Kristallnacht in November 1938 was a turning point in the relationship between the Nazis and the Jews


From the world /
/ ČTK / November 8, 2023 0:09

The broken window of a Jewish shop the day after
Author: / Creative Commons

Berlin/Prague – Since Adolf Hitler’s accession to the office of Chancellor in January 1933, German Jews had to face a number of state-imposed discriminatory measures as well as occasional physical attacks on themselves and their property. The culmination of the Nazi-led anti-Semitic campaign in pre-war Germany was the so-called Kristallnacht, i.e. a large-scale pogrom that affected Jews practically throughout the Reich on the night of November 9-10, 1938.

The impetus that unleashed widespread racial violence in November 1938 was the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris. Seventeen-year-old Jewish youth Herschel Grynszpan shot him seriously on November 7, 1938, in order to take revenge for the fate of his family, which was deported to the Polish border by order of the German government. Nazi propaganda decided to use Grynszpan’s act to their advantage. In the following days, all German newspapers, led by the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter, published hateful anti-Semitic articles on their front pages.

Already on the day of the assassination, the first attacks on Jewish objects began in northern Hesse. Then, when the shot Rath died on November 9, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels delivered an offensive speech in which he interpreted the assassination as a manifestation of a Jewish conspiracy against the German nation and called on the public to retaliate. Whether this was Goebbels’ own initiative or whether the minister was acting on Hitler’s orders is uncertain. Officials of the SA and other organizations interpreted the speech anyway as an incentive to start a pogrom.

Violent actions broke out around eleven in the evening. They raged in full force throughout the night, ending in some of the more remote areas as late as the afternoon of November 10. In addition to practically the entire territory of Germany, the pogrom also affected, to a lesser extent, Austria, which had been annexed not long before, and the former Czech borderlands occupied by Germany.

An estimated 35 synagogues were burned on the territory of the former Czechoslovakia, and another 25 synagogues were destroyed during World War II. These were, for example, synagogues in Liberec, Česká Lípa, Most, Opava, Mariánské Lázně, Jablonec nad Nisou, Svitavy, Karlovy Vary or Sokolov. In a number of other cities, fanatical mobs physically attacked fellow Jews and destroyed Jewish property.

Kristallnacht in November 1938 was a turning point in the relationship between the Nazis and the JewsKristallnacht-in-November-1938-was-a-tur

Synagogue in Děčín – illustrative photo
Author: / Jan Kirschner

Some synagogues for various reasons resisted the rampages of the Nazis and their minions. According to historians, the synagogue in Žatec, which was described by some sources as the second largest synagogue in the Czech Republic after the Plzeň synagogue, was saved from complete destruction by the fact that it stood in an urban area. The synagogue in Podmokle in Děčín also escaped destruction due to the threat of the fire spreading. The Krnov synagogue was also saved from destruction, the rescue of which is a unique story. The councilors of Krnov approved by a difference of one vote the proposal of the builder Franz Irblich for the rapid conversion of the synagogue into a market place. They then had the ceremonial hall at the Jewish cemetery destroyed, and its photographs were then passed off as evidence of the burning of the Krnov synagogue. The camouflage was successful and both the Reich and Czechoslovak newspapers wrote about the burning of the synagogue in Krnov. However, the fanatical crowd vandalized a number of Jewish monuments in the city and also publicly burned books from the library of Krnov judge Ervín Kunewälder.

And for example, the synagogue in Teplice survived the Kristallnacht, it only caught fire during the riots when the protectorate was announced on the night of March 15, 1939…

According to the fragments from the broken shop windows and windows, the event was given the almost poetic name Kristallnacht. However, reality was far from poetry. According to estimates, over 1,400 synagogues and Jewish places of worship and roughly 7,500 shops were destroyed or damaged. 91 people were killed directly during the event. However, historians point out that the pogrom also had a number of indirect victims, as can be inferred from the increased number of suicides in November 1938.

Kristallnacht in November 1938 was a turning point in the relationship between the Nazis and the JewsKristallnacht-in-November-1938-was-a-tur

Intervention of firefighters during the first attempt to burn down the synagogue in Česká Lípa
Author: archive of the National History Museum in Česká Lípa

The German press of the time interpreted the violent action as a spontaneous expression of a justly indignant people. The majority of the top representatives of the Nazi regime took the same approach to the event. The second man of the Reich, Hermann Göring, criticized the pogrom as an “economically pointless destruction of property”.

Jonathan Matthews, who manages the photo archive at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, said two years ago when new Kristallnacht photos were found that the photos definitively debunked the myth that the night was a “spontaneous outburst of violence” and that it was not a state-orchestrated action. The pictures show firefighters, members of the SS and ordinary citizens participating in the events.

The pinnacle of Nazi cynicism, however, was the condemnation of German Jews to pay a contribution for the damage caused in the amount of one billion marks. In addition, the Jews had to clean up the debris from the streets, and at the same time the authorities confiscated their insurance policies for the destroyed property.

Kristallnacht is considered by many historians to be a turning point in the relationship of the Nazi regime towards the Jews. “In the first phase, the Nazi policy towards the Jews was indeed violent, but after 1935, among other things, in connection with the upcoming Olympics in Germany, the authorities suppressed these manifestations. This means that the Jews were persecuted in Germany, excluded from the economy, from the authorities, but they were not usually the targets of physical attacks. Kristallnacht suddenly came as a state-organized pogrom. It was the first time that physical violence against Jews penetrated into circles that had hitherto been considered safe, that is, into privacy and places of prayer and meeting – synagogues and schools, ” wrote historian Michal Frankl.

Immediately after the pogrom, 30,000 Jews were arrested, most of whom ended up in concentration camps. This was followed by the so-called Arization of property, i.e. theft carried out by the state, and the relocation of Jews to ghettos. The gate to the “final solution of the Jewish question” was opened. Six million Jews were murdered during World War II. Two thirds of the European Jewish population were murdered.

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Tags: Kristallnacht November turning point relationship Nazis Jews


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