Letters to the Editor

Kristallnacht/Crystal Night/ Night of Broken Glass

From Wikipedia, eyewitness accounts and reports from Holocaust survivors

While the initial purpose of Kristallnacht was the need of financing for the Nazi Party, there were underlying racial and social hatred. That hatred was expanded to include Gypsies, homosexuals and members/leaders of other religions. The international Evian Conference on July 6, 1938 addressed the issue of Jewish and Gypsy immigration to other countries. The overt expression of that racial and social hatred began in Germany on November 9 -10, 1938. Germany had entered a new radical phase in anti-Semitic activity.

In a 1997 interview, the German historian Hans Mommsen claimed that a major motive for the pogrom (an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group) was a desire to seize Jewish property and businesses. He stated:  The need for money by the party organization stemmed from the fact that Franz Xavier Schwartz, the party treasurer, kept local and regional organizations of the party short of money. In the fall of 1938, the increased pressure on Jewish property nourished the party’s ambition.

As a matter of background, Jews in Germany accounted for only 0.86% of the population. The actual number was approximately 500,000. In the 1920s, most German Jews were fully integrated into German society as German Citizens. They served in the German army and navy and contributed to every field of German business, science and culture. Conditions began to change after the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and the Enabling Act (March 23, 1933) allowing the assumption of power by Hitler. He quickly introduced anti-Jewish policies. Nazi propaganda singled out Jews as an enemy within, who were responsible for Germany’s defeat in the First World War and for its subsequent economic disasters.

Beginning in 1933, the German government enacted a series of anti-Jewish laws restricting the rights of German Jews to earn a living, to enjoy full citizenship and to gain education. On April 7, 1933, “The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” forbade Jews to work in the civil service.

Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, delivered a speech for Hitler and said, “The Fuhrer has decided that…demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”

Kristallnacht resulted in the destruction of Jewish homes and hospitals. Schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues, some 3 centuries old, were burned and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged. Tombstones were uprooted and graves violated. Fires were lit and prayer books, scrolls, artwork and philosophy texts were thrown upon them, and precious buildings were either burned or smashed until unrecognizable.

Early reporting estimated that 91 Jewish people were murdered during the attack. Modern analysis by German scholars like Richard J. Evans, puts that number much higher. When deaths from post-arrest maltreatment and subsequent suicides are included, the death toll climbs to the hundreds. Additionally, 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.

After this, the Jewish community was fined 10 billion reichsmarks. In addition, it cost 40 million marks to repair the windows.

The Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Green, wrote of events in Berlin:  Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the past five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. RACIAL HATRED AND HYSTERIA SEEMED TO HAVE TAKEN COMPLETE HOLD OF OTHERWISE DECENT PEOPLE. I SAW FASHIONABLY DRESSED WOMEN CLAPPING THEIR HANDS AND SCREAMING WITH GLEE, WHILE RESPECTABLE MIDDLE-CLASS MOTHERS HELD UP THEIR BABIES TO SEE THE “FUN.” (Capitalization was this author’s choice).

Kristallnacht was followed by additional economic and political persecution of Jews, and is viewed by historians a part of Nazi Germany’s broader racial policy, and the beginning of the Final Solution and The Holocaust.

Hermann Goring told a Chief of Police of Reich Main Security Office, Reinhard Heydrich immediately after the events: “I’d rather you guys had done in two-hundred Jews than destroy so many valuable assets!”

There was a meeting for Nazi leadership on November 12, 1938 to plan the next steps after the riot. In the transcript of the meeting, Goring said, “I have received a letter written on the Fuhrer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another…I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy, and to submit them to me.”

In 1938, just after Kristallnacht, psychologist Muller-Claudius interviewed 41 randomly selected Nazi Party members on their attitudes toward racial persecution. Of the interviewed party-members 63% expressed extreme indignation against it, while only 5% expressed approval. The rest were noncommittal.

As it was aware that the German public did not support the Kristallnacht, the propaganda ministry directed the German press to portray opponents of racial persecution as disloyal.

There were many indications of Protestant and Catholic disapproval of racial persecution. For example the Catholic Church had already distributed Pastoral letters critical of racial ideology. The Catholic leadership however, just as the various Protestant churches, refrained from responding with organized action. Nevertheless, individuals continued to show courage. For example, a Parson paid medical bills of a Jewish cancer patient and was sentenced to a large fine and several months in prison in 1941. A Catholic nun was sentenced to death in 1945 for helping Jews. A Protestant Parson spoke out in 1943 and was sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died a few days later.

Some leading Party officials disagreed with Goebbels’s actions, fearing diplomatic crisis it would provoke. Heinrich Himmler wrote, “I suppose that it is Goebbels’s megalomania…and stupidity which are responsible for starting this operation now, in a particularly difficult diplomatic situation.”

Martin Sasse, Nazi Party member and bishop of the evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia, leading member of the Nazi German Christians, published a compendium of Martin Luther’s writings shortly after the Kristallnacht:  Sasse “applauded the burning of the synagogues.”

There were few events in Germany that ever received such worldwide reporting. Most nations cut off diplomatic relations with the German government. The American government recalled their ambassador but continued to have diplomatic and business relationships with Germany until President Roosevelt declared, on December 7, 1941, that we are in a state of war with Japan and their ally Germany.

Kristallnacht changed the nature of persecution from economic, political and social to physical with beatings, incarceration and murder: the event is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. In the words of historian Max Rein in 1988, “Kristallnacht came… and everything was changed.”

Many decades later, association with the Kristallnacht anniversary was cited as the main reason against choosing November 9 as the day the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. A different day was chosen (October 3, 1990) to celebrate German reunification.

On the 40th anniversary in 1978, members of two fraternities at the University of Florida gathered in front of the fraternity house of Tau Epsilon Phi and shouted expressions like, “Fuck the Jews” and “Your mother was bright but she was a lampshade (reference to the fact that human skin was used to make lampshades in German concentration camps).”

Sadly, there are more recent (as in current events) signs of resurgence of racial hatred. This time it is in America, not Germany. Desecration of  Jewish cemeteries, mass murders at a Jewish ceremony, burning of black churches, destruction of Muslim mosques and persecution of homosexuals in spite of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

I write this to prove that knowledge of history is critical if we are to prevent making the same mistakes that have been in the past. Believing we could never be like Fascists and Nazis can only be true if we ignore history and human behavior. To say the least, I am very concerned. If you are also concerned, the time and research were worth it.

–Dr. Len Rudnick (Retired)