Modern history



On 7 November 1938, a seventeen-year-old Pole, Herschel Grynszpan, who had grown up in Germany but was currently living in Paris, discovered that his parents were amongst those who had been deported from Germany to Poland. Grynszpan obtained a revolver and marched into the German Embassy, where he shot the first diplomat he came across: a junior official called Ernst vom Rath, who was seriously wounded and taken to hospital. The political atmosphere of early November 1938 was already heavy with antisemitic violence, as the regime and its most active supporters continued to step up the pressure on Germany’s Jews to emigrate. It was not surprising that Goebbels decided to make the incident into a major propaganda exercise. That same day, the Propaganda Ministry instructed the press to give the incident a prominent place in its reporting. It was to be described as an attack by ‘world Jewry’ on the Third Reich that would entail the ‘heaviest consequences’ for Germany’s Jews. This was a clear invitation to the Party faithful to act. Goebbels instructed the regional propaganda chief in Hesse to launch violent attacks on the synagogues and other buildings of the Jewish community to see whether a more widespread pogrom was feasible. While the stormtroopers swung into action, the SS and Gestapo were roped in to support the action as well. In Kassel the local synagogue was trashed by brownshirts. In other Hessian towns, as well as in parts of adjacent Hanover, there were also attacks and arson attempts on synagogues and on the houses and apartments of the local Jewish population. These acts of violence expressed, the orchestrated press declared on 9 November, the spontaneous rage of the German people against the outrage in Paris and its instigators. The contrast with the murder of a regional official of the Party, Wilhelm Gustloff, by David Frankfurter, a Jew, in February 1936, which did not elicit any kind of violent verbal or physical reaction from the Party, its leaders or its members because of Hitler’s concern to keep international opinion sweet in the year of the Olympics, could not have been greater. It showed that the assault was the pretext for what followed, not the cause of it.149

By chance, when Grynszpan fired his shot on 7 November 1938, Hitler was due to address Nazi Party Regional Leaders and other senior members of the movement in Munich the next day on the eve of the anniversary of his failed putsch in 1923. Conspicuously, he did not mention the Paris incident in his speech; he was clearly planning action to follow vom Rath’s death, which would surely not be long in coming. On the evening of 9 November, while the Party leaders were making their way to the main hall of the Munich town hall, Hitler was informed by his personal doctor, Karl Brandt, whom he had sent to keep watch by vom Rath’s Parisian bedside, that the embassy official had died of his wounds at half-past five, German time. Thus the news reached not only him but also Goebbels and the Foreign Office late in the afternoon of 9 November. Hitler immediately issued instructions to Goebbels for a massive, co-ordinated, physical assault on Germany’s Jews, coupled with the arrest of as many Jewish men as could be found and their incarceration in concentration camps. This was the ideal opportunity to intimidate as many Jews as possible into leaving Germany, through a terrifying, nationwide outburst of violence and destruction. Vom Rath’s death would also provide the propagandistic justification for the final, total expropriation of Germany’s Jews and their complete segregation from the rest of German economy, society and culture. Having taken these decisions, Hitler agreed with Goebbels that they should be presented to the Party faithful, in a calculated act of theatrical deception, as a spur-of-the-moment reaction to the assassination of vom Rath, taken in a spirit of sudden shock and anger.150

Over dinner at the town hall, where they could be observed by many of the participants, Hitler and Goebbels were accosted at around nine o’clock by a messenger, who announced to them what they had in fact already known since late afternoon, namely that vom Rath had succumbed to his wounds. After a brief, intense conversation, Hitler left for his private apartment, earlier than usual. Goebbels now spoke to the Regional Leaders, at around ten o’clock, announcing that vom Rath was dead. A subsequent report by the Party’s Supreme Court took the story up at this point:

