From the Archive: ‘Worst pogrom in modern German history’

A destroyed Jewish clothing store in Magdeburg, Germany, after Kristallnacht, Nov. 11, 1938.  (H. Frederick, Hanover)

A destroyed Jewish clothing store in Magdeburg, Germany, after Kristallnacht, Nov. 11, 1938. (H. Frederick, Hanover)

Seventy five years ago, on Nov. 9-10, 1938, devastating anti-Semitic riots swept across Nazi Germany. What eventually became known as “Kristallnacht” was immediately labeled by JTA the “worst pogrom in modern German history.”

A Nov. 11, 1938 JTA dispatch reported on the organized wave of violence, as well as the mounting persecution that immediately followed:

An estimated 25,000 Jews were under arrest today in the wake of the worst outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in modern German history, which left throughout the nation a trail of burned synagogues, smashed homes, wrecked and pillaged shops, and at least four known dead. Police seizures of Jews continued throughout the night and this morning. Three thousand were in custody in Berlin alone. [Note: Far more Jews died than the four initially counted by the JTA report; according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Kristallnacht claimed the lives of at least 91 Jews" over its two days.]

It was reliably learned that the police have been ordered to halt general seizures but to continue activities in cases of criminal charges. Such charges include spreading of “atrocity propaganda” and possession of weapons.

Jews who spent the night at the Alexanderplatz headquarters were herded into heavily overcrowded rooms. In the morning, scores of them, mainly part-Jews, former army officers and persons with emigration visas, were released. The bulk of the remainder reportedly have been interned at the Oranienbung concentration camp. All Jewish organizations, with the exception of the Hilfsverein, central aid society, have been closed.

Following yesterday’s nationwide arrests of Jewish leaders, additional leaders were summoned to the Gestapo headquarters here this morning. Twenty arrested Jewish journalists were recalled and notified that the ban on Jewish publications would continue for three months.

At Koenigsberg, in East Prussia, 2,000 Jews were summoned to police headquarters, forced to hand over the keys to their homes and given a fortnight to leave the city.

Meanwhile, Nazi leaders were reported to be discussing measures for expropriation of Jewish fortunes throughout the Reich and deportation of all foreign Jews. Julius Streicher, Governor of Franconia and the Reich’s high priest of anti-Semitism, was said to have been called to Berlin to head a “committee for anti-Jewish activities.”

Associated Press and United Press dispatches from Berlin said that plans for restoration of a ghetto for Jews were under way by Nazi leaders. According to the reports, credited to Nazi informants, the Jews would be compelled to live and do business only in the ghetto of their city, with only a sufficient number of shops to supply Jewish needs being tolerated.

The following excerpt from the JTA report describes the violence in Berlin:

Nine of Berlin’s twelve synagogues were set afire, at least two of them being completely destroyed. A synagogue in Munich was also razed by fire and at least three others were put to the torch in Franconia.

In Berlin, throughout the morning and afternoon, bands of Nazis shouldered their way through gaping holes left in broken shop windows and completed the work of destruction begun by organized bands at four o’clock yesterday morning. They smashed fixtures, hangings and furniture’s reducing the interiors of the shops to piles of refuse. Gaping crowds followed their progress while police, who were much in evidence after the noon hour, loitered in the neighborhood ignoring the proceedings. By mid-afternoon, it seemed that every Jewish shop in Berlin was doomed to complete destruction.

Scenes of destruction took place in every quarter of Berlin. Plundering, smashing of furniture and even wrecking of Jewish homes occurred in the northeast quarter of the city, where the poorer Jews live. Late yesterday smoke was still pouring from the great Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, with firemen standing by to prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby buildings. The Prinzregenstrasse Synagogue, which was put to the torch a second time after firemen had extinguished the first blaze, was gutted. Both edifices were valued at several million marks. damaged to a lesser extent were the Oranienburger synagogue, Berlin’s largest, and the Lutzowstrasse Synagogue, where raiders confined their attention to holy objects.

Throughout the city hardly a single Jewish shop or restaurant window was left intact as bands proceeded systematically from street to street, smashing panes with hammers and stoning these beyond reach. In some sections plundering followed swiftly.

JTA also had horrifying reports on the aftermath for devastated German Jews, who were left to reckon with both the physical wreckage and stepped-up state persecution in the wake of the pogrom.

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