In 1938 the antisemitic regulations were radicalised and intensified with the aim of eliminating every last trace of Jewish presence.

Austria after the Anschluss

Nazis force a Jewish child to write the word Jude on the wall.On March 13, 1938 after the Anschluss, Austria was renamed Ostmark and placed under the authority of Gauleiter Josef Bürkel, Commissioner for the reunification of Austria with the Reich. There were 190,000 Jews living in Austria at the time; persecution became even fiercer than in Germany, mainly in Vienna: public humiliations, better organised expropriations and more rapid forced emigration. Even before the entry of the Wehrmacht on Austrian territory, and in spite of the efforts of the authorities to encourage moderation, violence became rampant: street violence and harassment, ransacking of Jewish-owned homes and businesses.

Violence stopped on April 29 when Bürkel threatened to sanction the culprits. In parallel, the regime continued to increase the levies on Jewish assets. By mid-May the Property Transfer Bureau, which employed close to 500 people, was working actively on the Aryanisation of Jewish property. For the city of Vienna alone, in just a few months 83% of the crafts, 26% of the industries, 82% of financial services and 50% of small businesses which had belonged to Jews were transferred to Nazi owners. By mid-August 1939 Walter Rafelsberger, Director of the Property Transfer Bureau, informed Heinrich Himmler that in less than 18 months his Bureau had almost achieved the goal of "de-Jewification of the economy of Ostmark."

At the same time Jewish homes were confiscated throughout the country. At the end of 1938 out of a total of close to 70,000 apartments that belonged to Jews, about 44,000 had been Aryanised. Jewish families were forced to share the apartments that had not been confiscated and in which five or six families per apartment lived together at the onset of the war.

Just a few days after the Anschluss Himmler visited the quarries in Mauthausen, 24 km from Linz and 145 km from Vienna. For Oswald Pohl, who accompanied Himmler, the intention was to exploit the granite through a company managed by the SS, the DEST (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH) [German Earth and Stone Works Company] using labour from the concentration camp. The first 300 detainees were German and Austrian common law prisoners transferred from Dachau who arrived in Mauthausen on August 8, 1938.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.53]

Intensification of Persecution in 1938

After five years of National Socialism the leaders of the regime found that, despite threats and persecution, three-quarters of the Reich's Jews had chosen to stay on. The situation was all the more worrying because nearly 200,000 more Jews living in Austria came under the German Reich's authority after the Anschluss. In 1938 the antisemitic regulations were radicalised and intensified with the aim of eliminating every last trace of Jewish presence — in particular as a participant in the country's economic system — and of encouraging emigration. These legislative measures were reinforced through acts of violence with, as the culminating point, the Novemberpogrom, sometimes called "Kristallnacht" [Night of broken glass].

Dr. Flehinger forced by SS guards to read extracts from Mein Kampf in the Baden-Baden Synagogue (Baden-Wurttemberg).After the Anschluss anti-Jewish measures were enacted at a much faster pace. The first important step in this direction was the law of March 28, 1938 abolishing the legal status granted to the Jewish communities in the 19th century. At the same time Aryanisation measures intensified. The law dated March 26, 1938 made it mandatory for the Jews in the Reich to declare all their belongings to the authorities, failing which they would be liable to criminal prosecution. According to article 7 of the decree, Hermann Goering, who was in charge of the Four-Year Plan, could make use of such property "in conformity with the needs of the German economy".

Between April and November 1938 the Reich took possession of one billion of the seven billion marks of declared "Jewish assets." Non-Aryan travelling salesmen and peddlers had their licences confiscated. Shopkeepers and craftsmen were ordered to cease all commercial activity by January 1, 1939 and finally exemptions in favour of Jewish lawyers and war veterans were terminated. In July 1938 Jewish doctors were instructed to request authorisation to practise medicine and were banned from treating non-Jews.

Shop front of a café and beerhall defaced with antisemitic slogans in Vienna in 1938.The idea of marking the Jews was extended with a measure, Zwangsnamen [obligatory names], from August 18, 1938 making it mandatory to inscribe on passports the addition of the first names "Sara" and "Israel". Early in October 1938 stamping the letter "J" on identity documents was added at the request of Switzerland, to contain the influx of immigrants from abroad. In 1938 a wave of violence against Jews spread through the country with the aim of accelerating their emigration. A series of arrest raids took place in Berlin during the summer and police action became more frequent.

About 1,500 Jews were interned in concentration camps. Property was destroyed, Jews were expelled from some villages and some places of worship were desecrated. Synagogues in Munich (June 9), Nuremberg (August 10) and Dortmund (October 19) were blown up with dynamite.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.59]

The Expulsion of the Sudeten Jews

Czechoslovak-Jewish refugees at the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia.Expelled Jews housed in makeshift camps.Less than a month after the Munich Pact was signed in September 1938, Hitler expelled several thousand Sudeten Jews to Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks refused to allow them to enter so they tried to take refuge in Hungary. But the Hungarian authorities sent them back to Germany and the Nazis expelled them again in the direction of Czechoslovakia.

