, knowing that in the immediate term Jews were indispensable for trade, since they had in their hands the importation of certain rare products the army needed for rearmament; Schacht therefore preferred persecution by "legal" means. The Aryanization of Jewish businesses continued inexorably, however, and indeed accelerated thanks to the promulgation of the four-year plan. This was accompanied by a new wave of intimidating boycotts in several parts of the country, a sign that many German customers continued to frequent Israelite-owned stores resulting in exasperation of the Nazi authorities. Even a fervent anti-Semite such as Julius Streicher had stated in 1935 that the Jewish question was being resolved according to legal methods and that the population should remain in control: "We do not rage and attack the Jews. We don't need to do that. He who engages in this kind of isolated action (Einzelaktionen) is an enemy of the state, a provocateur, perhaps even a Jew."

In 1938 such "calm" was interrupted by a revival of state and party institutions to find a "solution" to the "Jewish question" (Judenfrage): the year was marked by a resurgence of physical assaults, destruction of property, public humiliation and arrests followed by temporary internment in concentration camps. It became impossible for Jews to live outside the big cities, the only places where they could hope for anonymity; small provincial towns proclaiming themselves free of Jews (judenrein) became more and more numerous. Some party sections began to agitate and, according to historian Raul Hilberg, this was because some members, especially the SA and the propaganda apparatus, understood the 1938 riots as a means by which to regain prestige and influence.

By pursuing an increasingly aggressive line in foreign and military policy, the regime thus abandoned qualms about possible international reactions against anti-Semitic initiatives: moreover, although conducted intermittently, the Aryanization of the economy had been almost completed without having caused any catastrophe. As war approached, it became essential for the regime to remove the Jews present in the country, so as to reduce the possibility of a repeat of the "stab in the back" that had cost Germany the First World War: a fantasy that, even later, would play a pivotal role in the programmatic lines of Hitler and his collaborators. On March 28, 1938, with retroactive effect from January 1 of that year, a new law stripped Jewish cultural associations of their status as legal entities, thus eliminating an important protection and exposing them to a more onerous tax regime; then, between July and September, thousands of doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians and pharmacists had their licenses revoked. Also in the summer, Reinhard Heydrich's Sicherheitsdienst, together with the Berlin police, began a series of raids and arrests throughout the capital with the aim of inducing Jews to leave Germany for good. And indeed they were released only once the Jewish associations had arranged for their emigration. For the party base, this combination of speeches, laws, decrees and police actions indicated that it was time to take to the streets again. The episodes of mass violence that occurred in Vienna following the Anschluss provided an additional incentive; aided by Joseph Goebbels and Berlin police chief Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf, the Nazis in the German capital painted the Star of David on the windows of Israeli-owned stores, on the doors of Jewish doctors' offices and lawyers' offices in the capital, and demolished three synagogues.

Moreover, this new phase of anti-Semitic violence, the third after those of 1933 and 1935, had been inaugurated by Adolf Hitler himself on September 13, 1937, at the traditional party rally: he devoted much of his speech to a frontal attack on the Jews, described as "inferior in every way," unscrupulous, subversive, and determined to undermine society from within, exterminate those who were better off than they were, and establish a Bolshevik regime based on terror. The new persecutory phase brought with it a new set of laws and decrees that greatly worsened the situation of German Jews. According to historian Ian Kershaw, to stimulate the upsurge of the anti-Semitic campaign Hitler had to do little or nothing; it was others who took the initiatives and incited the action, always on the assumption that this was in line with the great mission of Nazism. It was, this, a classic example of working "toward the Führer," taking his approval of such measures for granted. Goebbels, one of the main proponents of radical anti-Semitic action, had no difficulty in April 1938, in the wake of the vicious persecution inflicted on the Jews in Vienna, in persuading Hitler to support his plans to clean up Berlin, the seat of his personal Gau. The Führer's only condition was that nothing be undertaken before his meeting with Benito Mussolini in early May in a series of talks about Germany's aims in Czechoslovakia.

By the fall of 1937, Aryan employers had been ordered to dismiss Jewish employees: as a result about a thousand Russian Jews were expelled. The following year the Sicherheitsdienst turned its attention to the 50,000 Polish Jews residing in the country; they, for Heydrich, were a nuisance because they were not subject to anti-Jewish legislation. Concerned about their possible return, Poland's anti-Semitic military dictatorship enacted a law on March 31, 1938, allowing the revocation of citizenship for such persons, who would thus become stateless. Negotiations between the Gestapo and the Polish embassy in Berlin came to nothing, and on October 27, German police began arresting Polish workers, in some cases together with their families, cramming them into plumbed wagons and escorting them to the border. About 18,000 people were deported without warning, with barely enough time to take some personal belongings with them; upon reaching the border, they were taken off the train and dragged across the border. The Polish authorities, however, barricaded their side of the border, leaving the expellees to wander aimlessly in a "no man's land," until they resolved to set up refugee camps immediately adjacent to the border. On Oct. 29, 1938, when the Polish government ordered the expulsion of German citizens in the opposite direction, the Reich police brought the operation to a final standstill. Ultimately, after a series of intergovernmental negotiations, the deportees were allowed to return to Germany to collect their belongings and then resettle permanently in Poland.

The murder of vom Rath

While Polish authorities hesitated to issue permits to enter the country, thousands of deportees waited in Zbąszyń hungry and suffering; some people committed suicide. One refugee couple, who had lived in Hanover for over twenty-seven years, had a seventeen-year-old son, Herschel Grynszpan, living in Paris. From the border his sister Berta sent him a letter in which she told of the deportation and asked her brother for a little help in money to survive. The anguished message reached Herschel on November 3, and on the morning of the 6th he bought a gun, determined to avenge the outrage against his family and all Jews unjustly expelled. The following day he went to the German embassy and, after telling the doorman that he had a very important message for the ambassador, managed to enter the office of the embassy's third secretary, Ernst Eduard vom Rath, and fired five shots, hitting the man twice and causing him serious injuries, but without killing him.

Meanwhile, in Munich, celebrations of the so-called "brewery putsch" of 1923, presided over by Hitler, were under way. The latter, upon learning of the event, ordered his personal physician, Dr. Karl Brandt, to travel to Paris together with the director of the Munich University Clinic. The two arrived in the city on November 8, while in Germany the German press was hurling accusations against the Jewish people and announcing the first punitive measures against German Jews; at the same time, the printing of any Jewish newspaper or periodical was stopped, Jewish children were banned from entering elementary school, and all Jewish cultural activities were suspended indefinitely. That same day Goebbels reported spontaneous demonstrations of anti-Semitic hostility in many cities of the Reich: a synagogue was set on fire in Bad Hersfeld, Hesse, and in Kassel and Vienna Jewish synagogues and stores were stormed by German citizens, who damaged windows and furnishings. In reality, these were precise directives from Goebbels, who had ordered the Hessian Propaganda Officer (assisted in this by the Gestapo and SS) to storm synagogues in the region in order to take the pulse of public opinion with a view to a possible widening of the pogrom. In Kassel, however, the attack on the synagogue was carried out by the Brown Shirts. In the evening Hitler gave his speech on the anniversary of the failed coup; however, he avoided mentioning the incident of vom Rath's wounding to the audience, clearly having in mind to take action immediately after the diplomat's death, which seemed imminent, according to communications received from Brandt.

Regarding the acts of violence recorded on the 8th, Goebbels declared to the press the following day that they constituted the spontaneous expression of the German people's anger at the instigators of the shameful Paris bombing. The contrast with the murder of regional party official Wilhelm Gustloff, perpetrated by the Jew David Frankfurter in February 1936 and which--given Hitler's interest in keeping international public opinion happy in the year of the Olympics--had elicited no violent reaction from either the top leadership or the party base, could not have been more obvious. It showed, according to historian Richard J. Evans, that the bombing, "far from being the cause of what followed, was in fact merely its pretext."

