November pogroms 1938

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The Ohel Jakob orthodox synagogue on Herzog-Rudolf-Strasse in Munich after the arson attack on November 9, 1938

The November pogroms of 1938 - based on the night of November 9-10, 1938, also known as the Reichskristallnacht or Kristallnacht , decades later known as the Reichspogromnacht - were violent measures against Jews in Germany and Austria organized and directed by the National Socialist regime .

Several hundred Jews were murdered from November 7th to 13th, and at least 300 killed themselves. More than 1,400 synagogues , prayer rooms and other meeting rooms as well as thousands of shops, apartments and Jewish cemeteries were destroyed. As of November 10, around 30,000 Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps, where hundreds were also murdered or died as a result of imprisonment.

The pogroms mark the transition from discrimination against German Jews from 1933 to their systematic expulsion . The extent to which they represent a preliminary stage to the Holocaust , which began three years later , is controversial in historical studies.

The cynical and euphemistic term (Reichs-) Kristallnacht , which has long been widespread in German-speaking countries , has also been adopted in other languages.


The November pogroms of 1938 made state anti-Semitism a threat to the existence of Jews throughout the German Reich . Contrary to the Nazi propaganda , they were not a reaction to the “spontaneous popular anger” after the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew . Rather, they were supposed to accelerate the legal “ Aryanization ” that began in the spring of 1938 , that is, the compulsory expropriation of Jewish property and companies, which was also intended to finance German armament . The timing of the pogroms was closely related to Hitler's war course (see: Economy in National Socialist Germany ).

The Jewish policy of the Nazi regime

SA men in Berlin putting up posters calling for a boycott of Jewish shops on April 1, 1933

There were also acts of violence against Jews in Germany before the National Socialist seizure of power . During the hyperinflation of 1923, anti-Semites attacked Jews in Berlin's Scheunenviertel . The then SA leader Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf organized the Kurfürstendamm riot of 1931 in Berlin . After the National Socialist seizure of power there was a first wave of anti-Semitic violence, which emanated from the party base and was tolerated by the leadership: Starting from the Rhine-Ruhr area, SA people attacked Jewish businesses, demanded a boycott and intimidated customers. On March 11, 1933, the wave reached Braunschweig , where a “ warehouse storm ” was organized. The nationwide boycott of Jews followed on April 1st . With the law on civil servants and the law on admission to the bar of April 7th, around 37,000 Jews lost their professional existence in Germany as early as 1933.

As a result, the anti-Semitic violence from below subsided. Jewish companies were expressly not discriminated against at times in order not to damage sensitive branches of the economy. In 1935 a second wave of anti-Jewish violence followed: In March, Julius Streicher called for the death penalty for “ racial disgrace ” in the Nazi propaganda paper “ Der Stürmer ”. In July 1935 the second Kurfürstendamm riot broke out . The state reacted again to pressure from the party base: On August 8, 1935, Hitler banned "wild actions" against Jews, and in September the Nuremberg Laws were enacted. In February 1936 Goebbels wanted to exploit the assassination attempt by the Jewish student David Frankfurter on the NSDAP functionary Wilhelm Gustloff for "actions" against Jews, but this was not done because the Nazi regime wanted to use the upcoming Summer Olympics for Nazi propaganda.

In 1937 there was a change of course from the creeping displacement of Jews from the German private sector to their rapid expropriation by the state. In January, the "called Reichsführer SS " Heinrich Himmler first time publicly the "Entjudung Germany" that the 25-point program of the NSDAP was named 1920 as the target. It can best be achieved by mobilizing “popular anger” and rioting. In October the SS “Kampfblatt” , Das Schwarze Korps , pointed out the supposedly undiminished power of the Jews in trade and industry. This can no longer be tolerated: Today we no longer need Jewish businesses.

Economics minister Hjalmar Schacht had protested against Streicher's boycott campaigns as early as 1934 because they threatened to disrupt the Christmas business . He was replaced on November 27, 1937. Shortly afterwards, Streicher again organized a Christmas boycott against Jewish businesses.

Raid on the Jewish Community in Vienna , March 1938

In 1938 the third wave of anti-Semitic violence followed: With the " Anschluss of Austria ", 192,000 Jews were added to the 350,000 Jews in the "Old Reich", so that 542,000 Jews now lived in the "Greater German Reich". In Vienna in particular, with nine percent of the population being Jewish, there were riots that lasted for weeks. SA thugs beat thousands of Jewish business owners out of their shops, businesses and homes. Medium-sized NSDAP members acted as "commissioners" in charge of stolen businesses. They saw this as "reparation" for disadvantages before the "unification of the Reich" and also tried to forestall the acquisition of Jewish companies by well-funded German corporations. In order to stop the "wild expropriations", "Reichskommissar" Josef Bürckel declared the "commissioners" to be new owners by law on April 13th, who now had to register their company assets.

On April 26, 1938, Göring passed a law that forced all Jews in the Reich, originally until June 30 and later to July 31, to disclose all their assets to the tax office in detail , provided they exceeded 5,000 Reichsmarks . Their total assets were estimated at 8.5 billion, their share of liquid securities at 4.8 billion Reichsmarks. The Nazi regime planned to exchange them for German government bonds in order to sell them abroad for foreign currency. The aim was to reduce the budget deficit and finance the displacement of the deprived abroad.

Many “old fighters” rated the regime's Jewish policy as too hesitant. At Goebbels' suggestion, the Berlin police chief Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorff, for example, submitted a memorandum in May 1938 which called for the radical separation of Berlin Jews from business and society. Goebbels used in June 1938, the June-action campaign "Arbeitsscheu Empire" , which is actually against anti-social elements was addressed to riots against Jewish business owners in Berlin. In front of police officers he announced: “The watchword is not the law, but chicane. The Jews have to get out of Berlin. ”This brought him into conflict with the security service of the Reichsführer SS , who had recognized that the pauperization of the Jews stood in the way of the overriding goal of forcing them to emigrate. Under Hitler's influence, further anti-Jewish actions were banned with effect from June 21, 1938. In September there were new anti-Semitic attacks in Kassel, Rothenburg an der Fulda, Frankfurt am Main, Magdeburg, Hanover and Vienna. The pogrom mood prevailing among parts of the NSDAP members is linked by the historian Hans Mommsen with the danger of war, the apparent settlement of which through the Munich Agreement resulted in increased anti-Semitic activism.

In view of the policy of the Nazi regime aimed at the emigration of Jews, the neighboring European states feared a flood of refugees and endeavored to avert it. At the international conference in Évian (France) in July 1938, none of the 32 participating countries agreed to accept the threatened Jews. Rather, Switzerland, to which many Jews from Austria fled, protested against the "Judaization" and threatened a general visa requirement. The Nazi regime then withdrew passports from German Jews and replaced them with special ID cards with the newly introduced Jewish stamp . On November 9, 1938, Luxembourg also kept the borders tightly closed by a resolution by its then Christian-Socialist government and increased border controls. Adolf Eichmann finally set up the first central office for Jewish emigration in Vienna in August on behalf of Reinhard Heydrich . A wave of refugees began: by autumn, around 54,000 Jews had left the Reich.

Julius Streicher gives the order to demolish the synagogue in front of Nuremberg's main synagogue , August 10, 1938

On October 14th, Goering announced a gigantic armaments program in the Reich Aviation Ministry. However, this is made more difficult by the state deficit and limited production capacities. The private sector must play a part in this, as otherwise one would switch to the state-controlled planned economy . The "Aryanization" is now inevitable and solely a matter for the state; Under no circumstances should it run as an anarchic “supply system for incompetent party members”, as in Austria.

First mass deportation ("Poland Action")

Expulsion of Polish Jews from Nuremberg on October 28, 1938

On October 9, 1938, Poland issued an ordinance according to which the passports of all Poles living abroad for more than five years without a special visa from a competent consulate should expire on October 30. This mainly affected up to 18,000 of the estimated 70,000 Polish, mostly impoverished Jews , many of whom lived illegally in the Greater German Reich. The German government thereupon issued an ultimatum to Poland on October 26th to guarantee the possibility of returning the stateless , otherwise they would be deported immediately. After the expected rejection, the Gestapo ordered all cities and communities on October 27 to arrest those affected immediately. On the night of October 29th, they were taken from their apartments, transported in heavily guarded trains and trucks to the German-Polish border near Zbąszyń (German: Bentschen) and chased over.

The unprepared Polish border guards initially refused the deported persons to cross by force of arms, the Germans in turn refused to return. They had to wait for days without food in the overcrowded border stations or in no man's land until the Polish authorities let them pass. Some found shelter with Jewish communities in Poland over the next few days, but around 7,000 people had to march to the Zbąszyń refugee camp in the Poznań Voivodeship , where the Polish government interned them until August 1939. In January they were allowed to return to their German hometowns for a short time in order to sell their businesses, dissolve households and thus regulate their forced "emigration".