On the evening of 9 November 1938 the Reich Propaganda Leader Party Comrade Dr Goebbels informed the Party leaders who had gathered at the Old Town Hall in Munich for an evening of comradeship, that there had been demonstrations against the Jews in the regions of Electoral Hesse and Magdeburg-Anhalt, in the course of which Jewish shops had been destroyed and synagogues set alight. The Leader had decided on hearing his report that such demonstrations should neither be prepared nor organized by the Party, but that no obstacles should be placed in their way if they took place spontaneously . . . The Reich Propaganda Leader’s verbal instructions were understood by the Party leaders who were present to mean that the Party should not appear publicly as the organizer of the demonstrations, but that it should in reality organize them and carry them out. The instructions were immediately - i.e. a good time before the sending of the first telegram - relayed by telephone in this sense by a large part of those Party comrades who were present to the offices in their regions.151

In the regional Party headquarters, officials telephoned stormtrooper commanders and Party activists in the localities, passing down the chain of command the order to burn down synagogues and wreck Jewish shops, houses and apartments. When Hitler and Himmler met in Hitler’s rooms shortly before the traditional swearing-in of SS recruits at midnight, they briefly discussed the pogrom. As a result, another central command was issued, this time more formally, by telex at five minutes to midnight. It came from Heinrich Müller, Himmler’s subordinate and head of the Gestapo, and it transmitted Hitler’s personal order, also recorded by Goebbels in his private diary the following day, for the arrest of a large number of German Jews, to German police commanders across the country:

Actions against Jews, in particular against their synagogues, will very shortly take place across the whole of Germany. They are not to be interrupted. However, measures are to be taken in co-operation with the Order Police for looting and other special excesses to be prevented . . . The arrest of about 20-30,000 Jews in the Reich is to be prepared. Propertied Jews above all are to be chosen.152

A further telex sent by Heydrich at twenty past one in the morning ordered the police and the SS Security Service not to get in the way of the destruction of Jewish property or to prevent violent acts being committed against German Jews; it also warned that looting was not to be allowed, foreign nationals were not to be touched even if they were Jewish, and care was to be taken to ensure that German premises next to Jewish shops or synagogues were not damaged. As many Jews were to be arrested as there was room for in the camps. At 2.56 in the morning, a third telex, issued at Hitler’s instigation from the office of his deputy, Rudolf Hess, reinforced this last point by adding that it had been ordered ‘at the very highest level’ that no fires were to be raised in Jewish shops because of the danger to nearby German premises.153

By this time, the pogrom itself was in full swing. The initial orders telephoned from Munich to the Regional Leaders’ officers were rapidly transmitted further down the chain of command. A typical example was that of the SA leader for the Northern Mark, Joachim Mayer-Quade, who was in Munich to hear Goebbels’s speech, and telephoned his chief of staff in Kiel at 11.30 in the evening. He told him:

A Jew has fired a shot. A German diplomat is dead. In Friedrichstadt, Kiel, Lübeck and elsewhere there are completely superfluous meeting-houses. These people still have shops amongst us too. Both are superfluous. There must be no looting. There must be no manhandling. Foreign Jews must not be touched. The action must be carried out in civilian clothing and be concluded by 5 a.m.154

Mayer-Quade had got Goebbels’s message. His subordinates had no difficulty in understanding what this meant. Nor did others who received similar orders elsewhere. All over Germany, stormtroopers and Party activists were still celebrating the anniversary of the 1923 putsch in their headquarters when the orders arrived; many of them were drunk, and not inclined to take the warnings against looting and personal violence particularly seriously. Gangs of brownshirts sallied forth from their houses and headquarters, mostly in mufti, armed with cans of petrol, and made for the nearest synagogue. Soon virtually every remaining Jewish house of prayer and worship in the country was in flames. Alerted by the brownshirts, local policemen and fire services did nothing except protecting adjacent buildings from damage. Social Democratic agents later estimated that 520 synagogues were destroyed in this orgy of violence, but their information is likely to have been incomplete, and the true figure well over a thousand. After 10 November 1938 it was virtually impossible for Germany’s remaining Jews to carry out their normal religious acts of public worship any more.155

