Date: Sun, 9 Nov 97 11:15:22 CST
From: Tom Burghardt <;
Subject: [AFIB] ‘Kristallnacht’


Translated by Ingrid Strobl from Emma, October 1988

Introduction by Arm the Spirit

Tomorrow marks the 59th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Regarded by historians as the commencement of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people, the unparalleled savagery of the German Reich (under cover of spontaneous actions by fascist mobs) was in fact, a cynical maneuver orchestrated at the highest governmental levels by Hitler's Nazi Party. While crying crocodile tears, the imperialist powers stood by and refused to come to the aid of the persecuted Jewish minority throughout Europe in 1938, just as today they encourage rightist demagogues who rail against the flood of immigrants fleeing state terror in their homelands.

The 1988 article below by the German radical feminist Ingrid Strobl (herself a victim of repressive anti-leftist laws [paragraph 129a] in the reunified Germany), is a reminder—and a warning—that fascism is indeed a beast reawakened. Across Europe and North America contemporary far-right movements disguise their repressive agendas under cover of family values, no special privileges, sanctity of our borders, and other soporifics intended to mask the systemic failure of the new world order born in the wake of the collapse of bureaucratic state socialism in the USSR. As we remember and honor those who perished, let us do so by our commitment to struggle against fascism and the system which re-creates and sustains it as a last bastion of privilege and power for the few at the expense of the many.


In Paris, Herschel Grynszpan received a letter from his sister Berta on November 3, 1938. His reaction to that letter was to have dreadful consequences, it was to give the pretext to the first all-German anti-Jewish pogrom, the so-called Kristallnacht. Living in France as an illegal refugee, Herschel, a young Polish Jew from Hannover, until then believed his family to be in Hannover. However his sister's letter had a Polish postage stamp. From Zbonszyn, Berta wrote: Dear Herschel, certainly you know about our misfortune. (. . .) Thursday evening we refused to believe a rumour that Polish Jews had been expelled from the city. At around 9 p.m. that same night a police officer came by, told us to take our identification papers and go with him to the police headquarters. Most people from the neighbourhood had already been gathered there. A police car took us immediately to the city hall where we received an expulsion order, we had to leave Germany by the 29th of October, we did not have the permission to go back home. (. . .) We are penniless.

Could you send us some money to Lodz? Kisses from everybody, your sister Berta. The next day, November 4, Herschel Grynszpan read in a Yiddish paper, the Pariser Haint, an article from a correspondent in Zbonszin on The terrible situation of the Polish Jews expelled from Germany. Vegetating in a camp, more than a thousand are already sick and hundreds are homeless. Also a few cases of mental distress as well as suicides have been reported.

On November 7 at 9.30 a.m. Herschel walked into the offices of the German Embassy in Paris. He demanded to see a high-ranking official arguing that he personally had to hand over an important document. He was referred to Ernst von Rath, the Embassy's third secretary. Entering the room, Herschel pointed a revolver at him, shouting You are a ‘sale boche’, in the name of the 12,000 persecuted Jews, here is the document! He pulled the trigger five times.

Three days later, in Duesseldorf, during the night of November 10, Martha Cohn was aroused from sleep. Fists hammered on the door, heavy footsteps and loud male voices dominated the apartment. At this moment Martha Cohn is still unaware of what is taking place next door in her parents-in-law's bedroom. The two elderly persons are being so badly thrashed that they are finally left for dead at the front door.

Now the SA men invade Martha Cohn's bedroom, bawling Where is the old man's whore?. They drag her out of bed, tear the back of her nightgown, and beat her bloody. An SA man whispering to her I can't stand this anymore, drags her down the staircase to the front door where he kicks Martha Cohn so hard that she tumbles over her mother-in-law laying already in the street. To top it off, her clothes ripped, covered with blood, she is taken to police headquarters. Later her parents-in-law are sent to a Berlin psychiatric ward.


In her book Die Kristallnacht, Rita Thalmann (professor of German-speaking civilizations at Paris VII University) argues: What was called sarcastically die Kristallnacht ['crystal night'—ed.], on account of the numerous pieces of broken glass on the German streets from Hamburg to Munich after the November 1938 pogrom, would have taken place regardless of the Herschel Grynszpan act. Any pretext would have served that purpose. Even without any pretext the Nazis would have staged that terror.

Anyhow in the year 1938 all the signs in Germany and in annexed Austria were announcing major trouble for the Jews.

From the time the German National Socialist Worker's Party came to power, the Jewish population had its rights restricted. It was made clear to them that in the land of the ruling aryan Herrenmenschen [so-called master race—ed.], they were no longer welcome. From the start, Jewish women were victims, as Jewish women and as women.