Assassination as a pretext

Herschel Grynszpan after his arrest in Paris on November 8, 1938

On November 3, the seventeen-year-old Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan , who was living in Paris, learned that his entire family had also been evicted to Zbąszyń. He got himself a revolver and shot it on November 7, 1938 in the German Embassy, ​​at that time in the Palais Beauharnais , at the NSDAP's legation secretary Ernst Eduard vom Rath . He succumbed to his injuries on November 9th.

In 1938, parts of the Nazi leadership used the assassination attempt as a welcome opportunity to give the dissatisfied party base the opportunity to act against Jewish property and then expedite the legal process of eliminating Jews from German economic life. Before the French police had investigated the background, Goebbels and his colleague Wolfgang Diewerge had the conspiracy theory spread that Grynszpan had acted on behalf of world Jewry who wanted to destroy Nazi Germany. To this end, it is working to poison Franco-German relations in order to provoke a war. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung pointed out in this connection that Grynszpan had committed his assassination attempt on the anniversary of the October Revolution . On November 7th, the German News Office (DNB), a central institution of press control in the Nazi state, issued an instruction that the report about the attack was to be "presented in the greatest possible form" in all newspapers and that it was particularly important to "point out, that the attack must have the worst consequences for the Jews in Germany ”. The following day, Diewerge wrote in the editorial of the Völkischer Beobachter , entitled Criminals at Peace in Europe :

“It is clear that the German people will draw their conclusions from this new act. It is an impossible condition that hundreds of thousands of Jews still rule entire shopping streets within our borders, populate entertainment venues and pocket the money of German tenants as 'foreign' homeowners, while their racial comrades outside call for war against Germany and shoot down German officials. [...] The shots at the German embassy in Paris will not only mark the beginning of a new German stance on the Jewish question, but will hopefully also be a signal for those foreigners who have not yet recognized that between the understanding between the peoples, ultimately, only the international one Jew stands. "

Similar comments can be found on November 8th and 9th in other party newspapers of the NSDAP, for example in Westdeutscher Beobachter .


First assaults

Destroyed Jewish shop in Magdeburg

The news of the assassination attempt on the previously largely unknown diplomat vom Rath did not reach the German public until November 8, 1938 through the daily press. In the late afternoon of November 7th, however, the first attacks on Jews, their apartments, shops, community houses and synagogues began in Kurhessen and Magdeburg- Anhalt. The perpetrators were members of the SA and SS . They appeared in civilian clothes in order to look like normal citizens and incite the rest of the population to "popular anger" over the attack in Paris. On the evening of November 7th, the synagogue and other Jewish institutions in Kassel, and on the same night those in the surrounding areas such as Bebra , Rotenburg an der Fulda and Sontra, were devastated. On November 8th the first synagogue burned in Bad Hersfeld . In the districts of Fulda and Melsungen , among others. in Baumbach , Eschwege , Fritzlar , Witzenhausen , almost all Jewish homes and businesses were demolished. Numerous Jews were mistreated during the evening and night. In Felsberg there was the first Jewish death in Kurhessen.

On the afternoon of November 9th, starting at 3 p.m., the synagogue and the Jewish community center in Dessau were set on fire . From 19 pm, the riots began in Chemnitz . The arson only affected synagogues and shops, the fires of which could not endanger the neighboring houses. Non-Jewish houses and apartments were spared everywhere.

From whom the initiative for the riots in Kurhessen came is controversial. The historian Wolf-Arno Kropat believes that Gau propaganda leader Heinrich Gernand was “obviously” commissioned by the Reich Propaganda Ministry . Alan E. Steinweis sees no evidence of this. Most likely, Gernand took the Berlin propaganda as a signal to let his party comrades attack the local Jews. Angela Hermann, on the other hand, rules out the instigation of the Hessian excesses by Goebbels and also considers Gernand's role as instigator to be questionable. The actions were directed by local party leaders - including a district leader - and SA party activists; in some cases they were asked to do so by outside party members. The historian Hans-Jürgen Döscher assumes that the "violent potential of the anti-Semitic party base" is evident here.

The night of November 9th to 10th, 1938

Memorial plaque on the old town hall in Munich

Adolf Hitler had ordered his attending physician Karl Brandt and the respected trauma surgeon Georg Magnus to Paris from Rath's sickbed and promoted them by three classes to Counselor First Class. On November 9th, after the memorial march for the Hitler putsch , he took part in a dinner at a comradeship evening of the party leadership with "old fighters" in the old town hall in Munich. There he learned of the diplomat's death. During the meal he immediately discussed with Goebbels, who informed him about riots that were already starting, and decided: “Let the demonstrations go on. Police withdraw. The Jews should feel the people's anger one day. ”Contrary to his custom, he refrained from speaking and left the meeting after dinner.

Goebbels then announced the news to the assembled party and SA leaders at around 10 p.m. He used death to an anti-Semitic interpretation of the attack, in which he made "the Jewish world conspiracy" responsible for the death of vom Rath. He praised the anti-Jewish actions throughout the empire, during which synagogues were also set on fire, and referred to Kurhessen and Magdeburg-Anhalt. He said that the party does not want to appear as an organizer of anti-Jewish actions, but that it will not hinder them where they arise. The Gauleiter and SA leaders present understood this as an indirect but unmistakable request to organize the "spontaneous" actions of the "popular anger".

Destruction in the Uhlfelder department store in Munich

After Goebbels' speech, they phoned their local offices around 10:30 p.m. Afterwards they gathered in the hotel "Rheinischer Hof" in order to give further instructions for actions from there. After the commemoration ceremony, Goebbels himself had telegrams sent from his ministry to subordinate authorities, Gauleiter and Gestapo offices in the Reich. These in turn passed on corresponding orders to the teams, in which it was said about (SA office "North Sea"):

“All Jewish shops are to be destroyed immediately by SA men in uniform. After the destruction, an SA guard must pull up to ensure that no valuables can be stolen. [...] The press is to be consulted. Jewish synagogues are to be set on fire immediately, Jewish symbols are to be secured. The fire brigade is not allowed to intervene. Only the houses of Aryan Germans need to be protected, but the Jews have to get out, as Aryans will be moving in there in the next few days. [...] The Fiihrer wishes the police not to intervene. All Jews are to be disarmed. If there is resistance, shoot it over the heap. At the destroyed Jewish shops, synagogues, etc., signs are to be put up with the following text: 'Revenge for murder on vom Rath. Death to international Judaism. No communication with peoples who are Jewish. ' This can also be extended to Freemasonry . "

During the night, Himmler and Hitler took part in the swearing-in ceremony of SS candidates on Odeonsplatz and instructed the head of the Gestapo department for opponents of the regime, Heinrich Müller . This sent a telex to all control centers of the state police in the Reich at 11:55 p.m .: The security services should stay out of it. But you should see to it that the Jewish property is “protected” from looting . Point 3 read: “Preparations are to be made for the arrest of about 20-30,000 Jews in the empire. Above all wealthy Jews are to be selected. More detailed orders will be issued later that night. ”He then issued“ more detailed orders ”to Heydrich, who in turn sent them as a telex to all subordinates at 1:20 am. In it he reaffirmed the ban on looting, protection for neighboring buildings from fires and added that foreigners - including Jewish - should not be harassed. He left the number of those to be arrested open:

"As soon as the course of events of that night allows the deployed officers to be used for this purpose, as many Jews - especially wealthy ones - are to be arrested in all districts as can be accommodated in the existing cells."

The purpose of these arrests was to allow the Gestapo and SS, who had been presented with a fait accompli by Goebbels' speech, to participate in the expropriations and to acquire funds to promote Jewish emigration.