Along with the synagogues, stormtroopers and SS men also targeted Jewish shops and premises. They smashed the display windows, leaving the pavements outside covered in a deep layer of broken glass. With their characteristically bitter, ironically understated humour, people in Berlin soon came to refer to 9-10 November as the ‘Reich Crystal Night’, or night of broken glass. But the stormtroopers smashed more than shop windows; everywhere, they broke into Jewish premises, trashed the contents, and looted what they could.156 And then they made for the homes and apartments of Jewish families, with the same intent. In Dusseldorf, it was reported that ordinary Jews were awakened by the feared knock on the door from the Gestapo in the early hours of the morning:

While the Gestapo were searching the house, the SA men outside occupied themselves by demolishing the window-panes and the doors. Then the SS turned up, and went inside to carry out their work. Almost everywhere, every piece of furniture was smashed to smithereens. Books and valuables were thrown around, the Jewish inhabitants were threatened and beaten. Scenes of genuine horror were played out. Only now and again was there a decent SS-man who let it be clearly known that he was only doing his duty, because he had received an order to break into the flat or house. Thus we have been told that two students in SS uniform smashed one vase each and then reported to their superior: ‘Orders carried out!’157

In many towns, gangs of stormtroopers broke into Jewish cemeteries and dug up and smashed the gravestones. In some, groups of Hitler Youth also took part in the pogrom. In Esslingen, brownshirts dressed in everyday clothes and armed with axes and sledgehammers broke into the Jewish orphanage at between midnight and one in the morning and destroyed everything they could, throwing books, religious insignia and anything else combustible onto a bonfire they lit in the yard. If they did not leave immediately, one stormtrooper told the weeping children, they too would be thrown onto the fire. Some of them had to walk all the way to Stuttgart to find accommodation.158 All over Germany, shops and homes were looted, jewellery, cameras, electrical goods, radios and other consumer goods stolen. Altogether at least 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed, out of a total of no more than 9,000 altogether. The insurance industry eventually put the damage at 39 million Reichsmarks’ worth of destruction caused by fire, 6.5 million Reichsmarks’ worth of broken windows, and 3.5 million Reichsmarks’ worth of looted goods. Only in the course of the morning of 10 November 1938 did policemen appear and stand guard before the ransacked premises to ensure there were no further thefts. 159

What happened in the town of Treuchtlingen was not untypical of events in antisemitic Franconia. Just after midnight on 10 November 1938, the district SA commander, Georg Sauber, received a phone call instructing him to destroy the local synagogues in his area and arrest all male Jews. By 3 a.m. he had driven to Treuchtlingen and ordered the town’s stormtroopers to be hauled out of bed and report to the fire station. Some of them went to the nearby synagogue, where they gathered outside the door of the adjacent house, shouting at its occupant, the synagogue’s cantor Moses Kurzweil, to open up or be burned to death. Breaking down his door, they went from his house into the synagogue and set it alight. Within a short space of time it had been completely destroyed. The fire brigade arrived and began spraying water on the adjacent, Aryan-owned houses. Some local people gathered at the scene and, shouting encouragement to the brownshirts, went with them to a series of Jewish-owned shops, where they helped smash the windows and loot the contents. They moved on to Jewish homes, breaking and entering them and rampaging at will. One local Jewish man, Moritz Mayer, later reported that he was woken up between four and five in the morning of 10 November by the sound of footsteps in his garden: looking out of the window, he saw eight or ten stormtroopers, armed with axes, hatchets, daggers and revolvers, who broke into the house and were already smashing washbasins, mirrors, doors, cupboards and furniture by the time he had woken his family. Mayer was hit in the face and his glasses were broken; he was thrown into a corner and pelted with pieces of furniture. In the kitchen, the brownshirts smashed all the crockery, then, descending into the cellar, where Mayer’s family were cowering in terror, they forced the women to break all the wine-bottles and preserving-jars. No sooner had they gone than local inhabitants and youths arrived on the scene, looting everything they could. Mayer and his family packed some clothes quickly and fled, accompanied by the derisive laughter of the mob, to the local train station, where they boarded a train to Munich, along with most of the rest of the town’s ninety-three Jewish inhabitants.160


