The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: places/germany/kristallnacht/kristallnacht.02

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,soc.history
Subject: Holocaust Almanac: Kristallnacht perspective
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Keywords: Kristallnacht

Archive/File: places/germany/kristallnacht/kristallnacht.02
Last-modified: 1999/11/12

"Among the emigrants was Zindel Grynszpan, who had been born in
western Poland when it was part of the Imperial Reich and had
moved to Hanover, where he established a small store, in 1911. On
the night of October 27 Grynszpan and his family were rousted out
of their home. Grynszpan's store and the family's possessions
were confiscated. Penniless, famished, soaked to the skin and
freezing, they were herded over the Polish border.

Zindel Grinszpan's seventeen-year-old son, Herschel, was living
with an uncle in Paris. When he received a letter from his father
containing an account of the expulsion, he decided to strike back
in order to demonstrate that `Jews are not animals.' Resolving to
assassinate the German ambassador, he went to the embassy on
November 7. When he was unable to get near his target, he settled
on a more accessible diplomat, Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath.
Rath, who, as it happened, was an anti-Nazi, was critically

Grynszpan's action was doubly unfortunate in that it came two
days before the annual party ceremony commemorating the November
1923 putsch in Munich. Hitler was just leaving the evening
festivities in Munich on November 8 when Goebbels brought him
word that Rath had died. Grynszpan's provocation could be turned
to good account, just as van der Lubbe's firing of the Reichstag
had been, Goebbels argued. For years the party had been fighting
a futile battle against Germans shopping in Jewish stores, where
prices were low and quality better. Goebbels's perpetual
propaganda that the failure of the standard of living to improve
was due to the plotting of the international Jewish financiers
was wearing thin. Here was the opportunity to give the average
Nazi a chance to vent his spleen in a `spontaneous' outburst of
indignation, to terrorize the Jews into a mass exodus, to take
the wealthy ones hostage for ransom, and to dramatize to Jews in
other countries what would happen to their coreligionists in
Germany if they did not cease to speak out and halt their
economic boycott.

Hitler, in a state of high excitement, agreed. To him, the
assassination was not the act of a desperate Jewish youth, but a
conspiracy by the `International Jews.' The victim was not a
minor foreign office official, but, symbolically, he himself.
Goebbels, returning to the party leaders who remained gathered,
reported that anti-Jewish demonstrations during which shops were
demolished and synagogues set on fire had broken out in two
districts. The Fuehrer, at his, Goebble's, suggestion, `has
decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or
organized by the party, but so far as they originate
spontaneously, they are not to be discouraged either.'

The Gauleiters (district chiefs), Kreisleiter (county chiefs),
and SA and SS leaders were accustomed to reading between the
lines of such declarations. If they had any doubts, they were
resolved by a teletype message sent out a few minutes before
midnight by Heinrich Mueller, the head of the Gestapo, to all
central police stations. `1. Actions against the Jews and in
particular against their synagogues will occur in a short time in
all of Germany. However, it is to be made certain that plundering
and similar lawbreaking will be held to a minimum. 2. Insofar as
important archive material is present in the synagogues, it is to
be secured by immediate measures. 3. The seizure of some twenty
to thirty Jews in the Reich is to be prepared. Wealthy Jews above
all are to be chosen. More detailed directives will appear in the
course of this night.'

This message was followed an hour and a half later by one from
Heydrich. Heydrich directed that the police leaders were
immediately to confer with the party leaders `about the handling
of the demonstrations. Only such measures may be taken which do
not jeopardize German life or property (for instance, burning of
synagogues only if there is no danger of fires for the
neighbourhood). Business establishments and homes of Jews may be
destroyed but not looted. The police have been instructed to
supervise the execution of these directives and arrest looters.
Subjects of foreign countries may not be molested even if they
are Jews ... For the performance of the measures of the Security
Police, officers of the Criminal Police as well as members of the
SD, the special troops, and the SS may be used....After the
arrests have been carried out, the appropriate concentration camp
is to be contacted immediately with a view to a quick transfer of
the Jews to the camps. Special care is to be taken that Jews
arrested on the basis of this directive will not be mistreated.'

Since these teletypes were open to considerable leeway in
interpretation, officials in various jurisdictions reacted
differently, and these differences were exacerbated as the
directives were passed on from one level to the next. The
casuistry, hypocritical criminality, and moral perversity of the
orders were typical of the Nazi regime. The Kristallnacht,* as it
came to be known, joined the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre as
an example of an aberrant government's insensate incitement of
riot against a portion of its own subjects.

*     The term `Krystallnacht', coined by Funk, was
      a measure of poetic license, and referred to
      the fact that  the shards of glass from the
      thousands of broken windows glittered like
      crystal in the streets.

