*Chili’s note; Grammar Wednesday is being postponed this week; I’ve got bigger work to do*
I had an uneven number of students in my morning class, and I didn’t expect that they’d be able to give me a whole lot of productive feedback anyway (yes, I’m being pessimistic, but I’m also a realist), so I didn’t get my paper workshopped. My hope is that I’ll be able to participate in the big-kids’ workshop next period.
Regardless, I wanted to put this out for you, dear readers (well, for those of you brave enough to get to the end of it, anyway) to see if I can get some peer feedback on the thing. Remember that this is a first draft; I’m entirely dissatisfied that I’ve properly addressed my major question.
I’ve included my own questions at the end; I welcome any and all suggestions you care to make.
English I/II, III/IV
November 9, 2009
Shards of History: Kristallnacht, Memory, and Racial Unrest
When the sun rose over Germany and Austria on the morning of November 10, 1938, much of its light was filtered through the smoke of still-burning synagogues and Jewish homes across both countries. What light shone past the haze sparkled over perhaps billions of broken shards of shattered windows and illuminated the faces of Jews both dead and stunned living alike. Those who survived the night had endured an unprecedented, targeted, and deliberate riot perpetrated by the German government, the police forces, and ordinary German citizens against their Jewish neighbors. Homes and businesses were looted and destroyed, synagogues were burned, and thousands of Jews suffered arrest, rape, and murder at the hands of their countrymen. The riots came to be known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, and the memory of that night is still alive in the consciousness of survivors and scholars. Kristallnacht stands as a warning against the violence and destruction that racial hatred can bring.
As soon as Adolf Hitler assumed the chancellorship of Germany in January of 1933, he began implementing programs meant to limit the freedoms and infringe on the citizenship of German Jews. As early as April of that year, a boycott against Jewish-owned businesses was called for by the Nazi government, and the call was made on April 1st in a rally by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. Though the boycott was largely unsuccessful – the German people were not yet ready to follow Hitler in his hatred of their Jewish neighbors – it was, nevertheless, a warning sign of things to come.
Antisemitism and the persecution of Jews represented a central tenet of Nazi ideology (USHMM). The adoption of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 announced the public intention of the German government to marginalize German Jews and to limit their participation in civic life. Among the many restrictions imposed on Jews was the denial of positions in civil service, limits on the numbers of Jewish students allowed in universities, and restrictions on the practices of Jewish doctors and lawyers. The ban on Jewish participation in German life even extended to the entertainment industry; Jews were no longer allowed to act on stage or in films (USHMM) and, eventually, were forbidden to attend plays and films as patrons, as well.
Life for Jews in Poland wasn’t much better. Poland, too, had become increasingly hostile toward its Jewish population, and was unwilling to allow Polish Jews living outside of the country to return to Poland. In order to return, foreign residents needed to obtain a special stamp on their passports. When these people went to their consulates in Germany and were refused the vital stamp, the purpose of the Polish government became clear. Poland did not want them to return (Schleunes, 237).
Along with the restrictions Germany put on Jews came many mass, forced deportations of foreign Jews from Germany. Soviets, Poles, and Austrians who were identified as Jews were forced to leave Germany and German occupied territories, regardless of whether these deportees had anywhere to go; in many cases, these people had lived in Germany for decades and, in some cases, generations, though sometimes without ever obtaining legal citizenship.
One such deportation was the mass expulsion of Polish Jews in 1938. The group were rounded up and shipped to the border, where Polish officials denied them entry into the country, a move which forced the deported Jews to live in a refugee camp between the two countries. Two of these refugees were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year-old illegal immigrant living in France. Seeking to avenge the cruel treatment of his parents, Grynszpan sought the audience of a German official at the embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938; it is suspected that he asked to see the ambassador, Count von Welczek, but was received by the third secretary, instead. Ernst vom Rath, a minor figure in the embassy, had the unhappy luck of answering Grynszpan’s request to meet with a German official and was shot by the teenager. He died of his wound two days later.
Vom Rath’s death was the pretext under which the Nazis launched a widespread riot in Germany and Austria against Jews. An article in the New York Times reported that the shooting in Paris was linked to a “world conspiracy” and warned Jews of certain retaliation. The official German response was that Grynszpan’s frustrated attempt to find justice for his parents was, in fact, “a new plot of the Jewish world conspiracy against National Socialist Germany, an attempt to torpedo Franco-German relations, and a plot against European peace.” The article went on to quote Der Angriff, the German newspaper founded by the Nazi party in 1927, which called for “the nations of Europe to unite for ruthless war against the international Jewish menace and against Jewish murder and Jewish crime”(Tolischus).
The German government wasted no time in organizing retaliation for vom Rath’s shooting. In orders transmitted at 11:55 p.m. on November 9th, 1938 to all Gestapo offices, Heinrich Muller, the chief of the Gestapo, ordered that “Actions against Jews, especially against their synagogues, will take place throughout the Reich shortly.” Jewish homes, shops, and places of worship were targets of violence, though the Gestapo’s orders made clear that action was to be taken against these places “only if there is no… danger to the surrounding” German-owned properties and there was no risk of harm to other, non-Jewish citizens. The orders went on to clarify that looting and “other significant excesses” were to be suppressed, though it clear from eyewitness testimony of people who lived through the pogrom that those orders were not conscientiously followed by officials. Further, Heinrich warned that “Preparations are to be made for the arrest of about 20,000 to 30,000 Jews in the Reich. Above all well-to-do Jews are to be selected.” As many Jews as could be accommodated were to be arrested, particularly the “healthy, male Jews, not too old” were targeted.