The extreme violence and deliberate, demeaning humiliation meted out to the Jews during the progrom was familiar from the behaviour of the brownshirts in the early months of 1933. But this time it went much further, and was clearly more widespread and more destructive. It demonstrated that visceral hatred of the Jews had now gripped not only the stormtroopers and radical Party activists but was spreading to other sectors of the population as well, above all, but not only, to the young, upon whom five years of Nazism in the schools and the Hitler Youth had clearly had an effect.161 Going out onto the streets of Hamburg the morning after the pogrom, Luise Solmitz found ‘silent, astonished and approving people. A hateful atmosphere. - “If they shoot our people dead over there, then this action has to be taken” decided an elderly woman.’162 In the Saarland Jews were said to have been too frightened to go out onto the street in the days following the pogrom:

As soon as one appears in public, swarms of children run after him, spit after him, throw dirt and stones at him or make him fall over by “pecking” at his legs with bent sticks. A Jew who is persecuted in this way dare not say anything or he will be accused of threatening the children. The parents lack the courage to hold the children back, because they fear this will cause difficulties.163

Children, the report added, had often been taught at school to regard the Jews as criminals, and had no compunction about looting their property.164 Nevertheless, while young Germans in the particularly antisemitic region of Franconia and some other areas willingly took part in the pogrom, the story in some parts of Germany was often rather different. ‘Man’, a Berlin transport worker was overheard telling a friend the day after the pogrom, ‘no one can tell me that the people have done that. I’ve slept the whole night through and my workmates have slept as well and we belong to the people, don’t we?’165

In Munich, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen found himself revolted by ‘all this misery and this immeasurable shame’ after witnessing the events of 9-10 November 1938 in Munich. He admitted he was unable to understand it.166 Elswhere, there were isolated reports that policemen had warned Jews in advance in a few places and so enabled them to go into hiding to avoid the violence. The Social Democrats, while conscientiously recording incidents in which local people had participated in the pogrom, concluded on balance that the popular reaction in many places had been one of horror. In Berlin, it was reported, popular disapproval ‘ranged from a contemptuous glance and attitude of repulsion to open words of disgust and even dramatic abuse’.167 The writer and journalist Jochen Klepper, whose wife was Jewish, reported in his diary on 10 November 1938:

We hear from the various ‘Jewish’ quarters of the city how the people are rejecting such organized actions. It is as if the antisemitism that was still plentifully present in 1933 had to a large degree disappeared since the excesses of the Nuremberg Laws. But it’s probably different with the Hitler Youth, which includes, and educates, all young Germans. I don’t know how far the parental home can supply a counterweight there. 168

Melita Maschmann later remembered that she had been taken aback by the damaged shops and the mess on the streets when she had gone into Berlin on the morning of 10 November 1938; asking a policeman what had happened, she had learned that the wrecked premises were all Jewish. ‘I said to myself: The Jews are the enemy of the new Germany. Last night they had a taste of what this means.’ And with that, she ‘forced the memory of it out of my consciousness as quickly as possible’.169

