Classroom Activity on Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)

Once in power Adolf Hitler began to openly express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The day after the March, 1933, election, stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered.

The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful. The hostility towards Jews gradually increased in Nazi Germany. This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport.

Ernst vom Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris on 9th November, 1938. At a meeting of Nazi Party leaders that evening, Joseph Goebbels suggested that night there should be "spontaneous" anti-Jewish riots. Reinhard Heydrich sent urgent guidelines to all police headquarters suggesting how they could start these disturbances. He ordered the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Germany. Heydrich also gave instructions that the police should not interfere with demonstrations and surrounding buildings must not be damaged when burning synagogues. These events became known as Kristallnacht.

Primary Sources

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
(Source 1) The sign reads: “Germans, Attention! This shop is owned by Jews.
Jews damage the German economy and pay their German employees starvation wages.
The main owner is the Jew Nathan Schmidt.” (1st April, 1933)


(Source 2) Armin Hertz, a Jewish boy living in Berlin, interviewed by the authors of What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

After Hitler came to power, there was the boycott in April of that year. I remember that very vividly because I saw the Nazi Party members in their brown uniforms and armbands standing in front of our store with signs: "Kauft nicht bei Juden" (Don't buy from Jews). That of course, was very frightening to us. Nobody entered the shop. As a matter of fact, there was a competitor across the street - she must have been a member of the Nazi Party already by then - who used to come over and chase people away.

(Source 3) Christa Wolf, Patterns of Childhood (1976)

A pair of SA men stood outside the door of Jewish shops, next to the white enamel plate, and prevented anyone who could not prove that he lived in the building from entering and baring his Aryan body before non-Aryan eyes.

(Source 4) Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, Crystal Night: 9-10 November 1938 (1974)

Since coming to power, the leaders of the Third Reich had continually broadcast their hatred of the Jews and their plan to rid Germany of them for ever. In April 1933 violent anti-semitic demonstrations had opened a campaign to boycott Jewish shops... After five years of National Socialism, the German government angrily acknowledged that threats and intimidation had not rid the Reich of its Jews. About a quarter of the total had fled but the other three-quarters still preferred to stay in Germany. The government concluded that it would have to change tactics in order to obtain better results.

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
(Source 5) Stormtroopers organizing boycott of Jewish shops

(Source 6) Helga Schmidt, What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005

Certainly there was something of a negative attitude toward the Jews, but before Hitler it did not exist to the same extent. One tolerated them. One let them live. There was never any particular sympathy for the Jews. But to directly label them as our enemies and exploiters, that came from Hitler... and when that has been pounded into people's heads, people will also believe it.

(Source 7) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions to the Gestapo for measures against Jews (9th November, 1938)

Following the attempt on the life of Secretary of the Legation von Rath in Paris, demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in all parts of the Reich in the course of the coming night, November 9/10,1938. The instructions below are to be applied in dealing with these events.

I. The chiefs of the State Police, or their deputies, must immediately upon receipt of this telegram contact, by telephone, the political leaders in their areas - Gauleiter or Kreisleiter - who have jurisdiction in their districts and arrange a joint meeting with the inspector or commander of the Order Police to discuss the arrangements for the demonstrations. At these discussions the political leaders will be informed that the German Police has received instructions, detailed below, from the Reichsführer SS and the chief of the German Police, with which the political leadership is requested to coordinate its own measures:

(a) Only such measures are to be taken as do not endanger German lives or property (i.e., synagogues are to be burnt down only where there is no danger of fire in neighboring buildings).

(b) 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.

(c) In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage.

(d) Foreign citizens - even if they are Jews - are not to be molested.

II. 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.

III. On receipt of this telegram, police will seize all archives to be found in all synagogues and offices of the Jewish communities so as to prevent their destruction during the demonstrations. This refers only to material of historical value, not to contemporary tax records, etc. The archives are to be handed over to the locally responsible officers of the SD.

IV. The control of the measures of the Security Police concerning the demonstrations against the Jews is vested in the organs of the State Police, unless inspectors of the Security Police have given their own instructions. Officials of the Criminal Police, members of the SD, of the Reserves and the SS in general may be used to carry out the measures taken by the Security Police.