What is interesting here is that while the pogrom was not discouraged by the Nazi government, many elements within the Nazi leadership took pains to distance themselves from the more radical elements of the SA, sometimes called “Brown Shirts” or storm troopers, who were originally organized as Hitler’s private army and whose purpose was to disrupt opponents to Hitler and to influence the populations by intimidation and violence. While Hitler’s sympathies were clearly with the SA’s proposed method of dealing with “the Jewish problem” (Schleunes, 236). he was forced to concede, after the Kristallnacht riots, that a more rational approach to Jewish marginalization was required.
The German government was not above letting the radicals do some of their dirty work, however. At a rally on the night of November 9th, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, a chief instigator of the pogrom, intimated to the convened Nazi ‘Old Guard’ that ‘World Jewry’ had conspired to commit the assassination and announced that, “the Führer 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” (USHMM). The regional Party leaders took this as a command, however, and issued orders to their offices and to branches of the State Police, SA, and Hitler Youth. Many of the perpetrators from these organizations dressed in civilian clothes, however, to perpetuate the myth that the riots were sparked spontaneously by ordinary citizens outraged by the assassination of vom Rath.
Ernest Günter Fontheim, a young Jewish boy at the time of the pogrom, remembers going to school on the morning of November 10th and being told of what happened the night before. “In a tense voice Dr. Wollheim announced that school was being dismissed because our safety could not be guaranteed,” Fontheim says. “This was followed by a number of instructions which he urged us to follow in every detail” (Fontheim). The students were told to go straight home and to not walk in large groups so as to avoid the attention of others. Fontheim and his class was told that school would be closed for the foreseeable future.
On his way home, Fontheim walked past the synagogue where he was made Bar Mitzvah. He watched a “thick column of smoke rising out of the center cupola. There was no wind, and the column seemed to stand motionless reaching into the heavens” (Fontheim). He also witnessed a mob dragging a Jewish man from his apartment and beaten bloody.
Joanna Gerechter Neumann was also an eyewitness to the morning after:
“What I saw was hordes of people standing in front of a beautiful synagogue, and throwing stones through these magnificent colored windows. And as we arrived, of course we ran past place itself, the noise, the shouting, the screaming. I suppose there was an, an aura of, of eeriness about it, because we still didn’t know what was happening, but I suppose just the mere fact that so many people were there and were screaming and shouting and, and throwing stones into the stained glass windows was enough to make us run.”
The final tally of destruction is not clearly known. The number of synagogues destroyed varies depending on the sources consulted, ranging from about 270 to more than 1,000-2,000 (Bard). At least 96 people were murdered, nearly 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and upwards of 7,500 Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed.
Adding insult to grave injury was the fact that, three days after the riots, Herman Goring, Hitler’s acknowledged second in command, held a meeting with the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage done during the night and place responsibility for it (JVR). In this meeting, he issued an edict stating that Jews themselves were to be made responsible for the damages inflicted against them. Realizing that the cost of insurance claims for damages to Jewish property would certainly cripple insurance companies, Goring mandated that Jews “be held legally and financially responsible for the damages incurred by the pogrom. Accordingly, a “fine of 1 billion marks was levied for the slaying of Vom Rath, and 6 million marks paid by insurance companies for broken windows was to be given to the state coffers. (Snyder, 201).
The Reich saw the pogrom as a perfect opportunity to truly begin addressing the “Jewish question.” Goring was concerned, however, about the loss of property due to violence against Jews; he wanted for the Jews to suffer, certainly, but he wasn’t willing to have property and materials that he deemed valuable to the Reich destroyed in the process. In the meeting, Goring warned his subordinates that any property that could be seized for the benefit of the German cause should be, and that actions should not be taken that would “hurt” the Nazi party.
Further, Goring made perfectly clear the intention of the Nazi leadership toward Jews going forward. “I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting,” Goring is quoted as saying. “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” (JVL).
International reaction to the Kristallnacht pogrom was mixed. The German Ambassador to the U.S. , Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, reported that the attitude of the U.S. toward Germany took a decided turn from neutral to somewhat positive to decidedly hostile after the Kristallnacht pogrom. In a report sent to the Nazi government on the 14th of November, five days after Kristallnacht, Dieckhoff wrote:
I believe the storm now raging over the United States will calm down in the
near future. As for now, a hurricane is raging here and no regular work can be
done. It is well known that a large part of the American press has been
attacking Germany in the most hateful and vicious way, and that this
incitement has become widespread. Until 10 November, large and strong
parts of the American people were still indifferent to the propaganda
campaign, partly because of indifference in what regards European matters,
partly because of skepticism concerning the newspapers, partly out of
sympathy for the Third Reich… Today this is no longer the case… There are still wide circles that are indifferent, and many individuals who are maintaining their calm, but as far as public opinion is being expressed, it is without exception enraged and bitter against Germany (Yad Vashem).
My research question is “How does (does?) understanding Kristallnacht help us to understand other incidences of racial intolerance and violence (i.e. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Rwandan genocide, etc)?”
My concerns for this paper are:
• that I’ve not included enough background information about the political, social, and economic conditions imposed upon the Jewish population of Germany leading up to Kristallnacht
• that I’ve not made clear enough the internal power struggles between Hitler and his radical SA and Goebbels and Goring’s more systematic approach to the “Jewish question,” and how that affected both official policy and conditions on the ground.
• that I am unsure of how to make the leap from 1938 to the present time (though I think I’m going to tie it in to Kristallnacht commemorations that will happen on Monday night).
• that I have to have a far broader understanding of psychology in order to make the connection between my research and its application to my guiding question.