When the April laws of 1933 banned Jews from positions as civil servants including teaching and the liberal professions (e.g. medical sciences, theatre, film, etc.) an exception was made for Jews and/or their fathers and sons that had served in World War I as front-line soldiers. Women did not serve as front line soldiers in World War I.

At the same time the Reich's government enforced the 1932 Bruening laws, banning double civil servant's earnings per family. They enlarged the law by banning Jewish and non-Jewish women, married to a civil servant from having any profession. For instance in 1933 in Prussia 1% of male teachers and 4.5% of female teachers lost their jobs. Two thirds of the fired women were of non-aryan origin.

In addition numerous clauses for all women, and a total ban for Jews from German higher education institutions was imposed. As a result most Jewish women graduating from high school no longer wished for higher education but were looking for typical female professions that would be useful in exile, such as dressmakers, hairdressers, kindergarten teachers, social workers, housekeepers. A few young Jewish women registered for farming classes in order to prepare for their future lives in Palestine.

The German Juedische Frauenbund [Jewish Women's Organization—ed.] founded in 1904, was the oldest and most important Jewish women's organization and rather moderate. Regardless, Alfred Rosenberg, the Reich's racial policies chief architect, considered the Jewish women as a main enemy to the German character: They poisoned the pure-race aryan women with their undermining, emancipation venom. The man was not altogether wrong. Jewish women like Hedwig Dohm, Gertrud Baer, Lina Morgenstern were prominent members of the radical wing of the first German women's movement. They considered themselves more as daughters of the Enlightenment as women, as German, than as Jewish women.

Than came 1933. The majority, the middle-class women, belonging to the German Women's Organization unceremoniously dismantled the organization. Gertrud Baeumer edited, unhindered, the periodical Die Frau for years. The unwanted sisters (Jewish and non-Jewish radical feminists) had to flee into exile. Baer survived. Dohm died in 1919. She was spared the horror.

On September 15, 1935 the law for the protection of the German blood and honour was implemented. On October 18, 1935 the marriage health law was adopted. Jewish women were abandoned out of fear of repression and/or opportunism by numerous aryan husbands and companions.

After the March 1938 Anschluss [contact -ed.] the Viennese Nazis showed—with firm popular support and help—how one deals with the Jews. To celebrate the return to the Reich the Austrian Jews (90 percent lived in the capital) were persecuted with unbelievable brutality and sadism. Compared to this the repression and abuse in the Reich until then was rather harmless. The Kristallnacht dress rehearsal took place in Vienna.

In April 1938 the Jews from the entire Reich had to register their property with the authorities. In numerous cities—making it easier for future vandals and plunderers—Jewish stores had to be marked as such.

The first group in Germany to get a taste of what the rulers really had in mind were the poorest and most rejected part of the Jewish population: the Polish work immigrants, the hated Ostjude [Eastern Jews—ed.]. In March 1938 the Polish government passed a law depriving, as of October 31, 1938, all Polish Jews, living abroad five years or more, of their citizenship. The anti-semitic Warsaw government intended to prevent just in time a massive return of Jews from Germany and Austria. To outmanoeuvre the Polish government, the Berlin authorities expelled 15,000 Jews of Polish origin. Among them the family of Herschel Grynszpan and his sister Berta, who's letter was to have such tragic consequences.

The discriminating laws and measures by the Reich Government left no doubt that it would be better for the Jewish population to leave. Many got the message—but where could they go to? Understanding what Berlin was driving at, in July 1938, representatives from 32 countries met at a conference on the oncoming refugee problem in Evian, on the French side of the Lake of Geneva. They rapidly agreed that none of them wished to accept Jewish refugees. It became harder to cross borders; flight became nearly impossible.

U.S. president Roosevelt, with the support of the other governments, expressed his sympathy to the victims but at the same time stated that present economic and social realities made it impossible for them to extend immigration quotas. On July 14, 1938, the German newspaper Reichswart wrote gloatingly: Giving away Jews at bargain prices—who wants them? Nobody.

In Rita Thalmann's view this made it clear to the NS leadership that despite indignant protests, foreign governments were absolutely unwilling to worry about the fate of the German Jewish population. The course was set for the Kristallnacht and for the final solution officially decided later at the Wannsee Conference.

Rita Thalmann, although historians disagree, argues convincingly that it was Goebbels who initiated the November 9-10, 1938 pogrom. In Munich he gave an inflammatory speech about Grynszpan's killing of Rath, inviting the SA to act. It was to be staged as a spontaneous popular uprising, the party would not officially participate.