V. As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts, especially the rich, as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contracted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps. Special care is to be taken that the Jews arrested in accordance with these instructions are not ill-treated.

(Source 8) Heinrich Mueller, head of the Secret Political Police, order sent to all regional and local commanders of the state police (9th November 1938)

(i) Operations against Jews, in particular against their synagogues will commence very soon throughout Germany. There must be no interference. However, arrangements should be made, in consultation with the General Police, to prevent looting and other excesses.

(ii) Any vital archival material that might be in the synagogues must be secured by the fastest possible means.

(iii) Preparations must be made for the arrest of from 20,000 to 30,000 Jews within the Reich. In particular, affluent Jews are to be selected. Further directives will be forthcoming during the course of the night.

(iv) Should Jews be found in the possession of weapons during the impending operations the most severe measures must be taken. SS Verfuegungstruppen and general SS may be called in for the overall operations. The State Police must under all circumstances maintain control of the operations by taking appropriate measures.

(Source 9) Joseph Goebbels, article in the Völkischer Beobachter (12th November, 1938)

The outbreak of fury by the people on the night of November 9-10 shows the patience of the German people has now been exhausted. It was neither organized nor prepared but it broke out spontaneously.

(Source 10) Erich Dressler, Nine Lives Under the Nazis (2011)

Of course, following the rise of our new ideology, international Jewry was boiling, with rage and it was perhaps not surprising that, in November, 1938, one of them took his vengeance on a counsellor of the German Legation in Paris. The consequence of this foul murder was a wave of indignation in Germany. 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 was told that an important confidential discussion was in progress. In the corridor the sub-Bann Leader called me and asked how old I was. Then he said: "Well, you're a bit young still, but you'd better come all the same: Come with me."

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 (branch of the Hitler Youth), 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.

But there was little resistance. We carried out our orders in competent military fashion. We went in groups of up to twelve men with clubs to break the shop windows. And the night was full of the music of smashed and splintering glass, and the chorus of our Anti Jewish songs "I am a Jew, do you know my nose," and "Ikey Moses has the dough." Only one Jew, the proprietor of a large lingerie store, dared to turn out in his nightgown and start caterwauling; but he didn't stay there long! Or rather, he did stay there but he didn't caterwaul for long.

One thing seriously perturbed me. All these measures had to be ordered from above. There was no sign of healthy indignation or rage amongst the average Germans. It is undoubtedly a commendable German virtue to keep one's feelings under control and not just to hit out as one pleases; but where the guilt of the Jews for this cowardly murder was obvious and proved, the people might well have shown a little more spirit. This should have been a test case, calling for firm and decided action. Nothing of the kind was done. The Jews were let off with a punitive levy; only a few of them were put in a concentration camp, the rest were tamely allowed to emigrate. I felt the whole thing to be rather an unsatisfactory expression of National Socialist ideals.

(Source 11) Paul Briscoe, My Friend the Enemy: An English Boy in Nazi Germany (2007)

At first, I thought I was dreaming, but then the rhythmic, rumbling roar that had been growing inside my head became too loud to be contained by sleep. I sat up to break its hold, but the noise got louder still. There was something monstrous outside my bedroom window. I was only eight years old, and I was afraid.

It was the sound of voices - shouting, ranting, chanting. I couldn't make out the words, but the hatred in the tone was unmistakable. There was also - and this puzzled me - excitement. For all my fear, I was drawn across the room to the window. I made a crack in the curtains and peered out. Below me, the triangular medieval marketplace had been flooded by a sea of heads, and flames were bobbing and floating between the caps and hats. The mob had come to Miltenberg, carrying firebrands, cudgels and sticks.

The rage of the crowd was directed at the small haberdasher's shop on the opposite side of the marketplace. Nobody was looking my way, so I dared to open the window a little, just enough to hear what all the shouting was about.

The words rushed in on the cold, late autumn air. "Ju-den raus! Ju-den raus!" - "Jews out! Jews out!"

