48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Night Of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust
Germany was one of Europe’s most cultured, sophisticated societies, & all German Jews considered themselves integral to that society. Though a tiny minority of the country – about 525,000 people, or less than 1 percent of the population – were among the elite of German society: prominent doctors, lawyers, professors, & industrialists. Many were assimilated & were not practicing Jews; some had even converted. In the racial ideology of Adolf Hitler, however, German Jews’ self-identification was irrelevant. For Hitler, Jews were parasites whose diseased nature made no difference; it was the impurity of Jewish blood that threatened the racial purity & superiority of the Aryan race.
The official prosecution of the Jew began in April 1933, when the Nazis initiated a boycott of Jewish businesses throughout Germany. Signs & graffiti warned Germans not to buy from the Jews. This boycott was followed by the enactment of a law barring Jews from civil service jobs, including positions as teachers in schools & universities. Two years later, German Jews were stripped of their citizenship & barred from marrying Aryans. Because some of the new laws were announced at a Nazi rally at Nuremberg, they became known as the Nuremberg Laws. These were just some of the 400 separate pieces of legislation that were adopted between the time Hitler came to power & World War II began that prevented the Jews from working, going to school, or otherwise taking part in German society. These decrees robbed them of their possessions & demonized their religion. Many Jews believed the discriminatory measures would cease after the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, & they would have to accept life as a second-class citizens, & most were prepared to do so.
The situation actually improved briefly as Hitler focused on putting Germany’s best foot forward in advance of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Before, during, & for a short time afterward, the Nazis displayed their nationalistic spirit in a way that reinforced the positive image of Germans. Shortly thereafter, however, the situation for Jews began to deteriorate further. They were prevented from staying in hotels; going to restaurants, theaters, or shops; or even sitting on park benches designated for Aryans. By the middle of 1938, most Jewish businesses had been taken over by the Germans.
In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, & 183,000 more Jews became subject to the Nazis’ discriminatory policies. Still, many Jews simply could not conceive of anything permanently altering their status, let alone conceive of the dimensions of Hitler’s ultimate plan. It was this disbelief, even as the persecution against them went from bad to worse, that lead so many to stay in their homes rather than flee. By the time those who remained realized what Hitler intended – & the willingness of their fellow Germans to go along – it was too late to escape.
The world also had a different image of Germany than the Jews who lived inside the country. On September 29th, 1938, France & Britain had negotiated an agreement recognizing Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced after the Munich Agreement that it would lead to “peace for our time.”
From 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust, by Mitchell G. Brad, Ph.D.