Finally they were forcibly taken to improvised camps in makeshift tents in the no man's land between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Mischdorf was one of the sites, some 20 km from Bratislava.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.69]


The Fate of the Austrian Jews

Jewish refugees arriving at a refuge after crossing the border illegally.On August 20 1938 the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien [Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna] was set up under the leadership of Franz Walter Stahlecker but in fact run by Adolf Eichmann himself. He first undertook to throw out all the Jews to neighbouring countries, in particular to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Switzerland. According to German sources some 5,000 Austrian Jews were evicted between March and November 1938. In October 1938 Heinrich Himmler ordered that all the Jews from the Austrian provinces be regrouped in Vienna.

During the summer of 1938 Austrian Jews tried to take refuge illegally in neighbouring countries and as far away as the United Kingdom. The Gestapo sent several groups of Jews to Finland, Lithuania and the Netherlands from where they were sent back to the other side of the borders. The various countries concerned began to protest and illegal entry or expulsion to the West became increasingly difficult. Less than six months after the Anschluss 45,000 Austrian Jews had emigrated. In May 1939 over 100,000 more Jews left, altogether almost half of Austrian Jewry.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.70]

The Expulsion of the Polish Jews

The German census in June 1933 included a total of 56,480 Polish Jewish citizens. In that year the Polish Republic, not particularly keen to see an increase of its Jewish population, started to use various administrative measures to prevent the return of these Polish Jews.

On March 31, 1938 the Polish Parliament passed a law defining a whole list of cases in which a Polish national living abroad could be deprived of his or her nationality. In October 1938 a new decree proclaimed the cancellation of passports of Poles living abroad who did not obtain a special authorisation to re-enter Poland by the end of the month.

Polish Jews deported from Germany in the camp at Zbąszyń, end of 1938.Over 40% of the Jews living in the German Reich were in fact born in Poland. Since they could hardly hope to divest themselves of their homes and businesses in the space of less than two weeks, they would lose their Polish nationality on November 1.

To avoid having to absorb this population, the Nazis did not wait for the expiry of the Polish deadline. On October 27–28, 1938 the police and the SS arrested and regrouped all male Polish Jews and transported them to the outskirts of the Polish town of Zbąszyń, where they forced them to cross the river that separated the two countries. The women and children — deprived of all means of subsistence — were obliged to follow the men.

Most of them arrived by train with only a few belongings and a sum of money limited to ten marks per head. As soon as they arrived in Poland, following orders, the Polish border police sent them back to where they came from. In driving rain and for days on end without either food or shelter they wandered between the two borders. Most of them finally ended up in a strip of no man's land close to Zbąszyń, while a very few managed to enter Poland.

The first humanitarian aid arrived from Warsaw on October 30, sent by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In January 1939 following negotiations between Germany and Poland, Jews with family members living in Poland were allowed to join them. In exchange in small groups the refugees were allowed to return to Germany to sell off their businesses. But the proceeds of such sales were immediately deposited in blocked accounts in Germany.

Some refugees succeeded in obtaining visas to emigrate from the country and left. Approximately 16,000 Polish Jews were expelled from Germany in this way. The Grynszpans, a Jewish family from Hanover, were among the Jews forced to the Polish border on October 27. Herschel, their son, was in Paris in hiding and eked out a living doing odd jobs supplemented by handouts from his relatives.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.71]

The Assassination of vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan

Herschel Grynszpan, surrounded by policemen, after his first interrogation at police headquarters. Paris, France, November 7, 1938 On November 7, 1938 Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew living in Paris, decided to protest against the recent banishment of Polish Jews living in Germany to beyond the Polish border. He went to the German embassy and mortally injured Ernst vom Rath, a secretary in the embassy. Vom Rath was transported urgently to the Alma Clinic where he lay critically ill. As soon as Hitler learnt of the news he promoted vom Rath to the rank of Counsellor and sent his own personal physician, Karl Brandt, and a professor from Munich, Georg Magnus, to his bedside. However, vom Rath died on November 9 at 4.30 pm. Three days later a funeral ceremony was held at the Lutheran church in the rue Blanche in Paris, in the presence of Georges Bonnet, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs who was in an uncomfortable position because of this event. The body was transferred to Düsseldorf in Germany on November 16. Thousands of people viewed the body. Hitler and the Third Reich's highest dignitaries attended the funeral on the following day. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Reich's Minister for Foreign Affairs, delivered the funeral oration.

In France, Grynszpan was indicted by Judge Tesnière for attempted assassination and premeditated murder. His lawyers were Moro Giafferi, together with Weill Goudchaux, and Frankel. With the help of an American journalist, Dorothy Thompson, Moro Giafferi managed to mobilise American public opinion in favour of Grynszpan and the Jews living under the rule of the Third Reich.

