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This Month in Holocaust History – Alfred Lerner Fellows – November 2019

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This Month in Holocaust History – November

The Boerneplatz synagogue in flames during Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass"). Frankfurt am Main, Germany, November 10, 1938. (Photo courtesy of Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz via USHMM)
A scene from Kristallnacht, 1938. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
A scene from Kristallnacht, 1938. (Photo courtesy of Jewish Journal)

The November Pogrom

On November 9, 1938, the night known as the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass”), the Nazis launched a massive anti-Jewish pogrom throughout Germany and Austria, during which they vandalized and destroyed Jewish homes, stores, and synagogues. On the following day, November 10th, the Nazis forcibly removed 30,000 Jewish men from their homes and sent them to concentration camps.

The November Pogrom was the first act of mass violence against Germany’s Jewish community and marked the beginning of visible persecution of the Nazis toward the Jews. The Germans explained the incident as a reaction to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a low-ranking official at the German embassy in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan. On November 7, 1938, Grynszpan, a 17-year- old Polish Jew, assassinated vom Rath upon discovering that his family had been expelled from Germany and denied access into Poland. Blaming the assassination on “World Jewry”, the Nazis felt justified in unleashing the massive pogrom on November 9. The Nazi hierarchy, which was seated in Munich at the time of the assassination, instructed its men to launch the attacks and destruction of Jewish property, and ordered the police not to intervene.

The Nazis vandalized, looted, and destroyed hundreds of synagogues during the pogrom and desecrated Jewish cemeteries. Firemen were instructed to let the synagogues burn. Over 7,500 Jewish shop windows were smashed and the stores were looted. Mobs of SA men (Nazi Storm Troopers) attacked and killed about one hundred Jews.

The aftermath of the November Pogrom, starting with the deportation of 30,000 Jews, marked what Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt have called “the beginning of the end” (Holocaust: A History, p. 102). Many Jews, including entire families, were driven to suicide after witnessing the destruction of their homes and businesses. Following the pogrom, Jews were banned from public theaters, cinemas, concerts, and exhibitions. A month later, they were forced to sell their cars and were confined to using specific train cars. In January 1939, a decree was passed eliminating Jews from the German economy and fining them RM 100 million for the “hostile attitude of Jewry against the German people and Reich” (Dwork & van Pelt, 228). In February, Jews were forced to hand in their valuables, gold, and silver to the Nazi party.

Many Jews viewed the November Pogrom as a sign that conditions would only worsen and thus tried to emigrate from Germany. The majority escaped to England. Belgium, the Netherlands, and France also temporarily accepted Jewish refugees. Many Jews also sought asylum in Cuba and the United States but were often refused entry or, in the case of a ship of nine hundred Jews sent to Havana, Cuba, were sent back home upon arrival.

The November Pogrom represents a major shift in the lives of Jews in pre-war Germany. Before the Pogrom, under the rulings of the Nuremburg Laws, Jews were viewed as outcasts but were still relatively tolerated as a people. The events of the Pogrom radically and suddenly changed this, with the Nazis establishing a new and open program of persecution towards the Jews. As Dwork and van Pelt state, “Nazis no longer felt a political need to hide behind the chimera of wanton mob-driven destruction (p. 102).” The Pogrom demonstrated that open persecution towards the Jews would now be tolerated and even supported.

Teachers might discuss with their students the nature of the November Pogrom as compared to other pogroms aimed at only murdering Jews (for example, pogroms in Spain in 1391). By targeting Jewish businesses, synagogues, and cemeteries, the Nazis aimed to destroy Jewish economic influence, culture, and memory as well as to attack Jews physically. You might also discuss how the pogrom marked a major turning point in German anti-Jewish policy and how each added law or regulation afterwards, such as the confiscation of Jewish valuables, was a step toward the so-called “Final Solution”.

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