I didn't understand it. The shop was owned by Mira. Everybody in Miltenberg knew her. Mira wasn't a Jew, she was
a person. She was Jewish, yes, but not like the Jews. They were dirty, subhuman, money-grubbing parasites - every schoolboy knew that - but Mira was - well, Mira: a little old woman who was polite and friendly if you spoke to her, but generally kept herself to herself. But the crowd didn't seem to know this: they must be outsiders. Nobody in Miltenberg could possibly have made such a mistake. I was frightened for her. The mob was yelling for her to come out, calling her "Jew-girl" and "pig" - "Raus, du Judin, raus, du Schwein!" - but I was willing her to stay put, to hide, to wait for them to go away: No, Mira, don't come out, don't listen to them, please...

A crash rang out. Someone had put a brick through her shop window. The top half of the pane hung for a moment, like a jagged guillotine, then fell to the pavement below. The crowd roared its approval, but the roar subsided as people began to nudge and point. Three storeys above them, a window was opened, and a pale, frightened face looked out. The window was level with mine, and I could see Mira very clearly. Her eyes were dark, like glistening currants.

The mob fell silent to let her speak, and her thin voice trembled over their heads. "Was ist los? Warum all das?" - "What's going on? What's all this about?" But it was clear that she knew. A man in the crowd mimicked her in mocking falsetto, and the Marktplatz echoed with cruel laughter. Another voice yelled, "Raus, raus, raus!" and the cry was picked up and quickly became a chant. The call was irresistible. Soon, Mira was standing in the wrecked doorway of her shop, among the ribbons, reels and rolls of cloth that lay scattered among the broken glass. She was wearing a long white nightdress. The wind caught it, and it ballooned about her. Then she was gone, lost in the crowd, which moved off along the Hauptstrasse towards the middle of the town. Behind them, the marketplace filled with dark.

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
(Source 12) Youths attacking Jewish shops (November, 1938)

(Source 13) Armin Hertz, was fourteen years old in 1938. He was interviewed by the authors of What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

During the Kristallnacht, our store was destroyed, glass was broken, the synagogues were set on fire. There was a synagogue in the same street where we lived. It was on the first floor of a commercial building; downstairs were stores, and upstairs was a synagogue. In the back of that building, there was a factory so they could not set that synagogue on fire because people were living and working there. But they threw everything out of the window-the Torah scrolls, the prayer books, the benches, everything was lying in the street.

My mother was very worried about her sister, because she had two little children and in the back of the building where she lived there was also a synagogue. So we tried to get in touch with her by phone the next day, but nobody answered. My mother got desperate and said to me, "Get your bicycle and go to Aunt Bertha to see what's going on." As I was riding along the business district, I saw all the stores destroyed, windows broken, everything lying in the street. They were even going into the stores and running away with the merchandise. Finally, I got to my aunt's house and I saw a large crowd assembled in front of the store. The fire department was there; the police were there. The fire department was pouring water on the adjacent building. The synagogue in the back was on fire, but they were not putting the water on the synagogue. The police were there watching it. I mingled with the crowd. I didn't want to be too obvious. I didn't want to get into trouble. But I heard from people talking that the people who lived there were all evacuated, all safe in the neighborhood with friends. So I went right back and reported to my mother. After Kristallnacht our store was destroyed and it was impossible to stay in Berlin.

(Source 14) Susanne von der Borch was fifteen years old in 1938. She was interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

My mother was at the window. I sat up and saw the house opposite in flames. I heard someone screaming, "Help! Why doesn't anyone help us?" and I asked my mother, "Why is the house burning, where are the fire brigades, why are the people screaming?" And she just said, "Stay in bed."

And she left the house with my older sister. I woke up my younger brother who was two years younger. And we sat on the stairs and waited for a long time. It was very ghostly, because we heard these screams and saw the flames.

After a longtime, my mother came back. She had fifteen people with her. I was shocked because they were in nightgowns and slippers, or just a light coat. And I could see they were all our Jewish neighbours. She took them into the music room and my brother and I were told, "Be quiet and don't move."

My mother was very strict, so we didn't move. And we heard our mother phoning people up, and my sister was sent here and there to get drinks for them. Then these people were driven away by our chauffeur to relatives or friends.