On the evening of the 9th Hitler was informed by Brandt that vom Rath had died at 5:30 p.m. German time. The news, therefore, reached not only him but also Goebbels and the Foreign Ministry. Immediately, the Führer instructed Goebbels to launch a massive and well-coordinated aggression against German Jews, together with the arrest and imprisonment in concentration camps of all adult male Israelites that could be captured. He therefore informed Himmler that "Goebbels in charge of the whole operation"; Himmler said:

Historian Saul Friedländer stated, "For Goebbels, that was an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills such as he had not had since the boycott of April 1933. The Propaganda Minister longed to prove his abilities in the eyes of the master. Hitler had been critical of the lack of effectiveness in Germany itself of the propaganda campaign during the Sudetenland crisis. Moreover, Goebbels was partially disgraced because of his affair with Czech actress Lida Baarova and his intention to divorce his wife, Magda, one of Hitler's most intimate protégées. The Führer had put an end to the affair and the idea of divorce, but his minister still needed some heavy-handed initiative. And now he had it at hand." There are, however, statements about Hitler's direct responsibility, again reported by Friedländer: illustrative in this regard is a conversation, taken from the diaries of Ulrich von Hassell, former German ambassador to Rome, between Göring and Johannes Popitz, Prussia's finance minister, in which the latter protested to Göring demanding that those responsible for the pogrom be punished, receiving as his reply, "My dear Popitz, do you wish to punish the Führer?" Similarly, according to historian Evans, Hitler was presented with the ideal opportunity to induce as many Jews as possible to leave Germany in the face of a terrible outbreak of violence and destruction, which would be presented by the regime press as "the result of the dismayed reaction to the news of the diplomat's death"; at the same time, the murder would provide the propagandistic justification for the complete and final segregation of Jews from the economy, society and culture.

The pogroms of November 9 and 10, 1938

Around 9:00 p.m. on November 9, during dinner at Munich City Hall, when they could be observed by most of the guests, Hitler and Goebbels were approached by a messenger, who announced to them what they had in fact already known since late afternoon: the death of vom Rath. After a brief and excited conversation, Hitler took his leave earlier than usual to retire to his private quarters. At about 10 p.m. it was Goebbels who took the floor before the Gauleiters, announced that vom Rath had died and that riots had already broken out in the Kurhessen and Magdeburg-Anhalt districts. The minister added that, at his suggestion, Hitler had decided that in case the riots assumed greater proportions, no action should be taken to discourage them. Perhaps Goebbels made Hitler aware of the plans; in fact, in his diaries he recalled, "I submit the matter to the Führer. He decrees: let the demonstrations run free. Recall the police. Let the Jews for once know what popular anger is. Right. I immediately transmit the necessary directives to the police and the party. Then I briefly mention it to the party leadership. Thunderous applause. Everyone rushes to the phones. Now people will act." Goebbels undoubtedly did his best to secure the concrete intervention of the people, communicating detailed instructions on what should and should not be done. Immediately after his speech, the Stoßtrupp Hitler, a strike force whose traditions dated back to the days of beer hall brawls prior to the putsch, began to sow destruction on the streets of Munich; it almost immediately demolished the old synagogue on Herzog-Rudolf-Straße, which had remained standing after the destruction in the summer of the main synagogue. In Berlin, on the elegant boulevard Unter den Linden, a crowd of people gathered at the French Tourist Office where some Jews were standing in line waiting for information about emigrating: the crowd forced the office to close and dispersed the people in line shouting "Down with the Jews! They are going to Paris to join the murderer!"

Shortly before midnight on Nov. 9, Hitler and Himmler met in the Rheinischer Hof Hotel, and the conversation resulted in a directive, forwarded by telex at 11:55 p.m. by Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller to all police commanders in the country, which specified, "Actions against the Jews, and in particular against their synagogues, will be unleashed very shortly in every part of the country. They must not be interrupted. It must be ensured, however, in cooperation with the forces of the Ordnungspolizei, that incidents of looting and other peculiar excesses are avoided ... Prepare for the arrest of 20 to 30,000 Jews in the national territory, giving special preference to the wealthy ones."

At 1:20 a.m. on November 10, Heydrich ordered the police and Sicherheitsdienst not to prevent the destruction of Jewish property or violence against German Jews; in return, no acts of looting or mistreatment of foreign nationals, even if Jewish, were to be tolerated. It was also emphasized that damage to German property adjoining Israelite stores and houses of worship was to be avoided, as well as arresting so many Jews as to completely fill the available space in the camps. At 02:56 a third telex, transmitted on Hitler's orders from the office of his deputy, Rudolf Hess, reinforced this last point by adding that, "by higher orders, no fires were to be set in Jewish stores so as not to endanger adjacent German property." By that time the pogrom was in full swing in many places in Germany: through orders forwarded through the hierarchy to all party headquarters, strike teams and activists, who were still celebrating in their headquarters the anniversary of 1923, began the violence. Many of them were drunk and disinclined to take seriously the prescription to refrain from looting and personal violence, "so gangs of brown shirts emerged from houses and party headquarters, almost all of them in civilian clothes, armed with gasoline canisters, and headed for the nearest synagogue."

Violence was unleashed more or less simultaneously from Berlin to the rural villages, and there were terrible events in the middle of the night, which at sunrise did not begin to subside. In the capital, in the early hours of the morning, uncontrolled mobs destroyed some 200 Jewish-owned stores, and on Friedrichstrasse people indulged in store looting; in Cologne a British newspaper reported that: "mobs broke the windows of almost every Jewish store, forced their way into a synagogue, overturned its seats and broke the window panes." In Salzburg, the synagogue was destroyed and Jewish stores systematically looted; in Vienna, according to reports, at least 22 Jews took their own lives overnight, while "truckloads of Jews were taken to Doliner Straße by the SA and forced to demolish a synagogue." According to reports, places of worship in Potsdam, Treuchtlingen, Bamberg, Brandenburg, Eberswalde and Cottbus were also looted, demolished and finally set on fire, regardless of their age: for example, the one in Treuchtlingen dated back to 1730. The British consul general in Frankfurt am Main, Robert Smallbones, sent a report to London on the events that took place in Wiesbaden at first light: "Violence had begun with the burning of all the synagogues," and during the day "organized groups of both political formations visited every Jewish store or office, destroying store windows, property, equipment. More than two thousand Jews were arrested all rabbis with other religious leaders and teachers . Of the 43 synagogues and prayer houses in Frankfurt, at least twenty-one were destroyed or damaged by fire. In Schwerin, all Jewish establishments were marked with a Star of David in the evening so that they could be quickly recognized and destroyed the following day; in Rostock, a fire was set in the city's synagogue, and in Güstrow, in addition to the place of worship, the Jewish cemetery temple and a Jewish watchmaker's store were burned. The entirety of the Jewish inhabitants were taken into custody, just as happened in Wismar, where the males of the Jewish community were picked up by the police.

Many photographic records exist to attest to the destruction of the synagogues, such as those depicting a huge bonfire in the central square of Zeven, which was fueled with the furnishings of the nearby synagogue and to which children from the nearby elementary school were forced to attend. In Ober-Ramstadt, the work of firemen engaged in protecting a house in the vicinity of the town's synagogue on fire was immortalized, as were also the synagogues in Siegen, Eberswalde, Wiesloch, Korbach, Eschwege, Thalfang and Regensburg, the latter town in which columns of male Jews exiting the old Jewish quarter, forced to march under SA escort to the Dachau camp, were also immortalized.

In Bremen, at 2:00 a.m., three fire trucks took up position in the street where the synagogue and the Jewish community's administrative building were located; three hours later they were still there as the two buildings were first looted and then burned. An SA man also forced a driver to crash his truck into the entrances of the various Jewish stores, whose property was confiscated. Previously prepared plaques were affixed to the windows thus damaged, with phrases such as "Revenge for vom Rath," "Death to International Judaism and Freemasonry," and "No business is done with Jewish-related races." British Consul T.B. Wildman reported that Jewish seamstress Lore Katz was taken to the street in her nightgown to witness the looting of her business, as well as reporting that "a man named Rosenberg, father of six children" and forced from his home, "resisted and was killed." In the same hours, upon hearing the news of the first Jew to die during the violence, Goebbels observed that "it is useless to be upset over the death of one Jew: it will be the turn of thousands of others in the days to come," and, barely restraining his satisfaction with the events, noted in his diary:

News of some of the murders came from reports by diplomats and correspondents from foreign nations. An employee of The Daily Telegraph relayed information from Berlin: "[i]t is reported that the janitor of the Prinzregentstraße synagogue lost his life in the fire with his entire family" and that two Jews had been lynched in the eastern part of the capital; one of his colleagues reported instead, "It seemed that normally decent people were completely in the grip of racial hatred and hysteria. I saw elegantly dressed women clapping their hands and shouting for joy." A News Chronicle correspondent saw looters "particularly carefully breaking the windows of jewelry stores and, giggling, stuffing their pockets with the trinkets and necklaces that fell on the sidewalks"; at the same time, on Friederichstrasse "a grand piano was hauled onto the sidewalk and demolished with hatchets, amid shouts, cheers and applause." In Dortmund, a city where the Jewish community had already been forced to sell the synagogue to the Nazis, a Romanian Jew was forced to crawl four kilometers along the city streets while being beaten; in Bassum, 56-year-old Josephine Baehr committed suicide after witnessing her husband's arrest and the demolition of her house; in Glogau, where both synagogues were destroyed, Leonhard Plachte was thrown out of the window of his home and lost his life; in Jastrow, Jew Max Freundlich was killed in the course of his arrest; and in Beckum (where synagogue and Jewish school were razed to the ground), 95-year-old Alexander Falk was murdered in cold blood.

