Kristallnacht in Real Time

The Telegraph has reprinted an article that was first published on November 12, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht. What’s so striking about the article is the absence of context that we’ve come to expect from anything written about the events of World War II. The correspondent doesn’t know what will happen to the thousands of Jews being shipped off to concentration, and the whole event is framed with such surprise, it’s almost painful to read.kristallnacht_windows.png

Herr Hitler plans new steps against Jews – Nov 12, 1938
German Jewry, after Thursday’s nationwide pogrom, last night awaited the announcement of the new measures against them which are being planned by Herr Hitler as a reprisal for the death of Herr vom Rath in Paris.

One decree was published last evening, forbidding Jews to possess any kind of weapon. Laws confiscating all Jewish property and capital and reviving the 16th century system of segregation in Ghettoes are expected to follow.

The construction of a series of buildings for this purpose has already begun on the outskirts of Berlin.
At least 35,000 men and women have been taken into custody, and many have been sent to concentration camps. In Munich mass demonstrations against Jews and Roman Catholics were held last night.

The British Charge d’ Affaires in Berlin, Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, has been instructed to draw the German Government’s attention to the attempt in a newspaper closely associated with Dr Goebbels, Propaganda Minister, to implicate leading British politicians in the murder of Herr vom Rath.

While anti-Jewish action continues in Germany today, although on a smaller scale, Herr Hitler and his advisers considered the new “laws and decrees� by which is it proposed to “regulate� the future position of Jews.

I am reliably informed that two measures will certainly be included in them. These will be:
Wholesale confiscation of Jewish property and capital; and
Establishment of Ghettoes on the pattern of the 16th century.

German Jews were recently forced to make an exact return of all their possessions. It is now anticipated that all property will be confiscated which exceeds the amount required for the bare necessities of life.
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After reading this I sought out the corresponding New York Times article, which is fascinating because it is trying so hard to exercise restraint and journalistic impartiality, but is fairly unsuccessful.  Here are some choice excerpts (sadly the NYT article is not available for free online):

Nazi Guards Watch Vandalism
The vandalism began in the downtown shopping district on Leipzigerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse soon after 2 A.M. As if possessing a “premonition” that something might happen groups of uniformed Elite Guards were gathered at the corner of those two streets when the demonstrators arrived.

The raiding parties for the most part were composed of youth seemingly between 20 and 20, who arrived on the scene in the large open automobiles of a model frequently used by leading party officials or their guards.
Many of the raiders in the downtown districts wore boots–which are worn by all party groups when in uniform–and they worked with a precision that was a tribute to “spontaneous demonstrations.”

Alighting quickly from the cars, the vandals hacked away at windows, accompanied by the laughs and jokes of onlookers.  The windows were destroyed, the goods were removed from the showcases and tossed into the streets or passing vehicles, and the vandals passed on to the next jewelry shop–easily recognizable because since the last anti-Jewish demonstrations in the early Summer all Jewish-owned shops must have the name of their proprietors whitewashed on the windows in large block letters.


On the corner of the Friedrichstrasse and the Leipzigerstrasse the large department store of Arnold Mueller was an easy target. A man, a non-Jew, was observed making some protest, but he was attacked by raiders who struck him with the metal weapons and he might have been seriously injured had not members or the police and other onlookers intervened.

Still later…

That further legal measures against the Jews are now being prepared is assumed to be a certainty. Some reports hint at drastic capital levies. As a preliminary step, rumors are current, Jewish cultural organizations and newspapers will be closed down.

Mostly this is just incredibly horribly sad. I never know how to adequately honor the memory of those who died in the Holocaust, and this may not be anywhere near the answer, but it makes me understand and feel the terror of that time in a more direct and vivid way than when I read novels or history books that discuss the same events.

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