Shortly before the outbreak of popular outrage the SA and police stations received precise instructions on how to behave. At the right time the Berlin fire department, cutting the telephone lines, isolated the important Jewish institutions. The police blocked traffic on all strategic points. At 1 a.m. on November 10, 1938, the masters of that night were let loose. They destroyed Jewish store windows, plundered their merchandise. In Berlin alone seven synagogues were set on fire. In Duesseldorf, where Rath's funeral took place, in addition to the ransacking of Jewish properties they systematically tormented the people, some to death. In the city of Fuerth, the Jewish population, including the children, the sick and the pregnant women, were dragged out of bed at 2 a.m. Scantily dressed and freezing, they had to stand for three hours in the market-place in view of the general public. The women, children, and the sick were then sent home. The men were mistreated and transported to Dachau.

During that well organized pogrom, Jewish women were raped as proved by the charges of race shame later brought against a few of the Kristallnacht actors. A German man may, if he so chooses, torture to death a Jewish woman. But by raping her, he contravenes the law for the protection of the German blood and honour.

Persecutions were multiple. People were not only physically abused, their dwellings, stores, and synagogues destroyed, they were also humiliated. Men waiting in holding camps to be sent to concentration camps had to sing the Horst-Wessel-Lied (When Jewish blood spurts from the knife), and to read out loud Mein Kampf. 26,000 men were deported during that night, many died from the mistreatments. The survivors were released by the spring of 1939 on the condition that they would leave the country. During the Kristallnacht 90 people died, 36 were women.

On November 10 at 8 p.m. Goebbels, on the radio, called for the spontaneous phase of the anti-Jewish pogrom to a stop. The stage director was satisfied with his work.

Goebbels' happiness was dampened by Goering's harsh criticism on such a thoughtless organization. What angered Goering so much was that although 7,500 Jewish businesses had been destroyed none of the loot had found its way to the Reich's treasury (I would have preferred you had killed 200 Jews and not annihilate such valuables.) An unacceptable prejudice to the German state economy!

Trying to calm him down, Goebbels stated that the Jewish population was going to pay for the damages caused to streets and buildings. In fact the victims had to clear the broken glass off the streets and pay for the tearing down of burned synagogues. All together the German Jews had to pay a 1 billion Reichsmark fine for the Kristallnacht!

Still not satisfied, Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels stated in the same conversation on November 10, 1938: Furthermore I consider it necessary to exclude the Jews from all public places where their presence is a provocation. Today, for instance, it is still possible for a German and a Jew to share a sleeping compartment. Therefore the minister of transportation must issue a guideline ordering special compartments to be set up for Jews. When this compartment is occupied the Jews have no claim for a place. The Jews have the right to a special compartment only when every German is seated. But under no circumstances will the Jews be seated with the Germans. If there is no place available, the Jews will have to stay in the corridor. (. . .) Also there has to be a decree banning the Jews from German baths, beaches and recreation areas. (. . .) We must consider forbidding Jews from setting foot in the German forest. Today hordes of Jews are running around the Grunewald.

A large number of Jewish women and men, after that November night set everything in motion to leave the country. Until then they had hoped somehow to outlast the aryan masters in Germany. Again the foreign governments reacted promptly. Worried that Jewish refugees might flood their own country, envoys travelled from Washington to London, and from London to Paris. They were no less worried that their relations with the Third Reich could be seriously strained.

In theory, emigration out of Nazi Germany was possible up to the beginning of the war in 1939. 400,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and the Saarland did emigrate. The majority of the ones who stayed were women.

107,000 Jewish women—not counting the 40,000 of mixed origins (half-Jews) were still in the Reich at the start of World War II. Rita Thalmann in her lecture Jewish women after the 1938 pogrom (source: The Jews In National Socialist Germany, 1933-1943) divides those women in five categories. The largest group were elderly, isolated women, too poor or too weak to start all over in a foreign country. Another large group were wives of aryans feeling—unwisely—relatively safe. Then there were women who did not want to leave behind—isolated and helpless—a father, a mother or some other relative. There were also wives, whose husbands and children had already left, staying behind due to lack of means and hoping to be fetched later.

Finally there were the women who choose to stay out of political or ethical beliefs. Among them were activists of the Jewish Women's Organization. Organising rescue operations for the children, trying to uphold the Jewish community life, looking after the material and psychological survival of the ones left behind. They were the last ones to encourage and give a last piece of bread to the people being deported—until finally they were sent on their way to Auschwitz.