In Munich, a correspondent for The Times reported that Jewish stores were attacked "by mobs instigated by the Brown Shirts, most of whom looked like veterans of the putsch who marched in Munich yesterday." The same newspaper reported how Kaufinger Straße, one of the main streets, looked "devastated by aerial bombardment" and that "every Jewish store in the city was partially or completely destroyed." Five hundred Jews were arrested in the city, and all the rest, according to radio announcements, were to leave Germany; many of them actually tried to head for the Swiss border, but gas stations refused to sell gasoline and the Gestapo requisitioned most of their passports. Not even Vienna, which had been annexed by Germany for just eight months, escaped the Crystal Night. "Seeing our synagogues catching fire," recalled Bronia Schwebel, "seeing business owners walk past with signs on their shoulders, 'I am ashamed to be a Jew,' while their stores were being looted, was frightening and heartbreaking. It wasn't just the stores that were being violated, it was their lives ...." Indeed, on the morning of Nov. 10, many Viennese, after reading of vom Rath's death, lashed out at Jews at streetcar stops and numerous beatings broke out; Austrian and SA civilians threw themselves at store windows and even attacked a Jewish kindergarten. Twelve-year-old Fred Garfunkel saw the grocery store below his house "shatter into a thousand pieces" as soldiers in trucks parked on every corner "pulled people up there from the street." At around 09:00 the Hernalser and Hietzinger synagogues were set on fire, and around noon the mob broke into the Rabbinical School on Große Schiffgaße, dragged its furniture out and made a bonfire of it; a few minutes later a loud explosion was heard coming from the Tempelgaße synagogue, where the Brown Shirts had deliberately placed drums of gasoline before setting it on fire. Just as happened in Germany, there was also a wave of arrests: on November 10 alone as many as 10,000 Jewish males were imprisoned. In the evening 6,000 were released, but the remainder were deported to Dachau.

Goebbels himself began to consult by telephone with Hitler on how and when to end the action. In light of the increasing criticism of the pogrom also made, though certainly not for humanitarian reasons, by the high commands of the Nazi leadership, it was decided to end it. Subsequently, the Propaganda Minister sketched out an order to stop the violence and took it in person to the Führer who was having lunch at the Bavaria tavern: "Reported to the Führer at the tavern, he agrees on everything. His position is marked by absolute radicalism and aggression. The action itself took place without any problems whatsoever The Führer is determined to enact very severe measures against the Jews. For their own business they have to handle it themselves. The insurance company will not reimburse them a penny. He therefore wants to move to a gradual expropriation of Jewish activities." Hitler thus approved Goebbels' text, which was read on the radio that same afternoon around 5:00 p.m. and printed on the front pages of newspapers the next morning.

Police and party officials began sending demonstrators home, but arrests by the Gestapo had just begun. Three accounts remain from as many German villages where priests and parishes worked to prevent the massacre during the pogrom: Warmsried, Derching and Laimering. It appears that almost no other Jewish community residing in the villages was spared the violence and humiliation. According to historian Daniel Goldhagen, it was in the small rural villages that SA was most welcomed, while in the big cities the population preferred to watch indifferently rather than participate actively. In the small communities, locals took advantage of it with "the knowledge that on that day the Jews were 'open hunting,' and some got carried away, turning on the tormented and defenseless Jews." Ordinary people, if they participated, did so spontaneously without being provoked or encouraged, and in some cases, parents brought their children with them. Indeed, it was recorded that leading many of the attacks on Jews and vandalism of stores were school-age boys. On Nov. 15, diplomat Ulrich von Hassell noted in his diary that the organizers of the pogrom had been "sufficiently brazen to mobilize classes of students"; a month later he wrote that he had received confirmation from a member of the Foreign Ministry of the veracity of the story that "teachers had armed students with sticks so that they could destroy Jewish stores."

The destruction of such a large number of synagogues, prayer houses and cultural centers was the greatest blow dealt to the Jewish artistic and cultural heritage of Europe: the buildings included some of the most important and significant monuments of German synagogue architecture, such as the Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna, the Main Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, the New Synagogue in Hanover, the New Synagogue in Wroclaw and many others. A report was presented to Heydrich on November 11 that 76 synagogues had been torn down and 191 others burned, 29 department stores demolished, 815 stores and 117 private homes devastated. Subsequent estimates indicate that at least 520 synagogues were destroyed during the pogrom, but the total figure actually exceeds a thousand; data on the damage inflicted on businesses and homes would also actually amount to at least 7,500 stores and homes destroyed and looted. The victims officially numbered 91, but the actual number, destined to remain unknown, was more likely between 1,000 and 2,000, especially if one considers the mistreatment of male Jews after their arrest (and protracted in some cases for days) and the 300 suicides at least, caused by the panic and despair of the moment

Immediate consequences

With Kristallnacht, according to historian Daniel Goldhagen, the Germans definitively clarified issues that, moreover, were already there for all to see: there was no longer a place for Jews in Germany, and to get rid of them the Nazis yearned for bloodshed and physical violence; from a psychological point of view, destroying the institutions and symbols of a community is tantamount to destroying its people, performing an "act of general cleansing," which Goldhagen again points to as a substantial foreshadowing of the genocide that would take place a few years later.

In all, between November 9 and 16, about 30,000 male Jews were arrested and taken to camps in Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen; the population of Buchenwald doubled from about 10,000 internees in mid-September to 20,000 two months later. Along with most of the Jews from Treuchtlingen, the well-known pianist and academic Moritz Mayer-Mahr was picked up in Munich and taken to Dachau, where he was forced to stand out in the open and at attention with the others for hours on end in the November cold, wearing only his socks his pants, shirt and jacket. The camps were in terrible hygienic situation, with few improvised latrines for thousands of men and no possibility of washing; in addition, most of the inmates were forced to sleep on the ground. Between 1933 and 1936 the death rate at Dachau ranged from a low of 21 to a high of 41 individuals per year; in September 1938 twelve prisoners lost their lives and in October ten more. After the arrival of the Jewish internees following Kristallnacht, deaths rose to 115 in November and 173 in December, demonstrating (according to historian Richard J. Evans) the considerable tightening of brutality against Jews in the detention camps during and after the November pogroms.

The Propaganda Ministry hastened to present such incidents to the world as a spontaneous outburst of legitimate popular anger: "Too harsh has been the attack unleashed against us by international Judaism for it to be possible to react with words alone," the Göttinger Tageblatt declared to its readers on November 11. The same newspaper then declared that "after being suppressed for decades, the anti-Jewish fury has finally been unleashed. For this the Jews have their brother Grünspan , his mentors, whether spiritual or material, and themselves to thank." The piece concluded with the exceedingly false assurance that Jews "in the course of the incidents were treated quite well." Similarly, with a disregard for the truth that exceeded even the usual one, the leading Nazi propaganda daily Völkischer Beobachter proclaimed:

On November 11, still in the Völkischer Beobachter, Goebbels attacked the "predominantly Jewish" foreign press, guilty of being hostile to Germany. In an article, which appeared simultaneously in several periodicals, the Propaganda Minister called such reports simply untrue, stating how the natural reaction to the cowardly murder of vom Rath had resulted from a "healthy instinct" of German society, which Goebbels proudly called "an anti-Semitic people. A people that neither derives pleasure nor delight in seeing its rights curtailed nor in being provoked as a nation by the parasitic Jewish race"; in conclusion, he asserted that the German nation had done everything in its power to put an end to the demonstrations and that it had nothing to be ashamed of. International public opinion, on the other hand, reacted with a mixture of horror and disbelief to the pogrom: indeed, for many foreign observers it constituted a turning point to their view of the Nazi regime.