There were many who thought like her. Institutions that claimed to give a moral lead remained silent too. Some individual pastors criticized the violence and destruction, but the Confessing Church took no stand, and when it came some time later to allude to the situation of the Jews, it was only for the Jews of Christian faith that it asked its members to pray.170 A number of Catholic priests cautiously and rather obliquely hinted at their disapproval of the pogrom by giving particular emphasis to the ‘Jewish components in Christian teaching and history’ in their sermons, as regional authorities in Bavaria noted.171 One priest, Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg of Berlin, declared on 10 November 1938 that the synagogue that had been burned down during the night was also a house of God. But the time when, as in 1933, senior dignitaries of the Catholic Church like Cardinal Faulhaber had spoken out openly against pride in one’s own race degenerating into hatred of another seemed to be long gone.172 Some ordinary Catholics at least feared they might be next. A passer-by in Cologne on the morning of 10 November 1938 encountered a crowd standing in front of the still-smouldering synagogue. ‘A policeman came up. “Move along, move along!” Upon this a Cologne woman said: “Are we not allowed to think about what we’re supposed to have done?” ’173 Nevertheless, the Third Reich had passed a milestone in the persecution of the Jews. It had unleashed a massive outbreak of unbridled destructive fury against them without encountering any meaningful opposition. Whether people’s sensibilities had been dulled by five years of incessant antisemitic propaganda, or whether their human instincts were inhibited by the clear threat of violence to themselves should they express open condemnation of the pogrom, the result was the same: the Nazis knew that they could take whatever further steps against the Jews they liked, and nobody was going to try to stop them.174

Map 15. Synagogues Destroyed on 9-10 November 1938

In Munich, meanwhile, Goebbels had been thoroughly enjoying the looting and destruction vented upon the city’s Jewish community. ‘The Hitler shock-troop gets going immediately to clear things out in Munich,’ he noted in his diary recording the events of the night of 9-10 November 1938. ‘That then happens straight away. A synagogue is battered into a lump . . . The shock-troop carries out frightful work.’ Led by Julius Schaub, a long-time Nazi who had taken part in the failed beer-hall putsch of 1923 and had served as Hitler’s personal adjutant ever since 1925, the violence clearly reflected the atmosphere present in Hitler’s immediate entourage during the night. ‘Schaub is completely worked up,’ Goebbels noted: ‘His old shock-troop past is waking up.’175 On receiving a phone call at about 2 a.m. with the news of the first Jewish death, Goebbels replied ‘that the man reporting it should not get upset because of one dead Jew; thousands of Jews were going to cop it in the coming days.’176 He could scarcely conceal his glee:

In Berlin 5, then 15, synagogues burn down. Now the people’s anger is raging. Nothing more can be done against it for the night. And I don’t want to do anything either. Should be given free rein . . . As I drive to the hotel, windows shatter. Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues are burning in all big cities. German property is not endangered.177

As dawn broke, however, he began to consult with Hitler, probably over the phone, on how and when the action should be brought to an end. ‘New reports rain down all morning,’ he wrote in his diary entry for 10 November 1938. ‘I consider with the Leader what measures should be taken now. Let the beatings continue or stop them? That is now the question.’ Following this conversation, he drafted an order to halt the pogrom and took it to Hitler, who was lunching at the Osteria, his favourite Munich restaurant. ‘I report to the Leader at the Osteria,’ he wrote. ‘He agrees with everything. His views are totally radical and aggressive. The action itself has taken place without any problems.’ Hitler approved the draft decree; it was read out over the radio the same afternoon and printed on the front pages of the newspapers the following morning. The pogrom was finally over.178

Many Jews had been seriously injured in the course of the violence. Even the official report on the pogrom by the Nazis estimated ninety-one Jewish deaths. The true number will probably never be known, but it was certainly many times greater, above all when the maltreatment of the Jewish men after they were arrested is taken into consideration, along with at least 300 suicides caused by the despair it engendered; deaths undoubtedly ran into the hundreds and probably numbered between one and two thousand.179Moreover, for many Jewish men, the violence continued well after the pogrom itself was over. As the police, stormtroopers and SS units, following Hitler’s orders, arrested all the Jewish men they could find, terrible scenes took place on the streets and squares of every German town. In Saarbrucken the Jews were made to dance and kneel outside the synagogue and sing religious songs; then most of them, wearing only pyjamas or nightshirts, were hosed down with water until they were drenched. In Essen stormtroopers manhandled Jewish men and set their beards alight. In Meppen, Jewish men had to kiss the ground in front of SA headquarters while brownshirts kicked them and walked over them. In many places they were forced to wear placards round their necks with slogans such as ‘We are the murderers of vom Rath’. In Frankfurt am Main, the arrested men were greeted at the train station by a crowd which shouted and jeered at them and attacked them with clubs and sticks. In some places, whole classes were taken out of school to spit on the Jews as they were being led away.180

