Kristallnacht (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Kristallnacht: 9-10 November, 1938

Q1: Study sources 1-6. (i) What methods did the Nazis use to persuade the Jews to leave Nazi Germany? (ii) Why was it decided to "change tactics" in 1938.

A1: (i) On gaining power in 1933 the Nazis "broadcast their hatred of the Jews and their plan to rid Germany of them for ever". (source 5) This included the encouragement to boycott Jewish shops. Christa Wolf (source 3) points out that SA men stood outside the door of Jewish shops. This is shown in sources 1 and 6. The parents of Armin Hertz (source 2) were Jewish shop-owners and he remembers that he "saw the Nazi Party members in their brown uniforms and armbands standing in front of our store". He believed that non-Jewish shop-owners encouraged these boycotts.

(ii) Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, the authors of Crystal Night: 9-10 November 1938 (1974) point out that after five years of boycotts, intimidation, and legislation, only about "a quarter of the total had fled but the other three-quarters still preferred to stay in Germany". Therefore the Nazi government concluded that it would have to change tactics in order to get rid of this group of people.

Q2: Joseph Goebbels (source 9) argues that Kristallnacht "was neither organized nor prepared but it broke out spontaneously". Select information from sources 7, 8 and 10 that suggests that Goebbels was not telling the truth.

A2: Reinhard Heydrich (source 7), the head of the Gestapo, gave out detailed instructions on how members of the Nazi Party should behave on the night of 9th November: "Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police are instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest looters. In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage. Foreign citizens - even if they are Jews - are not to be molested. On the assumption that the guidelines are observed, the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police, who are only to supervise the observance of the guidelines." Heinrich Mueller (source 8), the head of the Secret Political Police, sent out orders that night to local police commanders not to interfere in any demonstrations against the Jews that took place that night.

Erich Dressler (source 10) was a 14 year-old member of the Hitler Youth in November 1938. He took part in Kristallnacht in Berlin. He later argued: "Jewish shops were boycotted and smashed and the synagogues, the cradles of the infamous Jewish doctrines, went up in flames.... These measures were by no means as spontaneous as they appeared. On the night the murder was announced in Berlin I was busy at our headquarters. Although it was very late the entire leadership staff were there in assembly, the Bann Leader and about two dozen others, of all ranks. I had no idea what it was all about, and was thrilled to learn that were to go into action that very night. Dressed in civilian clothes we were to demolish the Jewish shops in our district for which we had a list supplied by the Gau headquarters of the NSKK, who were also in civilian clothes. We were to concentrate on the shops. Cases of serious resistance on the part of the Jews were to be dealt with by the SA men who would also attend to the synagogues."

Q3: The authors of sources 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20 were all teenagers who witnessed Kristallnacht. Identify the sources that support the following points: (i) The Hitler Youth took part in Kristallnacht; (ii) The SA took part in these violent demonstrations; (iii) The German people had been deeply influenced by Nazi propaganda against the Jews; (iv) As a result of Kristallnacht some Jews decided to leave Germany; (v) Some Germans began to have serious doubts about the Nazis after Kristallnacht.

A3: (i) The Hitler Youth took part in Kristallnacht (10, 14, 20); (ii) The SA took part in the violent demonstrations (10 and 16); (iii) That German people had been deeply influenced by Nazi propaganda against the Jews (10 and 11); (iv) As a result of Kristallnacht some Jews decided to leave Germany (13, 17 and 19) (v) Some Germans began to have serious doubts about the Nazis after Kristallnacht (14 and 16).

Q4: How does the information in source 22 explain what is going on in source 23?

A4: In source 22 the author claims that "many male German Jews have been sent to concentration camps". Source 23 shows the registration of Jewish prisoners at Dachau in 1938.

Q5: Read sources 24 and 25. How did the President Franklin D. Roosevelt respond to the large numbers of German Jews who wanted to emigrate to the United States after Kristallnacht?

A5: President Roosevelt announced that he was to ask Congress to allow between 12,000 and 15,000 German refugees already in the United States on visitors' visas to remain there "indefinitely". The American Jewish organisations had asked for the quotas for the following three years to be combined, allowing 81,000 Jews to enter immediately. (source 24)

President Roosevelt considered following this advice but public opinion polls showed this was an unpopular measure. "A poll conducted a few months after the "Crystal Night" asked: "If you were a member of Congress would vote yes or no on a bill to open the doors of the United States to a larger number of European refugees than now admitted under our immigration quotas?" Eighty-three per cent were against such a bill and 8.3 per cent did not know. Of the 8.7 per cent in favour, nearly 70 per cent were Jewish. At the very time when sympathy for the victims was at its height, ten Americans out of eleven opposed massive Jewish immigration into the United States." Roosevelt therefore decided not to allow any extra Jewish refugees into America.