On November 12, a meeting was held at the Ministry of Air Transport in Berlin to discuss the "Jewish question," under the chairmanship of Hermann Göring and with the participation of the ministers of the Interior, Propaganda, Finance and Economics. At that meeting it was decided to fine the Jews one billion marks and to give a decisive impetus to "Aryanize" the German economy, so much so that Economics Minister Walther Funk stipulated that as of January 1, 1939, no Jew could be in charge of a business. Already in the evening of the same day, the fine imposed on German Jews and their total marginalization from the economic life of the country by the first day of 1939 was announced. Their exclusion from all places of entertainment was also decided on that day; on the 13th Goebbels explained to the Berlin people that "to expect a German to sit next to a Jew in a theater or cinema is tantamount to degrading German art. If the vermin had not been treated far too well in the past, it would not have been necessary to get rid of them so quickly now." The next day the Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust, issued a decree banning every Jew from enrolling in any German or Austrian university, and twenty-four hours later the children of German Jews were banned from national schools with immediate effect. On Nov. 16, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced on the radio that he could "scarcely believe" that the German anti-Semitic campaign "could take place in the twentieth century of civilization," and in the wake of this outrage, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (whose mother was Jewish) gave three Jewish police chiefs the task of protecting the city's German consulate.

Also on November 16, Heydrich ordered an end to the wave of arrests of male Jews triggered by the pogrom, but not with the simple intention of returning them to their former lives: all Jews over sixty, those who were sick or handicapped, and those involved in an aryanisation procedure were to be released immediately. The release of the others was tied in many cases to their formal commitment to leave the country. Emigration, moreover, had emerged as the only alternative for them, but few foreign states were willing to accept them, a contingency that made their situation dramatic: on November 15 a British envoy wrote from Berlin that "rumors that certain countries have relaxed restrictions produce the result of hundreds of Jews flocking to their consulates, only to find that the rumors are false." For example, more than 300 Jews went to the consulate of Argentina in Berlin, but only two were able to show the necessary requirements to apply for entry into the country, while "crowds of frightened Jews" kept appearing in front of British and U.S. consulates "begging for residence permits however very few of them secured permits." Normalcy for Jews became impossible and, to worsen the climate of terror in which they lived, the official SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps stated that in the event of any kind of "Jewish reprisal" outside Germany and in response to the events of November 9-10, "we will use our Jewish hostages in a systematic manner, regardless of how shocking certain people may find it. We will follow the principle proclaimed by the Jews: 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' But we will take thousands of eyes for an eye, thousands of teeth for a tooth."

It was not until January 1939 that Heydrich ordered the country's police authorities to release from concentration camps all Jewish internees who possessed the necessary papers for deportation, notifying them that they would be locked up there for life if they ever returned to Germany. As soon as they were released, former inmates were given three weeks to leave the country but, paradoxically, Nazi policies were making deportation increasingly difficult. Indeed, the bureaucratic formalities that accompanied applications for emigration were so complex that the time allowed was often insufficient. Moreover, as long as Jewish organizations had to deal with Interior Ministry officials (former Nationalists or members of the Center Party) things worked fairly well, but when on January 30, 1939, Göring passed the entire bureaucratic task to the National Center for Jewish Emigration under Heydrich, emigrating for Jews became increasingly complicated. Again, the capital freeze prevented them from paying their expatriation expenses: in fact, among the Center's objectives was to "give priority to the emigration of the most destitute Jews" since, as a January 1939 Foreign Ministry circular put it, "this would fuel the anti-Semitism of the Western countries in which they find asylum... It should be emphasized that it is in the national interest to see to it that Jews leave the borders of the country as beggars, because the poorer the emigrants are, the greater the burden they represent for the country that goes to receive them."

According to Richard Evans, the pogrom can thus be understood solely in the context of the regime's initiative aimed at forcing Jews to emigrate and thus totally eliminating their presence in Germany. Not surprisingly, it was noted in an SD report that Jewish emigration had: "greatly decreased ... almost to a standstill because of the closed attitude of foreign countries and the insufficient supplies of currency in their possession. Also contributing to this had been the attitude of renunciation on the part of the Jews, whose organizations were merely getting by in carrying out their task, given the constant pressures to which they were subjected by the authorities. The events of November profoundly changed this situation." The "radical practice carried out against the Jews in November," the report continued, had "increased to the highest degree the will to emigrate," and, taking advantage of this situation, various measures were taken in the following months to translate this will into action.

International reactions

Six weeks before Crystal Night, the crucial Munich conference had taken place, from which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had returned proclaiming "peace for our time." The November pogrom dealt such a blow to that hope that, on Nov. 18, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Allsebrook Simon spoke of how the prospect of peace had "been thrown away in the last few days, in the face of a development that deeply shocked and moved the world"; the fate of the Jews, he added, "inevitably gives rise to strong feelings both of horror and of sympathy." In this regard, on November 20, in the pages of The Observer, it was written how by now "members of the British ministry have no illusions. To their immense regret they recognize that all that has happened in Germany in the last ten days means a definite delay to the prospects of pacification in Europe." On the same day, President Roosevelt announced that he would ask Congress to allow some 15,000 German refugees already in the United States to remain in the country "indefinitely," as it would be "cruel and inhumane to force refugees, most of whom were Jews, to return to Germany to face potential mistreatment, concentration camps or other persecution." However, it did not support the request of U.S. Jewish organizations to unify the immigration quotas for the next three years for 1938 alone, which would have allowed up to 81,000 Jews to enter the country quickly. The British government was also put under pressure to do more for the refugees; in a November 21 session in the House of Commons, Labour's Alderman Logan said, "I speak as a Catholic, participating from the bottom of my heart in the cause of the Jews. I have heard mention of the economic issue. If we cannot meet the criteria of civilization, if we cannot bring sunlight into people's lives without being preoccupied with the question of money, civilization is doomed. Today there is an opportunity for the English nation to take a proper position among the nations of the world." At the end of the debate, the government announced that "a very large number of German Jewish children would be allowed to enter Britain."

Meanwhile, voices of solidarity for German Jews and disapproval against the Nazi government were raised in various countries: in Washington it was proposed that the fertile but almost uninhabited Kenai Peninsula in Alaska be made available to at least 250,000 refugees, "regardless of their religion or economic means," but due to various political resistances the proposal was shelved. In the Caribbean, on Nov. 18, the Virgin Islands Legislative Assembly voted in favor of a resolution offering the world's refugees a place where "their ill fortune might have an end," but Secretary of State Cordell Hull blocked the initiative as "inconsistent with existing legislation." Two days later, the Jewish National Council of Palestine offered to take in 10,000 German Jewish children: the cost of the operation would be borne by the Palestinian Jewish community and "Zionists all over the world." The offer was debated in the British Parliament along with the later proposal to take in 10,000 adults as well; Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald mentioned the upcoming conference between the British government and representatives of Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Jews and Arab states, pointing out that if what the council was asking for was granted, there would be a risk of creating strong tensions. Therefore, the request was ultimately rejected. The next day, Nov. 21, Pope Pius XI stigmatized the existence of a superior Aryan race and insisted on the existence of a single human race; his assertion was challenged by Nazi Labor Minister Robert Ley, who declared in Vienna on the 22nd, "No feeling of compassion will be tolerated toward the Jews. We reject the pope's assertion that there is but one race. The Jews are parasites." In the wake of Pius XI's words, a number of prominent churchmen condemned Crystal Night, such as Cardinals Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster of Milan, Belgian Cardinal Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Cardinal Jean Verdier of Paris. Moreover, Fascist Italy had enacted racial laws as early as September, which prevented Jews from state, governmental or teaching jobs: many Italian, German and Austrian Jews therefore attempted to gain access to Switzerland; but as early as November 23, the head of the Swiss Federal Police Department Heinrich Rothmund officially protested to the foreign minister about Jewish refugees. This is just a small example of how, while on the one hand voices had been raised in favor of the Jews, on the other hand the innatist and xenophobic currents were exerting pressure on the respective governments to halt the flow of Jewish emigrants from Germany who, in fact, saw numerous avenues of escape and salvation closed.