Altogether about 30,000 Jewish men were arrested between 9 and 16 November and transported to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. The camp population of Buchenwald doubled from around 10,000 in mid-September 1938 to 20,000 two months later. Moritz Mayer was picked up in Munich along with most of the other Jewish men from Treuchtlingen and taken to Dachau, where he had to stand to attention for hours in the November cold along with the others, dressed only in a shirt, socks, trousers and jacket. Anyone who moved was beaten by the SS guards. The beds had been removed from the camp barracks in preparation and the men were packed in, sleeping on straw on the hut floors. Washing was out of the question, and there were only two makeshift latrines. With the new, mass arrival of Jews in the camps, arrested for no other reason, or even pretext, than that they were Jews, the atmosphere changed, and the SS guards forgot the rules that had been established by Theodor Eicke a few years before. Mayer saw SS guards at Dachau beat an old man to the ground when he forgot to add the title ‘prisoner in protective custody’ to his name at roll-call; his injuries were so severe that he died. Another old man with a weak bladder was beaten to death on the spot when he asked the SS at roll-call for leave to use the latrines. The death-toll at Dachau had been running at between twenty-one and forty-one a year from 1933 to 1936; in September 1938, twelve prisoners died, in October, ten. After the arrival of the Jewish prisoners, the death-toll rose to 115 in November and 173 in December, making 276 for the year overall.181

Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry lost no time in presenting these events to the world as a spontaneous outburst of righteous anger on the part of the German people. ‘The blow struck at us by international Jewry’, the Göttingen Daily News-Sheet (Göttinger Tageblatt) told its readers on 11 November 1938, ‘was too powerful for our reaction to be only verbal. A fury against Judaism pent up for generations was unleashed. For that the Jews can thank their racial fellow member Grünspan [i.e. Grynszpan], his spiritual or actual mentors and themselves.’ Yet, the paper assured readers, ‘the Jews themselves were treated quite well in the course of what happened’.182 In similar vein, the flagship Nazi daily, the Racial Observer, reported, with a disregard for the truth that went beyond even what was normally to be found in its pages:

All over the west side of Berlin, as in other parts of the capital where Jews still swagger and strut, not a single storefront window of a Jewish business has remained intact. The anger and fury of the citizens of Berlin, who maintained the greatest discipline despite everything, was kept within definite limits, so that excesses were avoided and not a single hair was touched on a Jewish head. The goods on display in the store windows, some of which were decorated in a quite magnificent manner, remained untouched.183

Even more brazenly, the Propaganda Ministry instructed the papers on 10 November to claim that ‘here and there window-panes had been smashed; synagogues had set themselves alight or burst into flames in some other way’. The stories, Goebbels insisted, should not be given too much prominence in the press, which of course was read outside Germany as well as within, and there were to be no pictures of the damage.184

On 11 November 1936, in the Racial Observer, Goebbels attacked the ‘hostility to Germany of the mostly Jewish foreign press’ for overreacting to the pogrom. In a widely syndicated article, replete with headlines such as ‘Last Warning to the Jewry of the World’, he dismissed such reports as lies. The spontaneous reaction of the German people to the cowardly murder of vom Rath came from a ‘healthy instinct’. ‘The German people’, he declared proudly, ‘are an antisemitic people. They take no pleasure or delight in allowing themselves to be restricted in their rights or allowing themselves to be provoked as a nation by the parasitic Jewish race.’ The government, he concluded, had done all in its power to stop the demonstrations, and the people had obeyed. Germany and the Germans had nothing to be ashamed of.185 This was not the view taken by the international press, however, who reacted with a mixture of shock and disbelief. For many foreign observers, indeed, the events of 9-10 November 1938 came as a turning-point in their estimation of the Nazi regime.186