The police and the SS had evidently been taken by surprise by the pogroms that began an hour before they were informed. This is indicated not least by the fact that two orders were sent to identical recipients; Müller's telex had obviously been formulated hastily and therefore had to be supplemented and substantiated by Heydrich's letter. It was not up to them to manage the destruction, but to the local NSDAP propaganda offices. They called up the local SA groups, which instructed their members and set them on the march to carry out the orders. In Nuremberg z. For example, as in most German cities, they were implemented as follows, according to eyewitness reports:

“First came the big shops; The shop windows were smashed with poles they had brought with them, and the mob, which had already been notified that evening, plundered the shops under the leadership of the SA. Then we went to the houses inhabited by Jews. Non-Jewish residents who had been informed beforehand opened the doors. If the apartment was not opened immediately when the bell rang, the apartment door was smashed. Many of the 'spontaneous' avengers were armed with revolvers and daggers; each group had the necessary burglar's tools such as axes, large hammers and crowbars with them. Some SA men carried a haversack to secure money, jewelry, photos and other valuables that were waiting for someone to take them away. The apartments were allegedly searched for weapons because a gun ban for Jews had been published the day before. Glass doors, mirrors, pictures were smashed, oil paintings cut up with daggers, beds, shoes, clothes slit, everything was cut short and small. On the morning of November 10, the families affected mostly had no coffee cup, spoon, knife, or nothing. Amounts of money found were confiscated, securities and savings bank books were taken away. Worst of all were the serious riots against the householders, with the women present often being as ill-treated as the men. A number of men were herded to the police prison by the SA men with constant mistreatment and the hooting of the crowd. [...] The next morning at around 4 a.m., all [of the previously imprisoned] people under the age of 60 were transported to Dachau. "

But not only synagogues and Jewish shops were destroyed, the violence did not stop at children's and old people's homes . In Emden , residents of an old people's home were taken out of their beds, shown past the burning synagogue in night clothes and then forced to do squats and other calisthenics . Numerous Jews were murdered in the wake of the riots and the chaos in which they took place. In Lesum , a suburb of Bremen, for example, the mayor and head of the local SA storm believed, due to a transmission error, that all Jews should be killed. Passing on this erroneous order led to the murder of a Lesum doctor and his wife. In Austria, SA men did not allow a newly married couple to take their child, who was just a few months old, with them when they were arrested. The baby was left alone in the apartment and died. It is not possible to determine with certainty how many Jews perished in the pogroms. The Supreme Party Court of the NSDAP put their number at 91. In the specialist literature, it is valued significantly higher. Including the approximately 300 suicides , the British historian Richard J. Evans estimates that up to 2,000 Jews were killed in the November pogroms.

The events of the following days

On November 10th, Goebbels had the pogroms justified via the DNB as “justified and understandable outrage of the German people over the cowardly assassination of a diplomat”, but combined it with “the strict request to stop all demonstrations and actions against Judaism, regardless of what kind to foresee immediately ”. On the same day, Rudolf Hess, in his capacity as “Deputy Leader”, issued a directive to the Gauleitungen forbidding all further “arson of Jewish shops or the like”.

Nevertheless, the pogroms continued. In Austria they did not begin until November 10, but were all the more violent there. Throughout the empire, especially in rural areas, they lasted into the afternoon. In Harburg-Wilhelmsburg, for example, the pogroms did not begin until the evening of November 10th. Here the morgue in the Jewish cemetery went up in flames, the synagogue was looted, but remained standing. The National Socialists of the Free City of Danzig even began their attacks on the local Jews on November 12th. In smaller towns there were riots until November 11th, and in isolated cases even until November 12th and 13th.

The ordered separation of SA measures and SS “escort protection” was disregarded in many regions, especially since the order to do so was only issued hours after the start of the pogroms. In Bensheim , in the Lake Constance area , on the Lower Rhine , in Upper Silesia and Vienna, among others. the security forces led the destruction themselves; where the arson was insufficient, they helped with explosives. The processes are documented, for example, in a report from Baden-Baden :

“Before the SS set fire to the synagogue, they forced the men of the Jewish community to gather there. Contrary to Jewish custom, they had to take off their hats. The congregation member, Mr. Dreyfus, was forced to read from the pulpit from the Nazi propaganda paper Der Stürmer . The congregation had to answer in chorus: 'We are a filthy, felty people.' The SS forced the men to sing Nazi songs and perform gymnastics exercises in the church. "

After the November pogrom, a column of Jews was brought to the concentration camp for protective custody , Baden-Baden, November 1938

Immediately after the destruction, around 4 a.m. on November 10, the ordered imprisonment (so-called protective custody ) of around 30,000 male, mostly younger and more affluent Jews began. These so-called action Jews made up around a tenth of the Jews remaining in Germany. They were collected and often guided through the cities in formation. In the days that followed, the Gestapo and SS deported them to the three German concentration camps Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen in order to force them to emigrate and to Aryanise their assets. According to a report by a Berlin Jew, the guards at the “ court roll call ”, the night-long standing at attention in the freezing cold on the camp site, left no doubt that they wanted to decimate the inmates: “You are not in a sanatorium, but in a crematorium. [...] The SS has the right to shoot you whenever they want ”.

Prisoner card of a Jew interned in the Dachau concentration camp, recognizable by
SCH.J. = "Protective custody Jew"

The barbaric treatment of those who were brought into the Buchenwald concentration camp was described in detail. B. the eyewitness Eugen Kogon . Around the following winter they had to clear the snow in the camp with their bare hands; The SS camp doctor refused to amputate the frozen limbs: I only issue death certificates for Jews.

The pogroms did not represent an articulation of “popular anger”, but rather went back to the NSDAP and its affiliated associations. Goebbels had asked the members to appear in civilian clothes, but this was only partially obeyed. His hope of triggering a broad popular movement against the Jews with these actions was not fulfilled. Nonetheless, not all of those who took part in the riots were SA men: during November 10, a normal school day, numerous young people who had been mobilized by the Hitler Youth or the school attacked Jews and their property. Many entrepreneurs also incited their workers to anti-Semitic riots and participated in them themselves. In many places, the vandalism was followed by spontaneous looting, in which a particularly large number of women took part. The historian Alan E. Steinweis names "the willingness of tens of thousands of Germans to commit acts of violence against their Jewish neighbors" as an explanation for the nationwide destructiveness of the pogroms.


The meeting in the Reich Ministry of Aviation

On November 12th, 100 high-ranking representatives of the Nazi regime met at the invitation of Göring in the Reich Aviation Ministry to discuss the further course of action in Jewish policy and to settle the conflicts that had arisen within the National Socialist polycracy . Four of the original seven parts of the minutes of the meeting have been preserved as verbatim copies.

As early as November 10, according to Göring's testimony, Hitler had ordered him and Goebbels to completely exclude Jews from the German economy. Those present thereupon adopted the ordinance to exclude Jews from German economic life : According to this, all Reich German Jews were to be largely expropriated, removed from cultural life, banned from the public eye and forced to emigrate. The declared aim was to make the German Reich “ free of Jews ”. The inventory showed that a large part of the destroyed “Jewish” business premises and apartments belonged to “Aryans” and were only rented by Jews; the insurance companies had to compensate for this damage. Breaking the glass alone cost nearly three million, the total insurance damage was put at 225 million Reichsmarks.

Göring was very dissatisfied with the pogroms and, implicitly, with Goebbels: “I am sick of these demonstrations. They do not damage the Jews, but ultimately me, who I have to summarize the economy as the last resort. ”Goebbels' objection that“ the Jew ”had to pay for the damage was dismissed as economically pointless: Germany has no raw materials, which is why all the shop window glass must be bought against foreign currency abroad. He accused Heydrich: "I would have preferred you had killed 200 Jews and not destroyed such values". Göring proposed to demand one billion Reichsmarks from the Jews of the Reich as an “atonement” for “the hostile attitude of Judaism towards the German people”. The compensation of the insurance companies willing to pay should go directly to the state; affected Jews should come away empty-handed. Hitler had already decided this with Goebbels on November 10th at a joint lunch in the Osteria Italiana , when the pogroms were still going on. The idea of ​​this collective penalty tax for them, which now represented a double expropriation, came from Hitler's memorandum on the four-year plan of August 1936. All those present agreed to Goering's proposal without contradiction and without discussing the purpose. Göring confirmed this in an internal speech on November 18: “Very critical situation in the Reich's finances. This was initially remedied by the billion imposed on Jews and by the Reich profits from the Aryanization of Jewish companies. ”In fact, the public financial situation in autumn 1938 was catastrophic. There was a real possibility that the empire would go bankrupt. But with the “Jewish penalty”, which meant a sudden increase in the Reich's income by six percent, the crisis was overcome. Goebbels tried in vain to have this "atonement" raised by the Gauleitungen. But Göring succeeded in ensuring that the money did not go to the party, but only to the four-year plan . It was also determined that there should be no more “wild” actions against the Jews in the future: In the further course, Goebbels proposed new anti-Semitic measures, such as the closure of the synagogues or a ban on entering forests and parks. Göring made fun of him openly: Jews could be allowed to enter some of the forests in which moose are resident, because both have similar noses.