Poland was home to Roman Dmowski's furiously anti-Semitic Endecja party, which, during the 1930s, had drawn a broad coalition of the middle classes around an ideology with a distinctly fascist profile. After 1935 Poland was ruled by a military junta and the Endecja found itself in opposition, which did not prevent it from organizing boycotts of Jewish stores and businesses throughout the country, often with a good side dish of violence. In 1938 the ruling party adopted a thirteen-point program on the Jewish question, in which various measures were proposed to consolidate the institutional alienation of Jews from the life of the state; by the following year they were barred from the professional rolls even if they possessed the requisite university degrees: the ruling class was thus increasingly adopting a number of policies originally advanced by the Nazis in Germany. A bill for a Polish equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws was put forward by one of its parliamentary groups in January 1939. Similar ideas and initiatives could be seen at this time in other Central and Eastern European countries struggling to create a new national identity, notably Romania and Hungary. These had their own fascist movements (the Iron Guard and the Party of the Arrow Crosses, respectively), both characterized by Nazi-like anti-Jewish fanaticism. As in German territory, anti-Semitism was closely linked to a radical nationalism, to the idea that the alleged imperfection of the state was primarily to blame for the negative influence of the Jews: these states followed the Nazi example and, after the November 1938 pogrom, tightened their anti-Jewish measures along German lines and largely adopted its racial criteria. Thus Germany, if it was the most striking case of anti-Semitic segregation, was by no means alone in aiming at the total and violent excision of Jewish minorities from its society.

Reactions of the German Church

The night of the crystals was all but ignored by the local clergy; the only reference, indirect moreover, to the event was made a month later by the Confessing Church: after declaring that Jesus Christ was "the atonement for our sins" and "also the atonement for the sins of the Jewish people," the message continued with the following words, "We are bound as brothers to all believers in Christ of the Jewish race. We will not separate ourselves from them and we ask them not to separate themselves from us. We urge all members of our congregations to share in the material and spiritual sorrow of our Christian brothers and sisters of the Jewish race and to intercede for them in their prayers to God." Jews as such were excluded from the message of compassion and, as has been noted, "the usual reference to the Jewish people as a whole was a mention of their sins." On the individual level, as reported by accounts of surveillance on Nazi territory, some pastors expressed themselves "critically regarding actions against Jews" Similarly, on November 10, 1938, Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg of St. Hedwig's Cathedral said that "the temple that was set on fire is also the House of God" and "that he would later pay with his life for his public sermons in defense of the Jews deported to the East." In a sermon for New Year's Eve that year, Michael von Faulhaber, a Catholic cardinal and archbishop, said instead, "This is one of the advantages of our age; at the highest office of the Reich we have the example of a simple and modest way of life, which eschews alcohol and nicotine."

The pogrom of Nov. 9 and 10 was the third wave of anti-Semitic violence in Germany, far worse than those of 1933 and 1935 (coinciding with the Nazi boycott of Jewish trade and the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, respectively): begun in the spring of 1938, it continued and escalated as an accompaniment to the international diplomatic crisis of the summer-autumn that led to the Munich Accords. According to historian Kershaw, "that night laid bare to the eyes of the world the barbarity of the Nazi regime"; within German borders it led to immediate draconian measures aimed at the total segregation of German Jews and, in addition, to a new elaboration of the anti-Semitic direction from then on under the direct control of the SS, whereby a unique path was formed consisting of the stages of war, territorial expansion and the elimination of Jews. Kershaw argues that in the aftermath of the Novemberpogrome the certainty of this connection was solidified not only in the minds of the SS, but also in Hitler and the circle of his closest associates: moreover, since the 1920s, the Führer had not deviated from the idea that German salvation would necessarily have to come through a titanic struggle for supremacy in Europe and the world, against the "most powerful enemy of all, perhaps even more powerful than the Third Reich: international Judaism." Kristallnacht had a profound impact on Hitler: for decades he had been hatching feelings that fused fear and aversion into a pathological image of Jews as the embodiment of evil that threatened German survival. Alongside the concrete reasons for agreeing with Goebbels regarding the desirability of boosting anti-Jewish legislation and forced emigration, in the Führer's mind Grynszpan's gesture was proof of the "Jewish world conspiracy" aimed at destroying the Reich. In the prolonged context of crisis in foreign policy, overshadowed by the ever-present bogeyman of international conflict, the pogrom had as it did evoked the alleged connections-present in Hitler's distorted conception since 1918-19 and fully formulated in Mein Kampf-between Jewish power and war.

At the same time, the event marked, in Germany, the last excess of violent anti-Semitism comparable to pogroms. Since 1919 Hitler, who was also not entirely opposed to such means, had stressed that the "solution of the Jewish question" would not be violent. It was above all the immense material damage caused, the genuine diplomatic disaster reflected in the almost universal condemnation of the international press, and to a lesser extent the criticism (but not of the stringent anti-Jewish legislation that followed) of large sections of the German citizenry that counseled the abandonment of such racist practices. In place of brutal persecution took over more and more a coordinated and systematic anti-Jewish course of action, termed "rational" and entrusted to the SS: on January 24, 1939, Göring created a Central Office for Jewish Emigration based in Vienna, under the command of Reinhard Heydrich, which in principle always had forced emigration as its goal, which after the Novemberpogrome had new and radical impetus. The handover of this task to the SS also initiated a new phase of anti-Semitic policy, which took a crucial step on the road that had the gas chambers and extermination camps as its end point. At the opening of the Wannsee conference in January 1942, Heydrich would use the task he had received from Göring to launch measures aimed at the extermination of the Jewish people.

Most of the Nazi party leadership and bureaucracy were opposed to the pogrom organized by Goebbels, as they were concerned about foreign reactions and domestic economic damage, and at the end of the November 12 meeting Göring declared that he would do everything to prevent new riots and violent actions. The pogroms of November 1938 were the last opportunity left for anti-Jewish violence to be unleashed on the streets of Germany, so that in September 1941, when Goebbels issued the decree ordering Jews to wear the yellow star, the head of the Party Chancellery Martin Bormann issued orders in order to contain any inordinate popular reaction. In reality, the indignation of the Nazi leadership toward the idea of pogroms and street violence was dictated by the sole reason that those kinds of actions were beyond their control and were fundamentally deleterious to Germany's image; conversely, party members were convinced that the "Jewish question" should be planned in a systematic and rational manner, not left in the hands of popular fury. From then on, the Jews would be dealt with in the "legal" sphere - that is, according to tried-and-tested methods of top-down planning and organization with the decisive logistical assistance of the bureaucracy, which played an important part in the genocide.

Reactions in the Nazi party

The senior police and SS commands, also assembled in Munich but not present at Goebbels' speech, learned of the anti-Semitic action when it had already begun. Heydrich, who was at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, was informed about it at about 11:20 p.m. by the Gestapo office in Munich, after the first orders had been forwarded to the party and SA; he immediately sought out Himmler for directives regarding police conduct. The Reichsführer-SS was contacted while in Munich with Hitler, who, having learned of the request for orders, replied, in all probability at Himmler's own suggestion, that the SS should stay out of the violence. He also specified that any member of the SS who was willing to participate in the riots should do so only in civilian clothes: the two hierarchs, in fact, preferred a rational and systematic approach to the "Jewish question."

The SS and official German police complained that they were "not informed." In the night, as Himmler's chief of general staff Karl Wolff got word of the pogrom, he alerted his superior and it was decided to take action "to prevent widespread looting." Himmler's comments in a memorandum intended for his archives branded Goebbels as an "empty brain" and "power-hungry," who had initiated an operation at "a time when the situation is very serious." He also reported the following comment, "When I asked the Führer what he thought, I got the impression that he knew nothing about the events." Albert Speer, too, reported of "an apparently sorry and almost embarrassed Hitler" who would not have wanted those "excesses." From his words we seem to guess that, presumably, it was Goebbels who had dragged Hitler into that situation. Still a few weeks after the events, Alfred Rosenberg had no doubt about the responsibilities of the detested Propaganda Minister "in ordering action on behalf of the Führer on the basis of his general directive." Reichsminister Hermann Göring went to Hitler as soon as he was alerted and apostrophized the Propaganda Minister as "too irresponsible" for failing to assess the disastrous effects on the Reich's economy of the racial initiative; indeed, Göring felt that his credibility as plenipotentiary of the four-year plan was at stake: he complained that while citizens were obliged not to throw away used toothpaste tubes, rusty nails, and discarded items of any kind, reckless devastation of valuable property was left unpunished. Economy Minister Walther Funk himself (who took over at the beginning of 1938 from Hjalmar Schacht at the head of the Ministry of Economics), soon after learning of the facts, telephoned Goebbels in irritation and began an altercation: Funk, however, dropped all protest when he heard the reply that, soon, the Führer would forward to Göring the order to exclude Jews from economic life.