And my mother told us afterwards that one of her neighbours, Frau Bach, was standing in front of her house without shoes in her nightgown, and my mother had a pile of coats and shoes and things, but Frau Bach said to her, "Well, at least I have my husband." And at that moment a car arrived with the SA, and they took Herr Bach into the car and he was driven to Dachau. But he was freed after a few weeks. He came back and they escaped to England, then America.

It was a shocking experience for me, and it did make me think more about the whole movement...

At a meeting the following day... a few of the Hitler Youth leaders were there, who I normally liked a lot. And they were standing there telling us how they had spent the night. They said they had been at a shop, the Eichengrun in Munich, and they'd smashed the windows, and they'd got hold of one Jew and shaved the hair on his head. And I said, "You horrible pigs!" And I thought, I have to find out the truth, what was really going on. And that was when I really started to ask serious questions.

Crystal Night (Kristallnacht) in November 1938
(Source 15) Jewish shop after Kristallnacht (10th November 1938)


(Source 16) Effie Engel was interviewed by the authors of the book, What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

Just across from us there was a small fabric store that had a Jewish owner. You knew that because of his name. I was still an apprentice at the time of the Kristallnacht, when the Nazis, especially the SA, went around the city destroying all the shops. And those of us in our office were in the immediate vicinity when we watched them smashing up that shop over there across from us. The owner, who was a small, elderly man, and his wife were intimidated and just stood by and wept.

One of my colleagues and I then said to our boss, who was a Nazi, "Well, Herr Klose, do you think this is right? We think it's outrageous." We basically put him under a bit of pressure. And then he said, "I can't approve of that either." Even he thought that things had gone too far.

After this the shop was closed. They had stolen everything and cleared it out, and then the two Jews were picked up and they disappeared and never showed up again. I didn't know them personally. I only knew them by sight.

(Source 17) Josef Stone was interviewed by the authors of the book, What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

I remember on November 10, 1938, at the Kristallnacht, that I didn't know anything about it that morning. Early in the morning I was walking down the street and two SA men came to me and stopped me. "Come with us," they said. I didn't know them; they didn't know me, but they must have known I was a Jew. I don't know how they knew, but they knew...

They lined them up and just said, "Stand there." Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything. They didn't give us food or anything. We just stood there for the whole day. And I'm sure the others stood there longer. But by late evening or early evening, I don't remember the time, they called me and asked, "How old are you?" At that time in 1938, I was sixteen and I was able to get out and go home. And that was that...

I never got hit. At first when they combed the street, they took us to some sort of assembly point where they already had another twenty, thirty, or forty people. I don't remember exactly how many they marched there. It really wasn't that far away. While we walked there, and, of course, after the walk, all the people on the sidewalks started yelling at us-normal Germans, children and adults, and women also. There were no exceptions: man, woman, and child. They knew who we were because they walked us down as a group of forty or fifty people [and because those who marched us] wore uniforms, SA uniforms. The people just walking down the streets who saw us coming just let loose with insults. Maybe they were told that we were marching through the streets and that they should just yell at us. But I don't know, it could have been spontaneous. But who can tell?

My father was arrested a couple of days later and taken to Dachau. While he was away, I went to the American consulate in Stuttgart and checked out our papers and I was assured at that time that our number, our registration number, would be called in early 1939. With that information, and with the fact that my father was a Frontkdmpfer [frontline soldier] from World War I, I went to the police and gave them all the information, and they said that on that basis he would be released shortly. It still took a couple of weeks. I imagine that he was away for about four or five weeks and then he came home. While we were in Germany, my father never spoke about it. He never said a word. He said, "I'm not talking about it. It's forgotten now." But look, we were all glad. Once he came home, we made our entire efforts to get out, to get rid of our things, and to make sure that our relatives who lived in a small town in Warttemberg could take over our apartment. We left the furniture; we left everything for them to take over. We left it for them because they had nothing. They had smashed their furniture and what not. But that was a small town - everybody knew everyone. They moved in there as we moved out.