As a result of the meeting it was determined that from now on the NSDAP should no longer be responsible for Jewish policy, but the Gestapo. Heydrich referred to the positive experiences Eichmann had made with his Vienna emigration office and suggested a similar institution for the whole of the Reich. This should organize an "emigration campaign" for all Jews remaining in Germany, for which he estimated "at least 8 to 10 years". The eviction concept he had developed in recent years thus became the official policy of the Nazi regime. Goering threatened "a big settlement to the Jews" in the event of a foreign policy conflict. Hitler was planning a foreign policy initiative to implement the Madagascar Plan, that is, to relocate German Jews to the French colony in the Indian Ocean . In spite of everything, Goebbels was very satisfied with the result in his diary: “I work wonderfully with Göring. He is also sharp. The radical opinion has triumphed. "

Effects on those affected

Destroyed Jewish shop in Magdeburg , November 1938
Private film recordings in Vienna, 1938

Of the nearly 30,000 Jews who were arrested and deported, there is evidence that 10,911 - including around 4,600 Viennese - were sent to the Dachau concentration camp and 9,845 to the Buchenwald concentration camp. For the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, it is estimated that there will be at least 6,000, but more likely 10,000 prisoners. The imprisonment in the camp cost hundreds more lives: According to the camp administration, 207 Jews died in Buchenwald and 185 died in Dachau, the number of victims in Sachsenhausen is unknown. A high number of unreported cases is also assumed here. Dozens of Jews were shot on arrival in the concentration camps, and hundreds died trying to escape or from the strains of forced labor in the camps. Thousands of the survivors were seriously physically injured - 600 frozen limbs later had to be amputated in the Jewish Hospital Berlin alone - and mentally traumatized.

Most of the surviving prisoners were released by August 1939, provided they agreed in writing to “emigrate” and transferred their property to the state. The number of exit applications has skyrocketed since November 9, 1938: by the start of the war, another 200,000 Jews left the Reich, more than a total of 1933 to 1938. They had to show “showcase money” everywhere abroad and were able to get their entry and exit visas often only obtained through the black market , through loans from foreign relatives and bribery of civil servants .

The Berlin-born Israeli anti-Semitism researcher Avraham Barkai pointed out in 1988 that almost all synagogues in the Reich had been destroyed; Recent research by the Synagogue Memorial has confirmed this and determined a total of 1,406 synagogues and prayer rooms that were completely destroyed. Of Vienna's once around 25 synagogues, only the city ​​temple in Vienna's inner city survived the pogroms relatively unscathed, and almost all of the rest were set on fire. The approximately 70 prayer houses and rooms in the city were all devastated and some were also set on fire; Of Berlin's 14 synagogues, 11 were completely burned down, the remaining three badly demolished. Around 7,500 Jewish shops, apartments, community centers and cemetery chapels were also destroyed.

As a result, many of the Jewish religious communities had to disband; Services could only take place privately without ceremonial objects, since the valuable Torah scrolls in particular had been burned or confiscated. The church services were now mostly well attended: less because piety grew, but because the members had to support each other after they had lost their livelihood, meetings were forbidden and they could only enter the streets at risk of their lives.

The November pogroms finally destroyed the hopes of the German Jews of being able to survive in their homeland. Anyone who could emigrated. The year 1939 marked the zenith of the Jewish exodus from the Nazi state with 80,000 emigrants. However, the negative attitude of the receiving countries in question, which had emerged at the Évian conference, was not changed by the pogroms. After all, Great Britain allowed 10,000 Jewish children and young people from the German Reich to be accepted. They were brought to Great Britain via the Netherlands in Kindertransport from December 1938 to September 1, 1939. The life-saving selection was made by the Jewish communities, the two to seventeen year olds were looked after by Jewish social workers on the way. They all hoped to see their parents again soon. In 90% of the cases this hope was in vain.

Reactions from abroad

About 100 protest notes from foreign representations were received by the Foreign Office in Berlin after November 10, 1938. Accordingly, despite orders to the contrary, foreign Jews were also among the victims of the pogroms. The protests were forwarded to the Reich Chancellery without comment and disappeared there in the files.

The United States reacted particularly sharply by withdrawing its ambassador from Berlin on November 14th. In New York City , the city population demonstrated for the victims. The German ambassador Dieckhoff, who resided in Washington, DC , reported with concern that personalities who had not previously attacked the Nazi regime or “had shown some sympathy for Germany” were also fully endorsed by the sharp criticism. On December 3, the US government protested against the decree to exclude Jews from the German economy, which, contrary to Joachim von Ribbentrop's assurances, also affected US citizens. As a result, the remaining closings of Jewish retail and craft businesses at foreign companies planned for December 31 were suspended; Jewish representatives abroad had already been released on December 1st from the “atonement” decided on November 12th in order not to endanger the still valid friendship treaty with the USA. However, the US immigration authorities were still only allowed to approve 27,000 of the 140,000 Jewish entry applications per year.

In Great Britain, the pogroms caused a change of political opinion among the population, while the government reacted cautiously. Chamberlain's appeasement policy was now considered to have failed, and the willingness to go to war against Hitler grew. Even German-friendly circles that had previously defended the measures taken by the Hitler government fell silent.

The boycott movement directed against the German Reich, which arose in 1933 as a reaction to the boycott of the Jews and was mostly only able to mobilize Jewish consumers, now experienced a considerable boom. Many foreign companies in France, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Canada, the Netherlands and the USA terminated their trade agreements with Germany. Some German companies lost a quarter of their export business; Even companies that were important for armaments suffered heavy losses, according to the Defense Economic Staff. The leather, textile and toy manufacturers were hardest hit. However, it was precisely these branches that then profited greatly from the Aryanization.

Reactions in the NSDAP

Sections of the party base had been surprised by the pogroms and rejected them mainly because of Hitler's distant stance as "wild" and "unlawful", which meant that the "Fuehrer" meant an act that was apparently not covered up. Government members, including Göring, Himmler, Heydrich, Funk and Alfred Rosenberg , distanced themselves and assigned Goebbels sole responsibility for unforeseeable foreign and economic policy consequences. That same night, Himmler criticized Goebbels' action, which he attributed to his "striving for power", as "hollow-headed". As early as the morning of November 10th, Goebbels accused Goebbels of having brought about the “economically nonsensical destruction of property” out of economic ignorance, which he would have liked to donate to the German state as looted property. Himmler and Göring tried to convince Hitler to dismiss Goebbels, but the latter held up his propaganda minister and showed his solidarity by going to the theater together on November 15th.

The excesses of violence and looting posed problems for the NSDAP, as they contradicted the officially issued orders and went too far for some party members. Therefore, party courts should investigate "indiscipline" and punish if necessary; those Gauleiter and group leaders who had carried out the pogroms acted as “lay judges” in these proceedings. In February 1939, the secret final report by Walter Buch , the highest party judge, confirmed that the perpetrators who carried out the action had acted on the order of Goebbels and the SA leaders who were subordinate to him on the evening of November 9th and were therefore largely exonerated. Because the violations have been portrayed as “popular anger”, it is logical not to punish them through state courts, but rather by the party itself. In 1939, however, the supreme party court of the NSDAP found that Goebbels' "intentionally unclear" issuing orders was no longer appropriate. Before 1933 it sometimes made sense to hide the real author of actions from the state security authorities. But that is no longer necessary, after all, everyone knows who is behind the pogroms: "If all synagogues burn down in one night, it has to be organized somehow and can only be organized by the party." In February 1939 only thirty murders were investigated before the Party Supreme Court. The perpetrators remained unpunished or received only mild disciplinary sentences, and none was expelled from the party. The court then asked Hitler to pardon the guilty in order to protect them from further prosecution by state courts. He gladly complied with the request. Four SA men were brought to justice: they had sexually molested or raped Jewish women during the night of the pogrom . They were not charged because of this, but because of " racial disgrace " and expelled from the party.

On the order of Goebbels, the Reich Ministry of Justice instructed the public prosecutors "not to conduct any investigations into matters relating to the Jewish action." but had already given way to a police state through emergency decrees under Article 48 of the Reich President von Hindenburg .

Reactions from the non-Jewish population

The non-Jewish Germans reacted differently to the pogroms initiated and supervised by the SA and SS. The Sopade reports on Germany reported that “the riots are sharply condemned by the vast majority of the population.” It was reported from many regions of the empire that they encountered shame and horror. Donations to the winter relief organization were refused in protest against the pogroms. Nevertheless, many non-Jewish Germans turned out to be gawkers , marauders and violent criminals. Crowds of onlookers formed in many places; Especially in small and medium-sized towns, the “onlookers” joined in the chants of the performers. In some places, e.g. B. Vienna, they participated in the destruction and looting of shop displays. In the larger cities but kept their some (inner) distance, which was not the case in small and medium cities: Here outsiders involved directly with denunciations , such. B. in Treuchtlingen , where women called for harassed Jews to be tortured again.

Especially in rural regions and smaller towns, the children and adolescents organized in the Hitler Youth were often abused - among other things. Throwing stones, insults, spitting on, humiliations of all kinds - part of it. The National Socialist Teachers Association attributed their participation to the effective indoctrination in schools (see Education under National Socialism ). The historian Wolfgang Benz states:

“The commitment with which the order was carried out made the dimension of the result. Goebbels had appealed to the lowest instincts and unleashed a tidal wave of aggression and vandalism, a rush of destruction and lust for murder, which turned honest citizens and harmless little people into beasts. "

The Berlin New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse, destroyed in World War II (1948)

Almost everywhere, according to orders, the local fire brigades and police stations only protected the neighboring buildings from the spread of the fires and thus enabled the unhindered destruction and looting (the latter was denied by the Nazi propaganda) of Jewish property.