Looting carried out for personal enrichment created several problems in the party. There was criticism in particular for the vandalism that had destroyed (instead of confiscating) much-needed assets and goods that Germany needed, as well as putting German insurance companies in deep trouble, if one considers, for example, that "the damage to the Magraf jewelry store alone was estimated at one million seven hundred thousand Reichsmark." Historian Raul Hilberg, in his work The Destruction of the Jews of Europe, notes that among the extensive damage caused by Kristallnacht, the "most serious were the foreign reactions": no matter how hard the German censors worked to ensure that no images of the violence filtered through, the news remained on the front pages of the foreign press for weeks. In addition to diplomatic relations, trade relations suffered, and boycotts against supplies of all kinds of German products "intensified." The German ambassador in Washington described to the foreign minister the hostile climate that had produced the pogrom: if up to that point the American public had remained silent, now open protest had broken out among the social strata, even among "Americanized Germans"; he then added that that generalized hostility had revitalized "the boycott of German products that at the moment, there is no glimpse of possible trade." Hilberg emphasized the damage to everything that was "the preserve of exporters, armament experts, and everything having to do with foreign currencies": with the November 9-10 bullying "for the first time, many retailers, wholesalers and importers joined in the boycott." Contracts in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Yugoslavia were canceled, with German exports dropping by 20 percent and up to 30 percent; even many German "Aryan" companies operating abroad opted to terminate agreements and links with those in Germany: "in the Netherlands, one of the largest import-export companies, Stockies en Zoonen of Amsterdam, which until then had represented such major brands as Krupp, DKW, BMW and the German subsidiary of Ford, ended all its contracts with Germany and preferred to sell British products."

According to historian Kershaw, Hitler was probably taken aback by the magnitude of the Kristallnacht, to which, moreover, he had given the go-ahead (as in numerous other cases of blanket authorizations, extemporaneously and without formal garb) during the agitated conversation with Goebbels in City Hall. Certainly the flood of criticism that came from Göring, Himmler, and other Nazi hierarchs made him realize that the situation might have gotten out of hand and that the violence was becoming counterproductive; at the same time, however, Kershaw wondered what Hitler could have expected differently, especially based on the information about the first incidents recorded on the 8th and the fact that he himself had spoken out against strict intervention by the police to curb the anti-Semitic violence. In the following days he therefore took care to adopt an ambiguous line on the matter. He avoided praising Goebbels, or showing appreciation for the events that had occurred, but likewise refrained from explicitly condemning or distancing himself from the unpopular Propaganda Minister, either in public or in the inner circle of associates. For Kershaw, therefore, "none of this argues in favor of an open violation or distortion of the Führer's wishes" by Goebbels: fairer would be to speak of a sense of embarrassment on the part of the Führer, who realized how an action he had approved had elicited almost unanimous condemnation even in the upper echelons of the regime. Indeed, Friedländer reported as "one of the most revealing aspects of the events of November 7-8 the silence, in public and even 'in private' (at least judging from Goebbels' diaries) maintained by Hitler and Goebbels."

Even the leaders of the armed forces in some cases expressed outrage at the "cultural ignominy" of what had taken place, but they avoided making official protests to that effect. The deep-rooted anti-Semitism that lurked among the armed forces implied that no fundamental opposition to Nazi radicalism was to be expected from that side. Typical of such a mentality was a letter written by such an esteemed man-at-arms as Colonel General Werner von Fritsch, almost a year after his forced retirement and only a month having passed since the November pogrom. By all accounts, Kristallnacht had deeply outraged him, but, like many others, on matters of method rather than merit. He considered that after the last war, in order to become great again, Germany had to triumph in three distinct battles: the one against the working class - according to the general already won by Hitler - the one against Catholic ultramontanism, and the one against the Jews, still in progress. "And the struggle against the Jews," Fritsch observed, "is the hardest. It is to be hoped that this difficulty will stand out everywhere."

In any case, at lunchtime on Nov. 10 Hitler informed Goebbels that he intended to introduce draconian economic measures against Jews in the Reich: these were based on the perverse idea of presenting them with the bill for the Israelite property destroyed at Nazi hands, while sparing the onerous damages to German insurance companies; the victims, in other words, were found guilty of what they had suffered and paid for it by confiscation of property, since they had no reinstatement. According to Kershaw, Goebbels' authorship, later supported by Göring, of the plan to impose a billion-mark fine on the Jewish community is not certain; more likely it was Göring, as head of the four-year plan, who aired the proposal in telephone conversations he had that afternoon with Hitler and, perhaps, also with Goebbels. Nor can an initiative by the Führer be ruled out, however much Goebbels may have made no mention of it by dwelling on the Chancellor's expressed desire for "very severe measures" at lunch: in any case, the suggestion had to meet with Hitler's favor. Already, moreover, in his 1936 memorandum on the four-year plan, he had stated, in view of the need to hasten economic preparations for war, his intention to impute to the Jews any breakdown suffered by the German economy. By adopting these measures, Hitler was also decreeing "the fulfillment of the economic solution" and ordering in principle what was destined to happen: concrete form was given to these plans at the meeting convened by Göring for the morning of November 12 at the Air Ministry, which was attended by more than a hundred senior officials.

The conference of November 12, 1938

Among the main summonses to the November 12, 1938 conference were Goebbels, Funk, Finance Minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, Heydrich, Lieutenant General of the Order Police (Nazi Germany's main police force) Kurt Daluege, Ernst Wörmann for the Foreign Ministry, and Hilgard as representative of the German insurance companies, along with numerous other interested personalities. Göring began his speech with a firm tone and declared that he had received written and verbal orders from Hitler to provide for the final expropriation of the Jews, claiming that the primary objective was the confiscation and not the destruction of Jewish property:

Then the floor was given to Hilgard, who stated that the broken showcases were insured for six million Reichsmark but, since the more expensive ones came from Belgian suppliers, "one had to pay back at least half of them in foreign currency"; there was then a fact known to few, namely that those showcases "belonged not so much to Jewish merchants but to the German owners of the properties." The same problem arose again for looted property: "by way of example, the damage to the Magraf jewelry store alone was estimated at one million seven hundred thousand Reichsmarks," further pointing out that the total damage to real estate alone amounted to twenty-five million Reichsmarks. Heydrich added that if one also assessed "the loss of consumer goods, the decrease in tax revenues, and other indirect disadvantages," the damage amounted to around a hundred million, considering that as many as 7,500 stores had been looted; Daluege pointed out that in many cases the products did not belong to the shopkeepers but were owned by German wholesalers; products, Hilgard added, that had to be repaid. It was after this analysis that Göring turned with regret to Heydrich:

The meeting then decided how to repay the damages by dividing the litigants into categories:

The burden of repairs to real estate was assigned to the Jewish property owners themselves "to restore the street to its usual appearance," and by a further decree it was stipulated that the Jews could deduct the cost of those repairs "from their share of the one billion Reichsmark fine." Hilgard acknowledged that German companies would have to fulfill the commitment, because otherwise customers would no longer trust German insurance, but he complained about this to Göring in the hope that the government would compensate for such losses with secret payouts. However, Hilgard obtained only the promise of a gesture, which would be made to the smaller insurance companies, but only in case of "absolute necessity." A third issue was the destroyed synagogues: Göring considered them a minor nuisance and all agreed to consider them outside the category of "German property," so "the clearing of the rubble was assigned to be borne by the Jewish communities." The fourth issue addressed was whether Germans who had been guilty of the vandalism should be prosecuted; in this regard, the Ministry of Justice "by decree that Jews of German nationality had no right to compensation in the totality of cases resulting from the incidents of November 8-10." The participants in the meeting also talked about foreign Jews, who could use the diplomatic route to make their case to their respective countries (e.g., the United States) and have "reprisals implemented." Göring asserted that the United States was a "gangster state" and that all German investments made there should be withdrawn long ago, but in the end he agreed with Wörmann that it was a problem that deserved consideration.