The Hitler File
(Source 18) Jewish shop-owner sweep up broken glass. (10th November 1938)


(Source 19) Inge Neuberger, letter to Martin Gilbert about the reasons why her family decided to leave Germany (15th June, 2005)

My family, which consisted of my father, mother, my maternal grandmother, my older brother, and I were eating dinner (on 9th November, 1938) when there was a knock at our front door. I can still picture my father's somewhat ruddy complexion turning white, and the quizzical look that passed between my parents. My mother said she would answer the door, and I went with her. There stood a German woman who worked in our home as part-time housekeeper. When my mother asked her what she was doing there, she answered that my father had to leave the house the next day. I recall her saying that something was going to happen, although she did not know what. And she left as quickly and quietly as she had come....

The next morning... I met my cousin and we walked to school together. I remember that it was a relatively long walk, and as Jews we could not ride the trolley car. We walked along a broad, pedestrian street and came upon an 'army' of men marching four or more abreast. They wore no uniforms but were dressed as working men would have been. Each had a household tool over his shoulder. I remember seeing rakes, shovels, pickaxes, etc., but no guns. My cousin and I were puzzled by this parade, and watched for some minutes. Then we continued on to school.

We saw a bonfire in the courtyard in front of the synagogue. Many spectators were watching as prayer books and, I believe, Torah scrolls were burned. The windows had been shattered and furniture had been smashed and added to the pyre. We were absolutely terrified. I am fairly certain that the fire department was in attendance, but no attempt was made to extinguish the flames. We ran back to my home to tell my mother what we had seen. She told us that we would leave the apartment and spend the day in Luisenpark, a very large park in town. We spent the entire day in the park, moving from one area to another.

(Source 20) Paul Briscoe, My Friend the Enemy: An English Boy in Nazi Germany (2007)

Whatever was going to happen must have been planned well in advance, for the streets were lined with Brownshirts and Party officials, and the boys from the senior school were assembled in the uniform of the Hitler Youth. A festival atmosphere filled the town. Party flags, red, black and white, hung from first-floor windows, fluttering and snapping in the breeze - just as they did during the Führer's birthday celebrations each April. But there was something angry and threatening in the air, too...

Herr Göpfert was swaggering and grinning, strolling along beside us, hands on hips, chest pushed out. He looked like a uniformed toad. We were still struggling to get our short legs to fall in with the pace of the seniors when the whole column was suddenly called to a halt.

Over the heads of the bigger boys in front of us, I could just see the portico of Miltenberg's tiny synagogue. I passed it every day on my way to and from school. It was a dark, tired looking building, which seemed to want to shrink away from the street. Today, though, it was the focus of the whole town's attention. We all stood there staring at it while we waited to find out what was to happen next. For a long moment, nobody moved and all was quiet. Then, another command was shouted - I was too far back to make out the words - and the boys at the front broke ranks, flying at the synagogue entrance, cheering as they ran. When they reached the door, they clambered over each other to beat on it with their fists. I don't know whether they broke the lock or found a key, but suddenly another cheer went up as the door opened and the big boys rushed in. We youngsters stood still and silent, not knowing what to expect.

Crashing and splintering sounds began to spill out onto the street from inside the building, accompanied by wild whoops and jeers. Suddenly, Herr Herr Göpfert was standing in front of us. "Go on," he said. He had a twisted smile on his face. "Go on. You go in, too!" We hung back, unsure of ourselves, but he drove us on with a look.

Inside was a scene of hysteria. Some of the seniors were on the balcony, tearing up books and throwing the pages in the air, where they drifted to the ground like leaves sinking through water. A group of them had got hold of a banister rail and kept rocking it back and forth until it broke. When it came away, they flung the spindles at the chandelier that hung over the centre of the room. Clusters of crystal fell to the floor. I stood there, transfixed by shock and disbelief. What they were doing was wrong: why weren't the adults telling them to stop?

And then it happened. A book thrown from the balcony landed at my feet. Without thinking, I picked it up and hurled it back. I was no longer an outsider looking on. I joined in, abandoning myself completely to my excitement. We all did. When we had broken all the chairs and benches into pieces, we picked up the pieces and smashed them, too. We cheered as a tall boy kicked the bottom panel of a door to splinters; a moment later, he appeared wearing a shawl and carrying a scroll. He clambered up to the edge of the unbanistered balcony, and began to make howling noises in mockery of Jewish prayers. We added our howls to his.