A funeral procession headed by Nazi dignitaries, follows Ernst vom Rath's coffin in Dusseldorf. Germany, November 17, 1938.The French lawyer also had the task of defending Grynszpan's uncle and aunt, Abraham and Chawa Grynszpan, who were accused of giving shelter to an illegal alien immigrant. At the end of November they were tried in the 17th magistrate's court and were sentenced respectively to six and three months in prison. The plaintiff was represented by Friedrich Grimm, a jurist in the employment of Joseph Goebbels' propaganda organisation, and by two French lawyers, Maurice Garçon and Maurice Loncle.

To convince French public opinion, Grimm inundated the press with a deluge of propaganda. However, in view of the international situation the trial was constantly delayed by direct pressure from Grimm on the French authorities.

As war threatened to break out Grynszpan was transferred to another prison. During the transfer the convoy came under bombardment and the prisoners dispersed. After wandering aimlessly in the French countryside Grynszpan gave himself up to the prison authorities in Toulouse and was subsequently handed over to the German authorities in compliance with a Franco-German armistice agreement (to the effect that France would deliver German enemies of the Nazi regime to the Germans).

Grynszpan was transferred to Berlin where he was interrogated and incarcerated in Sachsenhausen prison on January 18, 1941. He was detained in Gestapo prisons on several occasions.

Because of the ongoing war, but also because Grynszpan threatened to mention vom Rath's alleged homosexuality, the grand propaganda trial that Goebbels dearly wanted did not take place. Nobody knows with any certainty what happened to Grynszpan in the end; his fate and character gave rise to a number of contradictory theories. In contrast to the murder in February 1936 of Wilhelm Gustloff — the leader of a Swiss branch of the Nazi Party, by David Frankfurter, a Yugoslav Jewish student — which passed unnoticed because of the Berlin Olympic Games, vom Rath's murder was the pretext used by the Nazis for instigating the Novemberpogrom in 1938.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.77]

The Anti-Jewish Pogroms

When the attack against vom Rath was announced the German press was vociferous on the theme of a global Jewish conspiracy and warned of severe reprisals. It was the ideal pretext for hunting down the Jews and forcing them to leave Germany en masse.

On the evening of November 9 Goebbels made an inflammatory speech in favour of reprisals to an audience of Nazi leaders meeting in the old Town Hall in Munich for the commemoration of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. He announced that antisemitic pogroms had broken out in the districts of Kurhessen [Hesse-Kassel] and Magdeburg-Anhalt. Goebbels added that, following his own suggestions, Hitler had decided not to intervene to prevent a movement that had spread spontaneously to the entire country.

The Nazi leaders understood the message: that it would be up to the Party to organise and carry out the violence without making it too clear that they were actively involved.

The burning of the Bielefeld synagogueThe burning of the Graz synagogueAs vom Rath's death was announced, rioting broke out and spread rapidly. The SA gave orders to their troops to set fire systematically to all the country's synagogues.

Informed of these events during the night, Himmler's reaction was fairly moderate. He ordered his troops to enter into the fray with the aim of preventing generalised looting and arresting some 20,000 Jews and sending them to concentration camps.

The attackers raged against the symbols of the Jewish way of life.

Synagogues were ransacked and burnt down as well as the few remaining community buildings and offices of Jewish institutions that were still active.

Demolished shoe shop in a street in Vienna after the November Pogrom, 10th November 1938.Apartments and private houses, business premises and shops were also ransacked (the Nazis declared that they had destroyed or looted 7,500 shops.)1

It was probably in Berlin that the name Novemberpogrom was given to this pogrom because of the thousands of shards from shattered shop windows that littered the pavements. The American journalist William Shirer, CBS's regular newscaster from Berlin, referred to the event as "the night or week of broken glass."

Almost 100 Jews were murdered, several were seriously injured, and some women were raped. In Austria, the pogrom was even more violent: 42 synagogues were destroyed, 27 Jews were killed, and about 100 were seriously wounded.

6,500 people were arrested and sent mainly to Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald. The greater majority of German and Austrian Jews incarcerated during the Novemberpogrom were gradually liberated between November 18, 1938 and the spring of 1939 on the condition that they undertake to emigrate without delay leaving behind most of their belongings.

Towns in the Greater German Reich and the Free City of Danzig where synagogues and Jewish prayer rooms were destroyed in November 1938.Among them, the very old, the very sick and those who could prove that they were going to emigrate or to sell their businesses to an Aryan for a ridiculously low price, were among the first to be freed. The bitter cold, harsh treatment and disease claimed the lives of several hundred "Novemberjuden" [November Jews].

The Jewish community was made to pay a billion mark fine for having caused this damage by "provoking the justified anger of the German people." The sum was taken out of the seven billion marks' worth of Jewish assets which had been held in blocked accounts since April 1938.

The eruption of violence gave, fictitiously, the impression that the riots were spontaneous. In fact, apart from a minority, most people were mere spectators. No more than a few voices were raised in protest and the Church kept silent.

[from 'Kristallnacht': the November 1938 Pogrom, Mémorial de la Shoah, 2008, p.81]

1. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Chicago, Quadrangle Books, 1961, reprint Yale University Press, 2003.