The attacks were intended to take place under the cover of
darkness; and in some places the riots got under way at two or
three o'clock in the morning. But since, in most areas, a few
hours of organization were required, people on their way to work
in the bleak hours of the dawn were greeted by the astonishing
sight of men and youths shattering the doors and windows of
synagogues, applying gasoline, then setting the structures afire
-- while all the time firemen and their engines stood by to keep
the flames from spreading, and police officers were on hand to
preserve order.

The assault against Jewish stores was launched concurrently with
the firing of the synagogues -- and here confusion reigned. In
some cases merely the windows were smashed; in others the windows
were smashed, the shelves ripped off the walls, and the contents
chopped to pieces; in still others, the goods were heaved into
the streets; in a lesser number, the entire establishment was put
to the torch. To Germans starved of consumer goods and squeezed
by inflation, it seemed madness to destroy what was in short
supply; so widespread looting -- or, in many cases, simply
scavenging -- set in.

This was the visible element of the Kristallnacht, and it was met
by the average German, steeped in law, order, and the sanctity of
property, with numbness and incomprehension; the same Nazis who
had rioted against the Communists, Social Democrats, and Weimar
Republic now seemed to be rioting against themselves. (No one, of
course, was fooled by the pretence of spontaneity or
noninvolvement of the Nazi Party when the burning of the
synagogues was orchestrated in every detail, and the men leading
the rampages were the neighbourhood block leaders and SA
Scharfuehrer [sergeants]. If there was one element lacking in the
German character, it was spontaneity.)

Yet it was the invisible and theoretically unsanctioned activity
that was by far the more horrifying. Armed Nazis broke into
Jewish homes throughout the land, smashed furniture, threw
belongings into the street, looted money and valuables, and raped
women and girls as young as thirteen before the eyes of their
families. Any sign of resistance -- even a word or a gesture --
was suppressed with ruthless brutality. Women as well as men and
boys were beaten, knifed, and shot. Pets were hurled out of
upper-story windows alongside their owners. Jews were plunged
into ice-cold rivers. When they tried to claw their way out,
German boys were encouraged to throw bricks at them, onlookers
were ordered to spit at them, and party members kicked them in
the face. A number of the victims drowned. Those few Germans who
dared come to the defence of the Hews were beaten and threatened
with incarceration. A few prominent Germans who protested were
arrested. Goebbles announced that there was `a spontaneous wave
of righteous indignation throughout Germany as a result of the
cowardly Jewish murder of Third Secretary vom Rath.' Jews were
imprisoned for assault when they tried to defend themselves, and
for arson when their shops were burned down. More than one
hundred Jews were killed; and thirty thousand men between the
ages of sixteen and sixty, nearly twenty percent of the total,
were picked up and packed off to concentration camps. Goebbels,
lying with inimitable crudeness and aplomb, told foreign
reporters: `Not a Jew has had a hair disturbed.' All stories to
the contrary were `stinking lies.'

It was typically Hitlerian that the Nazis acted without fully
considering the consequences; thus it was not until the day after
that the government was made startledly aware that many of the
stores, although they carried Jewish names, had previously been
purchased by Gentiles. Even more distressing, most of the Jewish
stores were located on Christian-owned property and insured by
German firms, who were now faced with staggering claims. The
amount of plate glass broken equalled half a year's production of
the entire Belgian glass industry, the only source for Germany
(which did not manufacture plate glass itself). On November 12,
Goering convoked what was, essentially, a cabinet meeting. He
himself was furious; and Hitler, whose spleen had come home to
roost, was fed up.

`The stenographic report on this meeting is an extraordinary
document,' Commander Albrecht remarked to the judges, `and it
does not make pretty reading.'

`Gentlemen! Today's meeting is of a decisive nature,' Goering
announced. `I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer's
orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for
all, coordinated and solved one way or another.'

`Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the
economic angle it shall have to be tackled. Because, gentlemen, I
have had enough of these demonstrations! They don't harm the Jew
but me, who is the final authority for coordinating the German

`If today a Jewish shop is destroyed, if goods are thrown into
the street, the insurance companies will pay for the damages;
and, furthermore, consumer goods belonging to the people are
destroyed. If in the future, demonstrations which are necessary
occur, then, I pray, that they be directed so as not to hurt us.

`Because it's insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse,
then have a German insurance company make good the loss. And the
goods which I need desperately, whole bales of clothing and
whatnot, are being burned. And I miss them everywhere. I may as
well burn the raw materials before they arrive.

`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.'

The conference marked the pivotal point in the history of the
German Jews. It was more important in sealing their fate that
the Nuremberg Laws of the developments that were to follow after
the onset of the war. Having been stripped of their citizenship,
they were now to become pariahs, open to exploitation and
terrorization by every petty bureaucrat and tyrant, and totally
subject to the caprice of a government wallowing in corruption
and hypocrisy.