The last issue to be resolved, the most complex, was that concerning acts committed during the pogrom that "the penal code considered as crimes": robberies, murders, rapes. The issue was examined between January 13 and 26, 1939, by Justice Minister Franz Gürtner and the "judges of the highest courts," whom he summoned. Roland Freisler, the most prominent hierarch after Gürtner in the ministry, explained "that a distinction had to be made between trials against Party members and trials against those who were not Party members"; for the second category he thought of proceeding immediately, keeping a low profile and avoiding prosecutions for "minor facts." As one prosecutor pointed out, no Party-affiliated accused could be tried unless they had first been expelled, "unless the hierarchies were prosecuted: was there no possibility of presuming that they had acted on a specific order?" The Supreme Party Tribunal met in February to decide on the thirty Nazis who had committed "excesses." Twenty-six of them had killed Jews, but none of them was hunted down or tried, despite the legal institution's prior identification of "ignoble" motives against them. The remaining four who had raped a number of Jewish women (thus contravening racial laws) were stripped of their membership cards and turned over to "regular courts" for trials. These were crimes of a moral nature that could not find justification in the pogrom: they were therefore individuals who had seen in the riot only a pretext for carrying out their violent actions.

Exacerbation of Judenpolitik

As soon as the meeting was over, a collective fine of 1 billion marks was triggered as a fine for the murder of vom Rath. On Nov. 21, Jewish taxpayers were made to surrender to the state by Aug. 15, 1939, one-fifth of their assets, as shown in the registration of the previous April, in four installments; in October the quota was increased to one-fourth, since it was explained that the stipulated sum had not been reached-even though the amount collected actually exceeded it by at least 127 million marks. In addition, they were required to clean up the streets at their own expense from the filth left by the pogrom and to pay for the damage caused by the Brown Shirts' assault themselves. In any case, all of the insurance companies' compensation to Jewish owners (225 million marks) was confiscated by the state, which, together with the fine and taxes against capital flight, managed to extort well over 2 billion marks from the German-Jewish community, even before the profits from the Aryanization of the economy were even factored in.

Beyond some divergence of detail, Göring, Goebbels and the other participants in the November 12, 1938 conference agreed to issue a series of decrees that would give concrete form to the various expropriation plans discussed in the preceding weeks and months. The Führer ruled that Jews should be denied access to sleeping cars and dining cars on long-distance trains and confirmed the right to prohibit them from entering restaurants, luxury hotels, public squares, busy streets, and fashionable residential neighborhoods; meanwhile, a ban on attending university lectures had come into effect. On April 30, 1939, they were stripped of their tenant rights, which was in fact a prelude to ghettoization: landlords could evict them without appeal provided they offered alternative accommodation, however meager, while municipal governments could order them to sublet part of their dwellings to other Jews. From the end of January 1939, their tax benefits, including family allowances, were also revoked. From that time on, the taxation regime for Jews was at a single rate, the highest rate provided. Another measure enacted on November 12, the "first decree for the exclusion of Jews from German economic life," ousted them from almost all remaining remunerative occupations, ordering the summary dismissal, without liquidation or pensions of any kind, of those who still practiced them. A few weeks later, on Dec. 3, a "decree on the exploitation of Jewish property" ordered the aryanisation of the remaining Israelite-owned businesses, authorizing the state, if necessary, to appoint trustees to complete the process: by April 1, 1939, nearly 15,000 of the 39,000 Jewish businesses reported to still be in operation a year earlier had been put into liquidation, about 6,000 had been aryanised, just over 4,000 were in the process of aryanisation, and about 7,000 more were under investigation for the same purpose. As early as November 12, the press repeated without interruption that such operations constituted "legitimate retaliation for the cowardly murder of vom Rath."

On February 21, 1939, Jews had been required to deposit cash, securities and valuables (with the exception of wedding rings) in special blocked accounts, from which they could withdraw only by virtue of official authorization that was practically never granted. Thus the German government appropriated the accounts in question without any compensation to the account holders, and as a result almost all Jews still in Germany were left without financial means; they turned en masse, for sustenance, to the National Association of German Jews created on July 7, 1938: it was Hitler himself who ordered it to be kept alive in order to prevent the Reich from taking on the support of Jews in poverty. However, it was decided that impoverished and unemployed Jews who had not yet reached retirement age-about half of the remaining population-should instead work for the Reich; a plan aired as early as October 1938 and then solidified at a meeting convened by Göring on December 6. Two weeks later, in light of the substantial increase in the number of unemployed Jews, the National Labor Board gave orders to the various employment offices scattered across the country to find employment for Jews, so as to increase the supply of German labor for war production. On Feb. 4, 1939, Martin Bormann reiterated this directive, but made sure that Jewish workers were separated from others: some were precepted into agricultural work, others into menial occupations of various kinds; by May about 15,000 unemployed Jews had already been placed in forced labor programs, for such tasks as garbage collection, garbage collection, and road construction. To facilitate their separation from other workers, the latter soon became their main area of employment. By the summer as many as 20,000 Jews had been assigned to heavy work on highway construction sites-an occupation for which many of them were physically totally unsuited. Although still on a relatively small scale, it was already evident by 1939 that, once war broke out, Jewish forced labor would reach far larger proportions, and, as early as the beginning of the year, plans had been drawn up for the creation of special labor camps in which to house conscripts.

Intimidation and legislative measures had their effect: following the pogrom and the wave of arrests, Jewish emigration from Germany soared; terrified Jews flocked to foreign embassies and consulates desperately seeking visas. The exact number of those who succeeded is almost impossible to ascertain but, according to statistics from the Jewish organizations themselves, some 324,000 Germans of the Jewish faith were still in the country at the end of 1937, down to 269,000 by the end of 1938. By May 1939 they had dropped below 188,000 to 164,000 by the beginning of World War II. Approximately 115,000 left Germany between November 10, 1938, and September 1, 1939, bringing the total number of expatriates since the advent of Nazism to about 400,000 individuals, most of whom settled in countries outside continental Europe: 132,000 fled to the United States, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to the United Kingdom, 10,000 to Brazil, as many to Argentina, 7,000 to Australia, 5,000 to South Africa, and 9,000 to the free port of Shanghai. The countless emigrants were also joined by many other Germans classified as Jews who also professed the Jewish faith; so numerous were those who fled in terror without a visa or passport that neighboring states began to set up refugee camps for them. Before Kristallnacht, the question of the appropriateness of emigration, within the German-Jewish community, had been the focus of continuous debate, but after November 10 all doubt fell away. According to historian Evans:

It was at this stage (following the unchallenged mass violence of November 9-10 and imprisonment in concentration camps) that Hitler began to threaten their ultimate extermination. In the previous two years, both for reasons of foreign policy and to distance himself personally from what he knew were the least popular aspects of the regime among the vast majority of the German people, the Führer had refrained from public displays of hostility against the Jews. But, after Kristallnacht, Hitler had become impatient for the powers assembled in July in Evian, specifically to discuss increasing German-Jewish refugee quotas, to increase the ceiling on admissions even more: to this end he hinted at what fate Germany's Semitic community would face if they were refused entry into other countries; on January 21, 1939, he told the Czechoslovak foreign minister, "The Jews living among us will be annihilated." On January 30, 1939, Hitler repeated these threats publicly at the Reichstag and expanded them to a European scale:

The November 1938 pogrom reflected the regime's radicalization of the final stages of preparation for war, which were to consist, in Hitler's mind, in neutralizing the alleged Jewish threat: the Nazis were convinced that influential Jewish groups were plotting for the conflict to spread beyond Europe (where they knew Germany would triumph) and involve above all the United States, their only hope of victory in the regime's anti-Semitic perspective. But by then Germany would be master of the continent and would have the vast majority of the Jews residing there in its grip. The Führer announced that he would use that contingency as a deterrent to an American entry into the war; otherwise, Jews throughout Europe would be exterminated. Nazi terrorism had thus acquired a new dimension: the practice of hostage-taking on the largest possible scale. Prophetic in this regard was the title of an article published in the November 23, 1938, issue of the Los Angeles Examiner: Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (i.e., in Italian, "Nazis Warn World that Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies").