As our laughter subsided, we noticed that someone had come in through a side door and was watching us. It was the rabbi: a real, live Jew, just like the ones in our school textbooks. He was an old, small, weak-looking man with a long dark coat and black hat. His beard was black, too, but his face was white with terror. Every eye in the room turned to him. He opened his mouth to speak, but before the words came, the first thrown book had knocked his hat off. We drove him out through the main door where he had to run the gauntlet of the adults outside. Through the frame of the doorway I saw fists and sticks flailing down. It was like watching a film at the cinema, but being in the film at the same time. I caught close ups of several of the faces that made up the mob. They were the faces of men that I saw every Sunday, courteously lifting their hats to each other as they filed into church.

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
(Source 21) Jewish prisoners being paraded in Baden-Baden (November, 1938)

(Source 22) David Buffum, American Consul in Leipzig (November, 1938)

The shattering of shop windows, looting of stores and dwellings of Jews took place in the early hours of 10 November 1938, and was hailed in the Nazi press as a "spontaneous wave of righteous indignation throughout Germany, as a result of the cowardly Jewish murder of Third Secretary von Rath in the German Embassy in Paris." So far as a very high percentage of the German populace is concerned, a state of popular indignation that would spontaneously lead to such excesses, can be considered non-existent. On the contrary, in viewing the ruins all of the local crowds observed were obviously benumbed over what had happened and aghast over the unprecedented fury of Nazi acts that had been or were taking place with bewildering rapidity.

In one of the Jewish sections an 18 year-old boy was hurled from a three-story window to land with both legs broken on a street littered with burning beds. The main streets of the city were a positive litter of shattered plate glass. All of the synagogues were irreparably gutted by flames. One of the largest clothing stores was destroyed. No attempts on the part of the fire brigade were made to extinguish the free. It is extremely difficult to believe, but the owners of the clothing store were actually charged with setting the fire and on that basis were dragged from their beds at 6 a.m. and clapped into prison and many male German Jews have been sent to concentration camps.

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
(Source 23) Registration of Jewish prisoners at Dachau after Kristallnacht.

(Source 24) Martin Gilbert, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (2006)

On November 20, President Roosevelt announced that he would ask Congress to allow between 12,000 and 15,000 German refugees already in the United States on visitors' visas to remain there "indefinitely". It would be "cruel and inhuman", he said, "to compel the refugees, most of whom were Jews, to return to Germany to face possible maltreatment, concentration camps or other persecution".

Roosevelt said nothing, however, about asking Congress to accelerate or increase the annual immigration quota, or to establish a special refugee category. The combined German and Austrian annual quota of 27,000 was already filled until January 1940. The American Jewish organisations had asked for the quotas for the following three years to be combined, allowing 81,000 Jews to enter immediately. This proposal was rejected by the United States administration.

(Source 25) Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, Crystal Night: 9-10 November 1938 (1974)

President Roosevelt was aware that... American public opinion would balk at the influx of refugees. 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. Some intellectuals, including such writers as Eugene O'Neill, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck, Clifford Odets and Thornton Wilder, tried to illustrate the immorality of the American attitude: "Thirty-five years ago, a horrified America rose in protest against the pogrom at Kishinev in Tsarist Russia. God have pity on us if we have become so insensitive to human suffering that we are incapable of protesting today against the pogroms in Nazi Germany. We believe it is profoundly immoral for the Americans to continue to maintain commercial relations with a country which openly adopts mass murder to solve its economic problems."

Isolated voices within the American administration expressed the same anguish. One of the most forceful was that of Anthony Drexel Biddle, Jr, the American Ambassador to Warsaw, who sent dispatch after dispatch to his superiors informing them that according to reliable sources the Nazis were aware that their action had aroused world-wide indignation but understood that no one would lift a finger to oppose them. This assessment was correct, since the European Affairs Section of the State Department, which was asked to elaborate the American Government's position on the matter, merely formulated an official confession of impotence.

Questions for Students

Question 1: 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.

Question 2: 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.

Question 3: 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.

Question 4: How does the information in source 22 explain what is going on in source 23?

Question 5. 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?

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.