At their lunchtime meeting in the Osteria restaurant in Munich on 10 November 1938, Hitler and Goebbels, besides finalizing the draft of the decree bringing the pogrom to an end, also discussed what was to be done next. Hitler now took up once more the idea he had mooted in his memorandum on the creation of the Four-Year Plan back in 1936: a law making Germany’s Jews collectively liable for any damage caused to the German people ‘by individuals from this criminal element’.187 ‘The Leader’, confided Goebbels to his diary, ‘wants to take very tough measures against the Jews. They must themselves put their businesses in order again. The insurance companies will not pay them a thing. Then the Leader wants a gradual expropriation of Jewish businesses.’188Such measures indeed were already in train; on 14 October 1938, Goebbels had announced to a confidential meeting that the time had come to drive the Jews out of the economy altogether. Two weeks later, on 28 October, the banks had noted that Heydrich’s Foreign Currency Control Office was preparing measures to restrict the Jews’ power of disposal over their own assets. Since these assets had recently been registered, Hitler’s ‘compensation’ order of 10 November 1938 could be implemented immediately. The responsibility for taking these steps lay with Hermann

Goring, as head of the Four-Year Plan, and Hitler telephoned him on 11 November 1938 ordering him to call a conference to this effect. It met on 12 November 1938. Goring took the chair, and the hundred or so participants included Goebbels, Heydrich, Finance Minister Schwerin von Krosigk, Economics Minister Walther Funk and representatives of the police, the Foreign Ministry and the insurance companies. Elaborate minutes were taken. They were very revealing of the attitude of the Nazi leadership towards the Jews in the aftermath of the pogrom.189

Göring began by reporting to the assembled participants that Hitler had ordered him in writing and on the phone to co-ordinate the final expropriation of the Jews. He complained, with a touch of irony, that the ‘demonstrations’ of 9-10 November had harmed the economy; consumer goods made by, and belonging to, the people had been destroyed. ‘I would have preferred it’, he said, ‘if you had beaten 200 Jews to death and hadn’t destroyed such valuable property.’ Goebbels added that the economy was not the only area from which the Jews now had to be removed. It was still possible, for example, he said, for them to share a compartment with Germans on a train. The minutes continued:

Goebbels: . . . They will be given a separate compartment only after all Germans have secured seats. They are not to mix with Germans, and if there is no more room, they will have to stand in the corridor.

Göring: In that case I think it would be more sensible to give them separate compartments.

Goebbels: Not if the train is overcrowded!

Göring: Just a moment. There will be only one Jewish coach. If that is full up, the other Jews will have to stay at home.

Goebbels: Suppose, though, there aren’t many Jews going to the express train to Munich, suppose there are two Jews in the train and the other compartments are overcrowded. These two Jews would then have a compartment all to themselves. Therefore, Jews may claim a seat only after all Germans have secured one.

Göring: I’d give the Jews one coach or one compartment. And should such a case as you mention arise and the train be overcrowded, believe me, we won’t need a law. We’ll kick him out and he’ll have to sit alone in the lavatory all the way!190

Goebbels also wanted Jews banned from all remaining public facilities such as parks and gardens, beaches and resorts, insofar as they were not already. The separation of the Jews from the rest of German society was to be complete: and indeed an order was duly issued the same day by the Reich Chamber of Culture banning Jews from going to the cinema, the theatre, concerts and exhibitions. The Interior Ministry ordered them to surrender all firearms and forbade them to carry offensive weapons. Municipalities were given the right to ban them from certain streets or districts at specified times. Himmler withdrew their driving licences and vehicle registration documents. Another order, effective from 6 December 1938, prohibited Jews from using sports or playing fields, public baths and outdoor swimming pools.191