In the 1940s and 1950s, Crystal Night was rarely remembered by German newspapers: the first was Tagesspiel, a West Berlin daily, which first recalled the event on November 9, 1945, and then in 1948. In East Berlin, similarly, the official magazine Neues Deutschland published commemorative articles in 1947 and 1948 and, after several years of silence, in 1956. The 20th anniversary was not celebrated and only the 40th, in 1978, was commemorated by the whole society. In 2008, during the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, at the Rykestrasse Synagogue in Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel made a plea that "the legacy of the past should serve as a lesson for the future," denounced "indifference to racism and anti-Semitism," and stated that "too few Germans at that time had the courage to protest against Nazi barbarism This lesson of the past applies today to Europe, but also to other realities, especially Arab countries." In 1998, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum made available on its online archive all the photographic documentation of Kristallnacht, along with other artifacts testifying to the Holocaust during the Nazi period.

On the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Merkel herself gave a speech at the country's largest synagogue in Berlin: she reminded that "the state must act consistently against exclusion, anti-Semitism, racism and right-wing extremism" and lashed out at those "who react with seemingly simple answers to difficulties," a reference according to Le Monde to the rise of populism and the far right in Germany as in Europe. Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen declared at the site of the former synagogue in Leopoldstadt "that we must look at history as an example of how far policies of exclusion and incitement to hatred can lead," and added "to be vigilant so that degradation, persecution and suppression of rights can never be repeated in our country or in Europe."

In 2018, European Jewish communities launched the "Crystal Night Remembrance Initiative": synagogues on the continent remain lit up during the night of Nov. 9-10 each year. The rabbi of the Trieste Jewish community said in this regard, "On November 8, the 30th of Cheshvan, eighty years after that tragic night, we would like to commemorate this moment together with the Jewish communities of many other countries and the World Zionist Organization, with a response that marks the exact opposite: the celebration of the life and vitality of the Jewish people A hymn to life and hope, of trust in future generations, conveying to them the message that an eternal light will be lit to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people." On Nov. 9, 2020, the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island in Rome also joined the project, whose rector explained that "as hateful acts of intolerance and anti-Semitism return to Europe, we must be united in memory and make our voices heard."

In the arts and common language

The Novemberpogrome has been remembered in multiple works, from musical to literary to figurative arts. For example, the British composer Michael Tippett produced between 1939 and 1941 the oratorio A Child of Our Time, for which he wrote the music and libretto, inspired by the exploits of Grynszpan and the subsequent reaction of the Nazi government to the Jews; the work, reinterpreted from a psychoanalytic perspective strongly inspired by Carl Gustav Jung, was later exploited to deal with the oppression of peoples and to convey the pacifist message of total commonality of all human beings.

The German kölschrock music group BAP recorded the song Kristallnaach, included as an opener on the 1982 album Vun drinne noh drusse: the lyrics, written by singer Wolfgang Niedecken in the Cologne dialect, reflect the author's complex state of mind toward the memory of Kristallnacht. U.S. avant-garde guitarist Gary Lucas composed Verklärte Kristallnacht in 1988, which juxtaposes, over a carpet of electronic and ambient effects, the Israeli hymn Hatikvah and some verses from Das Lied der Deutschen in order to create an aural representation of the horror of Kristallnacht. The title is a reference to the pioneering work of atonal music Verklärte Nacht of 1899 by Arnold Schoenberg, a Jewish Austrian who emigrated to the United States of America to escape Nazi persecution. In the same year, pianist Frederic Rzewski wrote the piece Mayn Yngele, based on the traditional Jewish song of the same name, for Ursula Oppens:

In 1993 American saxophonist and composer John Zorn released the album Kristallnacht, his first musical exploration of his Jewish roots: inspired not only by the event of the same name but also by Jewish history from the Diaspora to the creation of the state of Israel, it was played entirely by a group of Jewish musicians. German power metal band Masterplan included an anti-Nazi song titled Crystal Night on their debut album Masterplan (2003).

Also in 2003, French sculptor Lisette Lemieux created Kristallnacht, for Montreal's Holocaust Museum: a work consisting of a black frame running along the walls of the structure's entrance and featuring the neon wording "TO LEARN - TO FEEL - TO REMEMBER," also written in French, Hebrew and Yiddish, "a continuous visual sequence from left to right and right to left, respecting the order of Semitic readings."

In 1989, Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee and not yet vice president of the United States of America, coined the phrase "ecological Kristallnacht" in an article in The New York Times, referring to deforestation and the hole in the ozone layer as events that would foreshadow a major environmental catastrophe, in the same way that Kristallnacht would foreshadow the Holocaust.

The pogrom was often cited, directly and indirectly, in numerous acts of vandalism against Jewish property: Explanatory examples of this, in the United States of America, are some cases of damage to cars, bookstores and a synagogue that occurred in New York City's Mildwood neighborhood in 2011 - judged as "an attempt to recreate the tragic events of Crystal Night"- and of similar events in 2017, such as the vituperation of more than 150 graves in the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, and two damages done to the New England Holocaust Memorial, reported in founder Steve Ross's book From Broken Glass: My Story of Finding Hope in Hitler's Death Camps to Inspire a New Generation.

Kristallnacht or Reichspogromnacht: terminological debate

Although historiographers agree in principle that the expression "Crystal Night" (Kristallnacht) is a reference to the shattered glass from Jewish storefronts that cluttered the sidewalks, nevertheless over time there was a long terminological debate, mainly concerning the origin of the expression and its actual connotation. Indeed, while for historian Ian Kershaw it, which gave rise to the sarcastic appellation Reichskristallnacht, would derive from the way the German people referred to shattered stained glass windows, for Karl A. Schleunes it would instead be a designation coined by Berlin intellectuals. For Arno J. Mayer and Michal Bodemann, on the contrary, it would have been created by Nazi propaganda in order to focus public attention on material damage while concealing looting and various physical violence: the term was later used with a sarcastic connotation by a Reichsgau official in Hanover in a speech on June 24, 1939. Jewish historian Avraham Barkai stated in 1988 that: "it is time for this term, offensive in its minimization, to disappear at the very least from historical works."

In his 2001 essay Errinern an den Tag der Schuld. Das Novemberpogrom von 1938 in der deutschen Geschiktpolitik, German political scientist Harald Schmid points out the multiplicity of terms used to designate the anti-Semitic violence of November 9 and 10, 1938, and the controversial interpretation given to the term Kristallnacht. Called into question as early as the tenth anniversary of the event, it was replaced in 1978 by the (considered less offensive) designation Reichspogromnacht, which was permanently used in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations. However, some German historians continued in some cases to use the expression Kristallnacht. Confirming this dissimilarity, during the 70th anniversary commemorations in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel used the term Pogromnacht while, in Brussels, the chairman of the coordinating committee of Jewish organizations in Belgium Joël Rubinfeld chose Kristallnacht.


  1. Kristallnacht
  2. Notte dei cristalli
  3. Nadine Deusing: Die Reaktionen der Bevölkerung auf die Judenverfolgungen in der Reichspogromnacht. In: Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte 10. (2008), S. 77–106, das Zitat S. 77.
  4. ^ "Windows of shops owned by Jews which were broken during a coordinated anti-Jewish demonstration in Berlin, known as Kristallnacht, on 10 November 1938. Nazi authorities turned a blind eye as SA stormtroopers and civilians destroyed storefronts with hammers, leaving the streets covered in pieces of smashed windows. Ninety-one Jews were killed, and 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps."[9]
  5. « Si le pogrom ne permettait point encore de soupçonner ce qu'allait être la réalité d'Auschwitz, de Belzec, de Sobibor de Treblinka ou de Chelmno, il laissait toutefois deviner les rouages d'une entreprise meurtrière dont l'existence et le fonctionnement auraient été inconcevables auparavant en Europe »[2].
  6. Grynszpan souhaitait assassiner l'ambassadeur mais a tiré sur le diplomate auquel il avait été adressé[10].
  7. Grynszpan ne sera jugé ni en France ni en Allemagne ; le 18 janvier 1941, il est déporté à Sachsenhausen où l'on perd sa trace[11].
  8. Si pour Ian Kershaw, ces premières exactions antisémites sont menées « sans aucune directive venue du sommet », selon Richard J. Evans elles découlent, du moins en Hesse, d'instructions expresses de Goebbels.

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