Very few cases of moral courage are documented: Wilhelm Krützfeld , head of the responsible police station in Berlin-Mitte, saved the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse by referring to the monument protection of the building, chased away the SA arsonists with some officials and the Called the fire brigade to put out the fire. Apart from a reprimand from his superior, nothing happened to him.

On the following day, mass rallies were called in some large cities to celebrate the “atonement” for the murder of vom Rath and to show the unity of people and party. In Nuremberg 100,000 citizens took part. However, these “anti-Jewish demonstrations” did not reach the extent desired by the NSDAP. Most Germans did not believe the version of the "spontaneous popular uprising against the Jews", which was distributed via the state-controlled media. The reports of the Sopade (exile SPD) from 1938 spoke of "great outrage over this vandalism" in the Rhineland, Westphalia, Bavaria and Berlin. In Silesia and Danzig in particular, the population sharply rejected the excesses and showed it publicly. The reports of foreign diplomats who were active in Germany in 1938 also go in a similar direction. The British Consul General in Frankfurt even claimed that those responsible for the pogrom had been swept away by "a storm of indignation" in democratic elections.

According to the historian Wolfgang Benz, the pogroms met with rejection because of the brutal approach and the destruction of economic values. In the big cities there were also examples of solidarity with the humiliated Jews, whereas in small towns the transition from the National Socialist activists to the public was fluid. Here, many would have let themselves be carried away by the acts of violence and looting. After the pogroms, however, the widespread attitude of the majority was indifference and greed - in the weeks following the pogroms, corruption increased enormously when party and state officials shamelessly enriched themselves with Jews who were willing to emigrate and who were forced to sell their companies. The historian Alan Steinweis quotes from the situation reports of the SD , according to which the negative attitude of eyewitnesses was not only attached to the destruction of economic values, but to the public desecration of places of worship and sacred objects. This attitude was particularly evident in the Catholic population, but should not be confused with a rejection of the regime or even its anti-Semitism. Steinweis also refers to cases in which public criticism of the pogroms led to beatings or protective custody. He therefore suspects that the outrage over the pogroms went deeper and was more widespread than even leading National Socialists noticed.

The pogroms strengthened those who were previously opponents of the NSDAP in their opposition. For the Kreisau Circle under Count Helmuth James von Moltke , they were retrospectively a decisive impetus for the plans to assassinate Hitler during World War II . After the pogroms, resistance groups of the KPD distributed an edition of the Red Flag in Berlin , which called for solidarity with all Jewish citizens under the title Against the Shame of the Jewish Pogroms. The anti-Semitic riots are not an expression of “popular anger”, but “distraction of the people from the war policy pursued by capital”. In its November 18th issue, the ISK's exile magazine Sozialistische Warte described the pogroms in an article headed with “reprisals!” As “the low level of legal security in any state” and as a “crime that cries out to heaven”.

Reactions from churches and individual Christians

The German Evangelical Church (DEK) and the Roman Catholic Church were the only major organizations in the German Empire at that time that were not completely aligned. But none of their representatives protested publicly against the fact that the state killed, expropriated and rigorously excluded people from society only on the basis of their alleged “ race ”.

The future DEK bishop Otto Dibelius enthusiastically welcomed the “national revolution” in January 1933 and tried to dispel the suspicion of a possible ecclesiastical system opposition in the government as much as possible. He had already defended the Jewish boycott of April 1, 1933 as “self-defense” against the supposedly excessive influence of Judaism. At that time he urged a “humane” exclusion of the Jews, but then remained silent about all acts of violence and anti-Jewish laws that followed.

The executive committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg declared on November 16, 1938 with reference to a quote from Luther:

“No German of the Christian faith can, without being unfaithful to the good and clean cause of the German nation's freedom struggle against the Jewish anti-Christian world Bolshevism, lament the state measures against the Jews in the Reich, in particular the confiscation of Jewish assets. And we must seriously give the authoritative representatives of Church and Christianity abroad to consider that the path to Jewish world domination always leads through horrific fields of corpses. "

The clergy were called upon to “orient their preaching in preaching and pastoral care in such a way that the German soul suffers no harm and the German people are helped to confidently do everything they can without a false burden of conscience, a repetition of the disintegration of the empire by the Jewish To make demons from within impossible for all time. "The Protestant regional bishop of Thuringia, Martin Sasse saw in the pogroms a fulfillment of Martin Luther's demands of 1543:

“On November 10, 1938, on Luther's birthday, synagogues burned in Germany. The German people […] will finally break the power of the Jews in the economic field in the new Germany and thus crown the divine struggle of the Führer for the complete liberation of our people. At this hour the voice of the man must be heard who, as the German prophet in the 16th century, began as a friend of the Jews, who, driven by his conscience, driven by experience and reality, has become the greatest anti-Semite of his time, who Warner of his people against the Jews. "

Only individual Christians protested publicly. The Württemberg village pastor Julius von Jan from Oberlenningen preached on the day of penance and prayer (November 16, 1938) about the given Bible text Jer 22.29  LUT :

“The passions have been unleashed, the commandments disregarded, places of worship that were sacred to others have been burned with impunity, the property of strangers stolen or destroyed. Men who loyally served our German people [...] were thrown into the concentration camp simply because they belonged to another race! Even if the injustice is not admitted from above - the healthy public sentiment clearly feels it, even where one does not dare to speak about it. And we as Christians see how this injustice burdens our people before God and has to bring its punishments over Germany. [...] God does not allow him to be mocked. What man sows, he will also reap! "

A few days later, the NSDAP district leadership Nürtingen had SA and SS from the local party district transported by truck and omnibus to the "Judenknecht" in Oberlenningen, who were almost beaten to death by Jan in front of his parsonage and then taken into "protective custody". Bishop Theophil Wurm provided him with legal counsel in the following trials for "subversive agitation", but at the same time wrote to the Reich Minister of Justice:

“I do not dispute with a word the right to fight Judaism as a dangerous element. [...] Because we want to spare our people from having to endure the same sufferings and humiliations later to which others are now exposed, we [...] raise our hands warningly, even if we know that we are being scolded for as Jewish servants threatened with action similar to that used against the Jews. "

Wurm avoided calling the state's action “injustice” and only stood up for the Christians, not the Jews among the Germans. After the end of the war he declared: He will probably not be able to cope with the fact that he was silent at the time for the rest of his life.

In contrast, Pastor Helmut Gollwitzer, as a representative of Martin Niemöller in Berlin-Dahlem, took part in his sermon on November 16 on Lk 3, 3-14  LUT and got his community to support the family members of imprisoned Jews materially. After his day of repentance sermon, Elisabeth Schmitz wrote to him: “When we were silent on April 1, 1933, when we were silent about the striker boxes , the satanic agitation in the press, the poisoning of the souls of the people and the youth, the destruction of livelihoods and the Marriages by so-called 'laws', to the methods of Buchenwald - there and a thousand times else we became guilty on November 10, 1938. "

Christians like Pastor Albert Schmidt , who had prayed for his colleague of Jewish origin, Hans Ehrenberg , who had been deported to Sachsenhausen , came to the concentration camp for their solidarity. In Freiburg im Breisgau , due to the pogroms, the Freiburger Kreis was formed with several working groups and contacts to resistance fighters against National Socialism . Some of its members wrote a memorandum which named the limits of state violence set in the Christian creed , derived a right of resistance from the First Commandment and conceived the economic structures of a democratic post-war Germany.

Church historian Günter Brakelmann explains the silence of the vast majority of Protestant pastors with their German-national and anti-Judaist attitude, out of which they had fundamentally affirmed the authoritarian leader state, its domestic politics and the anti-Semitism of the NSDAP since 1933. In 1938 they would not have dared to protest in order not to endanger their remaining room for maneuver.

The German Catholic bishops also remained silent about the state persecution of the Jews. Cardinal Adolf Bertram had rejected a protest against the boycott of the Jews in March 1933 as "an interest group that is not closely related to the church". Cardinal Michael Faulhaber represented traditional anti-Judaist theology and declared in 1933: The Jews could help themselves and standing up for them would endanger the Church. In 1938, however, at the request of the rabbi in Munich, he provided a truck to rescue Torah scrolls and other sacred objects and was attacked by NSDAP representatives for this reason. Clemens August Graf von Galen offered the rabbi in Munster help through intermediaries on November 9th, but refrained from protesting because he feared even greater persecution of the local Jewish community. He, too, was shaped by anti-Judaism, but contradicted state anti-Semitism.

Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg in Berlin was the only German Catholic priest who publicly protested against the Reichspogromnacht. He preached on November 9th that the burning synagogues were also places of worship. From then on he continued his intercession for the Jews and (“non-Aryan”) Jewish Christians daily until his arrest on October 23, 1941.

The fate of the assassin

As early as November 11th, the Reich Ministry of Propaganda began to consider a trial against Herszel Grynszpan, who was in custody in France. The investigations there did not reveal any evidence of backers or any conspiracy whatsoever. There was no longer a trial in Paris because of the invasion of the Wehrmacht . After the French defeat, Grynszpan was extradited to Germany on July 14, 1940. There he should be tried before the People's Court , whereby the death penalty was fixed from the outset. To this day it is not exactly known what motive he acted. During interrogation, he claimed “revenge” for the suffering of his parents during their violent deportation. He actually wanted to shoot the ambassador, but then met von Rath. In 1942, however, he testified that he had previously met his victim in the Parisian gay scene. Thereupon Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels had the show trial against him, which had been planned for years, postponed. Eventually Hitler canceled the trial altogether. If the homosexual background to the murder had been known to the National Socialists as early as 1938, as the historian Henning Köhler suspected, it would hardly have caused a stir. Grynszpan was probably killed in Sachsenhausen concentration camp between 1942 and the end of the war in 1945 .

Further steps in Jewish policy

Jews who survived the November pogroms had to indirectly finance the beginning of the Second World War, in the course of which their extermination became the primary goal. In detail, Göring ordered on the same day as a "hard atonement " for the Jews:

  • the prohibition of individual shops, commercial and handicraft businesses, mail order businesses, order offices,
  • the ban on markets, trade fairs, exhibitions, advertising, taking orders,
  • the ban on being a member of a trade association,
  • the ordinance for the restoration of the street scene in Jewish businesses , according to which
    • Jews had to remove the damage to the streetscape that occurred from November 8th to 10th at their own expense, and that
    • Insurance claims from Jews of German nationality are confiscated in favor of the German Reich.

The so-called “atonement” or “Jewish penalty” should be paid in four quarterly installments within one year. The first installment was due on December 15, 1938, the last on August 15, 1939. Every Jewish citizen who had assets of more than 5,000 Reichsmark had to give 20 percent of this to the state as a " Jewish property tax ". At the same time, the Jews were forbidden to sell government bonds. So they had to pay the atonement by selling real estate, jewelry, works of art or savings. This should cover half of the national deficit in the short term. A second implementing regulation stipulated a fifth payment for December 15, 1939, so that a total of 25 percent of the property had to be given up. The total of 1,126,612,495.00 Reichsmarks increased the Reich's tax revenue at that time from 16 to over 17 billion by a good six percent.

As early as November 10th, Jews were banned from possessing weapons . This was followed by bans on participating in cultural life, visiting theaters, cinemas, dance variety shows, cabaret, circus, etc. On November 14, Reich Education Minister Bernhard Rust ordered the immediate dismissal of Jewish students from German schools. They had already been banned from universities. On November 28, the administrative districts were allowed to forbid Jews from entering certain areas at certain times. They could now "disappear" optically for the rest of the population, even before they were deported.

On December 3, the ordinance on the use of Jewish assets , which had been drawn up by Hugo Dietrich, the in-house lawyer of the Flick Group , was issued. It prescribed all Jews to sell or liquidate their businesses, to dispose of their property and to deposit their securities in a foreign exchange bank. In addition, they were no longer allowed to freely sell jewels, precious metals and art objects. This made it almost impossible for wealthy Jews to emigrate. In the years that followed, these measures were specified and radicalized in order to deprive Jews of any livelihood in Germany. This was used by the regime to impose forced labor on the remaining and now unemployed Jews: On December 20, 1938, Friedrich Syrup , the president of the Reichsanstalt für Arbeitsvermittlungs und Arbeitslosenversicherung, published a decree according to which Jews were involved in “politically important projects”, that is, in the Armaments industry , strictly separated from the regular workforce , could be exploited in closed labor . The local employment offices were responsible for the organization . So that no Jew could evade this, the registration of all Jews in a Jewish card index, which had existed since 1935, was improved , and some administrations created their own Jewish registers.

On January 24, 1939, Göring Heydrich first gave the order to solve the “ Jewish question ” through “emigration or evacuation ”. To this end, Heydrich founded and headed the “ Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration ”. Since the beginning of the war, however, this was gradually made impossible for the Jews: Now the forced resettlement in " Jewish houses " began. At the same time, the ghettoized Jews were increasingly restricted in their freedom of movement and banned from the public. Your shopping hours have been set outside of the otherwise valid business hours. Their exit was limited in time. After the cars, their bicycles, electrical appliances and woolen clothing were also confiscated. They were banned from using trams, buses, telephones, entering hospitals, buying newspapers, books, flowers and certain foods, and their food allotments were reduced several times. For public branding, they had to wear the “ Jewish star ” from September 1, 1941 , which had already been considered in 1938.

Again on November 9th of that year, thousands of Jews from Berlin, Frankfurt am Main and Munich received the official order for the first time to vacate their apartments and to go to the meeting places and train stations for deportation. This massive "evacuation" in camps had already been pre-exerted on those who were deported to the concentration camps in 1938. From now on the trains rolled to the Baltic states to the death squads there, later to Chelmno and to the as yet unfinished labor and extermination camps outside the pre-war borders of Germany.

Dealing with the crimes after 1945

Criminal prosecution

Sculpture “Jewish Victims of Fascism” on the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Mitte

Shortly after the end of the war, the occupying powers lifted the statute of limitations for offenses such as trespassing , trespassing , bodily harm , theft , arson , property damage and coercion . At the same time, the German law enforcement authorities were instructed to investigate perpetrators of the pogroms and to bring charges.

The crimes of the November pogroms were actually prosecuted comparatively comprehensively. The criminal prosecution dragged on in the western zones and the Federal Republic until 1955. A trend towards increasingly milder judgments and growing difficulties in investigating the crime can be seen in the court proceedings.

As a witness before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, the former Gauleiter of Hamburg Karl Kaufmann testified falsely that he had banned the November pogrom in Hamburg. In fact, the destruction of the SA commandos in Hamburg followed the same pattern as elsewhere.

In a first phase up to 1947 the judiciary was understaffed and could only try a minority of the perpetrators, but almost all newly appointed or retained judges were unencumbered. The courts rejected the excuse of “ imperative to command ”, referring to the German Civil Service Act of 1937, which would have allowed the refusal of a criminal order. Most of the time, the term ringleadership was interpreted broadly by the court, so that the mere presence at the scene of the crime was credited as an aggravating penalty for the SA leader or NS official. Often in such cases a "serious breach of the peace " was recognized, which resulted in penitentiary sentences .

During a second phase between 1948 and 1949, a change in mood became noticeable in the population. The denazification was perceived as unjust and was downright hateful; the task of coming to terms with the past was rated as less important, and a “line of mindmentality was unmistakable. This was reflected in the testimony of witnesses, who often lacked the willingness to cooperate objectively. While perpetrators were surprised by the charges in the first phase, had no opportunity for agreements and confessed in pre-trial detention, perpetrators were now able to consult beforehand and influence witnesses. The “conviction rate” fell significantly. Most of the time SA leaders were now sentenced to prison terms only for “simple breach of the peace”. The average sentencing for serious breach of the peace fell from 24 months to 16 months in this phase. The penalties for bodily harm or damage to property are now much milder.

The third phase of criminal treatment of the November pogroms began with the "Law on the Granting of Impunity", which came into force on December 31, 1949, which the Bundestag passed against the concerns of High Commissioner John Jay McCloy . The Bavarian State Ministry of Justice protested in the legislative process expressly for the reason that the amnesty would also exempt “the majority” of the perpetrators of the November pogroms of 1938 from punishment. With the Impunity Act, all crimes committed before September 15, 1949 (with the exception of tax offenses) were amnestied for which a prison sentence of no more than six months, and under certain circumstances even up to a year, was recognized or would probably be recognized, if the act has not yet been tried. This political signal was not overheard by the judges, who in the meantime had once again incriminated former National Socialists in their ranks. Several proceedings were discontinued, charges were brought far less often and only cases of grave breach of the peace were regularly tried in court.


As early as 1938, perpetrators, eyewitnesses and those affected referred to the events very differently. Since its 50th anniversary in 1988, the widespread expression “(Reichs-) Kristallnacht” has been increasingly problematic. The debate about the appropriate name is open.