`The Jew being ejected from the economy transfers his property to
the state,' Goering continued. `The Aryanization of all the
larger establishments, naturally, is to be my lot. The trustee of
the state shall estimate the value of the property and decide
what amount the Jew shall receive. Naturally, this amount is to
be set as low as possible. The representative of the state shall
then turn the establishment over to the Aryan proprietor.

`There the difficulties start. It is easy to understand that
strong attempts will be made to get all these stores to party
members. I have witnessed terrible things in the past; little
chauffeurs of gauleiters have a million. You, gentlemen, know it.
Is that correct?'

A chorus of assents responded, though a few smiles were
suppressed. Goering, who had arrived broke in Berlin ten years
before, was now one of the world's plutocrats. The chief robber
was decrying petty larceny.

Goering went on: `Of course, things like that are impossible. I
shall not hesitate to act ruthlessly in any case where such a
trick is played.... We must agree on a clear action that shall be
profitable to the Reich. ... Anyway, the Jew must be evicted
pretty fast from the German economy.'

After Goering promulgated the robbery of the Jews, Goebbels took
over to institute their segregation. `In almost all German
cities, the synagogues are burned,' he announced.

`How many synagogues were actually burned?' Goering asked.

`All together there are one hundred and one synagogues destroyed
by fire,' Heydrich responded. `Seventy-six synagogues demolished.
And seventy-five hundred stores ruined in the Reich.'

`I am of the opinion that this is our chance to dissolve the
synagogues,' Goebbles spoke animatedly. `We shall build parking
lots in their places or new buildings. [Furthermore] I deem it
necessary to issue a decree forbidding Jews to enter German
theaters, movie houses, and circuses. Our theaters are
overcrowded. We have hardly any room. I am of the opinion that it
is not possible to have Jews sitting next to Germans. It is still
possible today for a Jew to share a compartment in a sleeping car
with a German. Therefore, we need a decree from the Reich
Ministry for Communications stating that separate compartments
for Jews shall be available. They shall not mix with Germans, and
if there is no more room they shall have to stand in the

Daluege answered with alacrity: `The order has already been
given. According to reports, one hundred and fifty were arrested
by yesterday afternoon.'

Hilgard requested that, in order to maintain the international
integrity of the German insurance industry, insurance companies
not be prevented from paying claims.

Heydrich has the answer: `The insurance may be granted, but as
soon as it is paid, it'll be confiscated. That way we'll have
saved face.'

`One moment!' Goering resumed command. `You have to pay in any
case because it is the Germans who suffered the damage. But
there'll be a lawful order forbidding you to make any direct
payments to Jews. You shall also have to make payment for the
damage the Jews have suffered, but not to the Jews, but to the
minister of finance.'

`Ah ha!' Hilgard exclaimed.

`We estimate that the damage to property, to furniture, and to
consumer goods amounts to several hundred million,' Heydrich

`Most of the goods in the stores were not the property of the
owners but were kept on the books of other firms, which had
delivered them, which definitely are not all Jewish but Aryan,'
Daluege went on.

`I wish you had killed two hundred Jews,' Goering groaned, ` and
not destroyed such valuables.'

`There were thirty-five killed.' Heydrich apologised that the
number was not greater. (The final figure, actually, turned out
to be over a hundred, and innumerable others died as a result of
maltreatment in the concentration camps.)
`Now for the damage the Jew has had.' Goering turned to the next
item. `He is the one who has to suffer the damage. As far as the
jewels may be returned again by the police, they belong to the
state.' Goering, who loved to trickle his glowing horde of gems
though his fingers, was already envisioning his share.

`I wonder to what an extent insurance companies in foreign
countries might be involved in this?' Hilgard mused.

`Well, they'll have to pay. And we'll confiscate that.' Goering
had the answer. `The Jew shall have to report the damage. He'll
get the refund from the insurance company, but the refund will be
confiscated.' Since the insurance companies would have to pay the
full damages, Goering complimented Hilgard on making a profit.

Hilgard was mystified. `The fact that we won't have to pay for
all the damages is called profit?'

`If you are compelled under the law to pay five million, and all
of a sudden there appears an angel in my somewhat corpulent form
and tells you: you may keep one million -- why cannot that be
called making a profit? I should actually split with you, or
whatever you call it.' With Goering, that was not an idle
suggestion. `I can see it, looking at you -- your whole body is
grinning! You made a big profit!' (Conot, 164-172)

Work Cited:
Conot, Robert E. JUSTICE AT NUREMBERG.  New York: Harper & Row, 1983

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.