Contemporary names

The victims deported to the concentration camps spoke of the "Rath Action" or the "Murder Week". Victor Klemperer wrote about the "Grünspan Affair" in his diary. Walter Tausk felt reminded of the " Bartholomew Night ". Many eyewitnesses to the pogroms remembered expressions like “Glass Night”, “Glass Thursday” and “Crystal Night” that alluded to the shattered window panes of Jewish houses on that day. These designations seem to have only been passed on orally, because there is no written evidence of Kristallnacht from the time of National Socialism, and only one for Reichskristallnacht : The Ministerial Director in the Reich Labor Ministry, Wilhelm Börger, mocked on June 24, 1939 in a speech at the Gautag of the NSDAP -Go from Hanover-East in Lüneburg to the laughter of his audience: "So the thing goes down in history as the Reichskristallnacht [...], you see, that's humorous, isn't it". The newspapers of the exile SPD and the underground KPD called the events "Jewish pogroms".

As in the Röhm Putsch, perpetrators of the SA and Hitler Youth spoke of a " night of long knives ". Victims heard this expression in advance as a rumor about an impending act of revenge. The offices of the Nazi regime and the media controlled by the Reich Ministry of Propaganda used propaganda expressions such as "Judenaktion", "Novemberaktion", "Rückstellungsaktion" or "Sonderaktion". The rallies ordered the following day called them “anti-Jewish demonstrations” or “just retribution rallies”.

“Reichskristallnacht” was initially not a state propaganda word. The Berlin vernacular probably coined the word “Kristallnacht” in view of the many broken windows and crystal chandeliers in the synagogues and shops. The expression " Reichs Kristallnacht" then turned against the rulers of the time by satirically mocking their inflationary use of the prefix "Reichs-". This critical importance of the regime is not documented, but was later confirmed by contemporary witnesses. Adolf Arndt (SPD), who worked as a lawyer in Berlin in November 1938, said in the debate on the statute of limitations of the German Bundestag on March 10, 1965: “[…] 8/9. November 1938, which, Mr. Federal Minister of Justice, should not be called the 'so-called Reichskristallnacht'. That was a bloody Berlin joke, because back then there was no other way to help. "

According to this, powerless contemporary witnesses tried to express their inner indignation in a grim, sarcastic form, at least privately. Only when the expression became known in the NSDAP did party members reinterpret it cynically. The functionary Wilhelm Börger said at the Gautag of the NSDAP in Lüneburg in June 1939: "The matter will go down in history as the Reichskristallnacht (applause, laughter)." Originally meant bitterly ironic distance from state terror and its ideological cloak has been lost. According to Herbert Obenaus , it was the official and deliberately trivialized name for the pogrom. Also Bensoussan et al. consider "Kristallnacht" a "euphemistic" term for "Nazi propaganda".

Names after 1945

GDR postage stamp, November 9, 1963 : Never again Kristallnacht

In texts from the first post-war years there are expressions such as "Jewish Night", "Kristallnacht", "November Pogrom", "November Night", "Pogrom Night", "Day of the (German) Shard", "Reichsscherbenwoche", "Reichskristalltag", "(Reichs- ) Crystal Week "," Reich Rubble Day "," Synagogue Fire "," Synagogue Tower "," Synagogue Storming Night "," Persecution Week ".

In the GDR, the events were usually called "fascist pogrom night". In the Federal Republic of Germany "Kristallnacht" (Brockhaus 1952) and "Reichskristallnacht" prevailed. These are still used colloquially and lexically, also in other countries and among historians, but mostly with critical distance, indicated by quotation marks.

Since the expression suggests contradicting meanings that only connoisseurs of its origin can understand, it met with criticism and rejection early on, especially among the descendants of the victims. So feared the "emergency community of those affected by the Nuremberg Laws" on the tenth anniversary of 1948:

“Before the time has come that this wrong word has become so natural in common parlance that it can no longer be removed, we would like to point out the distortion associated with the use of this word. The word 'Kristallnacht' was not invented by those previously persecuted and brought into use. "

Nevertheless, the term became public and professional because it summarized the unspoken contradictions in a succinct way:

  • "Reichs-" as a reference to the government crime cloaked in propaganda, which included all citizens,
  • "Crystal" as an ironic euphemism for the destruction of human happiness, life, property, togetherness,
  • “Night” as a metaphor for the political darkness that continued until 1945 and increased to monstrosity.
50th anniversary of the Reichspogromnacht 1938 on a postage stamp of the Deutsche Bundespost, 1988

In 1982, the rock band BAP parallelized the November pogroms with problematic aspects of the present in their rock song Kristallnaach , thus elevating them to “a metaphor for any kind of inhuman behavior”. In doing so, it contributed to the historicization of National Socialism and shortened the causes of the pogroms in the sense of a sub - complex anti-capitalism .

The debate about names has intensified since 1988. The origin of the term "Reichskristallnacht" and its criticism of the regime have been largely forgotten. He only seemed cynical towards the human victims and survivors, as if only window panes had been broken at the time. For example, in 1988 Avraham Barkai demanded that the name should disappear from historiography because it was maliciously trivializing and evoking associations with a festival.

Today's names

Today the term Kristallnacht is seen as euphemistic. The alternative terms are also problematic, according to the Germanist Ole Löding. The term Reichspogromnacht , which has been used more often by politics and the media since the mid-1980s, according to critics, does not promote the necessary coming to terms with the past , but rather fakes it as finished. The fact that the name was only changed in the German-speaking area could make it difficult to exchange ideas with research in other languages ​​and foreign literature. The designation as “pogrom” juxtaposes the actions of local and regional massacres of Jews since the Middle Ages, but does not include their organization by a state government for an entire state that initiated a nationwide policy of expropriation, deportation and extermination. This can help play down the Holocaust. In addition, undifferentiated emphasis on the empire , as if there was a continuity from the medieval Holy Roman Empire to the Third Reich . After all, he implied with the metaphorical word component night the darkening of humanity and reason. In addition, the prefix Reichs- , which can be found in numerous turns of the time, represents, according to Wolfgang Benz, “a retrospective reference to the language of the monster”. The term Reichspogromnacht is unhistorical and unintentionally mocks the victims.

Some recent historical studies therefore prefer the term “November pogrom (e)”. It should avoid emotional associations and thus encourage an objective review of what has happened. The month and plural indicate the longer duration of the riots and the ensuing concentration camp imprisonment. It is considered to be the least problematic term. Nevertheless, Reichskristallnacht is still needed. The political scientist Harald Schmid pointed out the dialectic of the term: on the one hand it is an international technical term that historians cannot give up, on the other hand it is not possible to adopt it without a distance because of the complex meanings. Harald Schmid concluded from this:

“But the word also remains a useful linguistic stumbling block. Because the apparently purely etymological and semantic controversy leads straight to a conversation about the entire Nazi past, the critical handling of it and the endeavor to achieve moral accuracy - also in the naming of political crimes today. "

Communal commemoration

Memorial for the victims of the "Reichskristallnacht" in Bremen (erected in 1982 near the synagogue that was destroyed at the time)
Memorial plaque in Wittmund

In some German and Austrian cities in particular, which had an intact synagogue until 1938, the pogroms are commemorated on November 9th each year. The shape of this memory has changed considerably since 1945.

Until 1958, mostly local Jewish communities were the main sponsors of the events, often supported by other victim groups such as the Association of Those Persecuted by the Nazi Regime (VVN), union and extra-parliamentary opposition groups . They turned together z. B. against new anti-Semitic tendencies , too slow and insufficient punishment of National Socialist crimes and inadequate reparations .

Since 1963, November 9th has been celebrated regularly in most of the affected places as a day of remembrance for the “Kristallnacht” under the motto “When the synagogues were burning”. The focus was on the violence and destruction of a single night, while the subsequent deportation to concentration camps, "Aryanization" and the role of the audience were often hardly considered. By 1973, the number of these commemorative events and participation in them decreased. Current political events such as the student movement, the Yom Kippur War or the 50th anniversary of the Hitler-Ludendorff putsch overshadowed the date.

On the 40th anniversary of 1978, the commemoration of the November pogroms gained unprecedented popularity. Compared to 1973, the number of commemorative events increased tenfold. The specifically Jewish history of persecution was now perceived, researched and appreciated in a much more differentiated manner. The term “Reichskristallnacht” was critically questioned and the historical classification of the November pogroms as the beginning of the “final solution” or a stage on the way there was discussed. The attitude of the audience at the time as accomplices or silent spectators was also increasingly discussed.

Despite the scandal in the Bundestag in 1988 , the date found its permanent place in the local and regional culture of remembrance. Often it is celebrated not just as a retrospective, but as a day of anti-racism , on which current peace policy, right-wing extremism or asylum policy are discussed. For some years now, the specific local history has also been examined more closely and included in the commemoration: for example, by reading out all the names of the Jewish people who were murdered, deported, displaced and injured locally and by survivors or eyewitnesses telling their personal stories.


Pogrom memorial , Innsbruck

The Vienna Volkstheater has provided a stage every year since 1993 for reports by contemporary witnesses of the November pogroms. In Munich, representatives of Jewish communities and the citizens' initiative Against Forgetting - For Democracy work together at the commemorations. A pogrom memorial was erected in Innsbruck in 1997 , initiated by young people and designed by a student.

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the November pogrom, on October 20, 2013 , the Burgtheater presented The Last Witnesses , a contemporary witness project on the Shoah by Doron Rabinovici and Matthias Hartmann in the Vienna Burgtheater. In the presence of six survivors of the Holocaust, actors from the castle read their memorial texts, and towards the end of the evening the elderly contemporary witnesses came to the ramp and spoke a few personal words. In the second part of the evening, the audience was able to ask questions to two contemporary witnesses in three foyer rooms. The production was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen in 2014 , to the Staatsschauspiel Dresden and the Deutsche Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, as well as to the Schauspiel Frankfurt in 2015 .

National commemoration

Since 1978, November 9th has taken on the status it deserves as a fixed date of remembrance, also at federal level. A joint advance by the Central Council of Jews , the Education and Science Union (GEW) and the Conference of Ministers of Education triggered numerous school events. Action weeks and silent marches against neo-Nazism were very popular. All state governments and Federal President Walter Scheel took part with their own commemorative events.

However, the fiftieth anniversary of 1988 turned into a scandal: at the central memorial ceremony of the Bundestag, representatives of the Jewish victims' group were only allowed to take part in the margins. Heinz Galinski was not supposed to speak there because he had previously appeared in the People's Chamber of the GDR. The speech by the President of the Bundestag, Philipp Jenninger, seemed in parts like an apology for those who followed National Socialism.

In 1990, November 9th was also being talked about as a German national holiday . Because of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the date marked the decisive breakthrough for reunification. It would also have made a reference to some of the historical causes of the November pogroms: the November Revolution of 1918 and the Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch of 1923. A minority of Bundestag members saw this as an opportunity for an all-German identity that consciously shared the joy of reunification with memory at the turning point to the Holocaust as the deepest dark side of German history.

However, October 3rd was declared the Day of German Unity . In 1996, Federal President Roman Herzog declared January 27, on which Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945 , to be the day of remembrance of the victims of National Socialism and justified this as follows:

“The memory must never end; it must also urge future generations to be vigilant. It is therefore important to find a form of memory that will work in the future. It should express grief over suffering and loss, be dedicated to the memory of the victims and counteract any risk of repetition. "

For many groups and people who are grappling with the consequences of anti-Semitism, January 27 has not yet acted sufficiently as an impetus to nationally commemorate the Nazi era among the population. Among them are the anti-Semitism researcher Wolfgang Benz and the working group "Israel and Church" in the EKD :

“November 9th cannot be replaced by any other day of remembrance. On January 27, the national day of remembrance, all victims of the National Socialist tyranny will be commemorated. The commemoration of those guilty and their descendants is different from commemorating the victims and their descendants. It has to be commemorative to conscience, otherwise there is a risk of evading your own story by unjustifiably taking the side of the victims. "

Historical classification

The pogrom night is seen today as an actionist radicalization of the expulsion of Jews, also driven by the party base (Dieter Obst), as their partly organized, partly improvised state centralization ( Rita Thalmann ) or as a targeted, comprehensive attack by the regime on the still existing moral and ethical foundations and remnants of one interpreted the rule of law consciousness of the Germans (Jörg Wollenberg).

From the chronology of events, the research literature concludes that the pogroms did not go back to long-term planning, but only decided at short notice by Goebbels and Hitler after the assassination attempt on vom Rath ( Uwe Dietrich Adam ) or after his death ( Alan E. Steinweis ) were. Up to now he had always put the brakes on the radical anti-Semites in the NSDAP, but after the successes of his regime he believed that he no longer had to take foreign policy considerations into account. Peter Longerich sees in the press reports of November 7th that it was already decided at this point in time to use the assassination for a massive anti-Semitic campaign - unlike the assassination attempt on Wilhelm Gustloff two years earlier. The wording also gives an indication of the aim of this campaign: It was about the complete displacement of Jews from German economic life.

For a long time it was unclear among historians what role Hitler had played in triggering the pogroms. The former SS-Sturmbannführer Luitpold Schallermeier testified after the war that Hitler had told him on November 10th that the SS should "stay out of this action [...] When I asked the Führer, I had the impression that he was aware of what was going on knew nothing. ”From these and other, contradicting sources, it was concluded that the pogroms went back to Goebbels and the Reich Propaganda Office, that Hitler was not involved in the decision-making process. Apologetic motives also played a role here. From Goebbels' diary entries it emerges, however, that Hitler certainly knew about it. The historian Angela Hermann identifies him as the main person responsible for the pogroms. The "shock troop" apparently dissolved in 1924 continued to exist as a traditional association. 39 leading members gathered in the Old Munich City Hall on November 9 and were in the forefront of the acts of violence.

The destruction of the synagogue marked the beginning of the systematic "Aryanization" and the expulsion of the Jews from Germany. The question of what role it played in the process of radicalization of the National Socialist Jewish policy up to and including the Holocaust is answered differently in research. The historian Hans-Jürgen Döscher sees in the meeting in the Reich Aviation Ministry on November 12th “the transition from persecution to the existential extermination of the Jews in Germany”. The German-American historian Peter Loewenberg sees the events as a “public humiliation ritual ”: The regime was trying to test how far the population would tolerate or support anti-Semitic violence. In this respect, the Kristallnacht was a “preparation for dehumanization and murder”. Wolfgang Benz judges: "The Holocaust began in November 1938". The historian Hans Mommsen also sees a “Rubicon crossed” with the “Reichskristallnacht”: From then on the Jews were outlawed , a “'sanitary problem' [...] that the Gestapo and SD were preparing to solve”.

The historian Frank Bajohr contradicts this : There was “no unbroken line of continuity” between the November pogrom and the Holocaust. Heinrich August Winkler emphasizes that in 1938 the National Socialists were still concerned with “getting the Jews out of Germany” (Hitler told Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck on January 5, 1939); the decision to murder had not yet been made at this point in time. According to Henning Köhler, the “Jewish question” in the National Socialist sense was “basically solved” with the pogrom: There remained only a small, socially and economically marginalized and also aging part of German Jewry in the country, which hardly appeared in public: "Without the war, the problem would have been solved by further emigration and the death of the old." The American historian Peter Hayes , on the other hand, believes that in 1938 it became clear to the regime "that the Reich could not drive out the Jews faster than it planned to conquer them." . This knowledge contributed to the acceleration of the persecution of the Jews and to the transition to open violence.

Additional information

See also


About backgrounds and history

For further expropriation and Holocaust planning

To reactions at home and abroad

  • Alexander Korb : Reactions of the German population to the November pogroms as reflected in official reports. VDM, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-8364-4823-9 .
  • Günter Brakelmann : Church and Judenpogrom 1938. In: Evangelical Church and the persecution of Jews. Three insights. Hartmut Spenner, Waltrop 2001, ISBN 3-933688-53-1 .
  • Hermann Graml: Effects of the “Reichskristallnacht” on British and American policy on Germany. In: Journal for History Education. Volume 46, 1998, pp. 992-996.

As a reminder and coping with after 1945

  • Harald Schmid : "When the synagogues burned". Narrative commemorating the November pogroms. In: Journal of History. Volume 61, 2013, p. 11, pp. 888-905.
  • Andrea Nachama, Uwe Neumärker, Hermann Simon (eds.): “It burns!” 75 years after the November pogroms. Documentation Center Topography of Terror , Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-942240-12-3 .
  • Thomas Fache: GDR anti-fascism and the commemoration of the November pogroms in 1938. A local study. (PDF; 231 kB), magazine for Jewish life in research and education, 2008.
  • Harald Schmid: Antifascism and the persecution of the Jews. The "Reichskristallnacht" as a political day of remembrance in the GDR. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-89971-146-7 .
  • Harald Schmid: Remembering the “day of guilt”. The November pogrom 1938 in German historical politics. Results, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-87916-062-7 .
  • Dieter Obst: The “Reichskristallnacht” as reflected in West German post-war trial files and as the subject of criminal prosecution. In: History in Science and Education. Volume 44, 1993, ISSN  0016-9056 , pp. 205-217.
  • Micha Brumlik , Petra Kunik (ed.): Reichspogromnacht. Coming to terms with the past from a Jewish perspective. 2nd Edition. Brandes + Apsel, 1988, ISBN 3-925798-92-7 .

City stories and experience reports

Web links

Primary sources


Image and sound documents

Commons : Kristallnacht  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Kristallnacht  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Reichskristallnacht  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Reichspogromnacht  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations



Individual evidence

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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on April 19, 2006 in this version .