However much they may have disagreed on minor details, Goring, Goebbels and the others present at the meeting held on 12 November 1938 agreed unanimously to issue a string of decrees giving concrete form to the various plans for the expropriation of the Jews that had been discussed over the previous weeks and months. The murder of vom Rath, which Goebbels’s propaganda apparatus had already blamed on a Jewish conspiracy, provided an ideal opportunity, but if it had not occurred, then something else would doubtless have served as a pretext instead. The issue of railway compartments was solved by Hitler, with whom Göring discussed the matter in December. The Leader decreed that no special compartments for Jews should be allowed, but they should be barred from using sleeping compartments or dining cars on long-distance expresses. He confirmed that Jews could be banned from well-known restaurants, luxury hotels, public squares, much-frequented streets and smart residential districts. Meanwhile, Jews were also barred from attending university. On 30 April 1939 they were stripped of their rights as tenants, thus paving the way for their forcible ghettoization. They could now be evicted without appeal if a landlord offered them alternative accommodation, no matter how poor. Municipal authorities could order Jews to sublet parts of their houses to other Jews. From the end of January 1939, all tax concessions were also removed from the Jews, including child benefits; they were now taxed at a single rate, the highest one. 192

As an immediate result of the meeting on 12 November, the Jews were ordered the same day to pay a collective fine of 1 billion Reichsmarks as atonement for the murder of vom Rath. All Jewish taxpayers were ordered on 21 November to pay a fifth of all their assets, as declared the previous April, in four tax instalments by 15 August 1939. In October 1939 the proportion was raised to a quarter on the grounds that the total sum of a billion Reichsmarks had not been reached, although in fact the total collected was no less than 1.127 billion. In addition, they were commanded to clear up the mess left by the pogrom at their own expense, and to pay for the repair of their own properties even though it had everywhere been damaged by the stormtroopers and they themselves were entirely blameless. All insurance payments to Jewish property-owners for the damage caused by the stormtroopers and their helpers were confiscated by the state. This last sum amounted to 225 million Reichsmarks, so that if it is added to the fine and to capital flight taxes, the total sum plundered from the Jewish community in Germany in 1938-9 reached well over 2 billion Reichsmarks, even before profits gained from Aryanization are taken into account.193

Another measure promulgated on 12 November, the First Decree on the Exclusion of Jews from German Economic Life, banned Jews from almost all remaining gainful occupations in Germany and ordered any still engaged in them to be dismissed without compensation or pensions. A few weeks later, on 3 December 1938, a Decree on the Utilization of Jewish Assets ordered the Aryanization of all remaining Jewish businesses, allowing the state to appoint trustees to complete the process if necessary. Already on 1 April 1939, nearly 15,000 of the 39,000 Jewish businesses still in existence in April 1938 had been wound up, some 6,000 had been Aryanized, just over 4,000 were undergoing Aryanization, and just over 7,000 were under investigation for the same purpose.194 All these, the press trumpeted in anticipation on 12 November, were ‘justified retributive measures for the cowardly murder of Ambassadorial Counsellor vom Rath’.195

On 21 February 1939, all Jewish cash, securities and valuables, including jewellery (except for wedding rings), were ordered to be deposited in special blocked accounts; official permits were required for any withdrawals from them. Permits were rarely if ever issued, and the Reich government eventually seized these accounts without compensation. In practice, therefore, almost all Jews who stayed in Germany were virtually penniless and had increasingly to depend for support on the charitable activities of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, which had been created on 7 July 1938 as a more pliant and subordinate successor of the Reich Representation. Hitler explicitly ordered it to be kept in existence so that the Reich was not faced with the obligation to give support to Jews who had become utterly destitute. Other leading Nazis, however, argued that the now destitute and frequently unemployed Jews who had not yet reached retirement age - about half the remaining population - should be put to work for the Reich rather than being allowed to remain idle. Plans had already begun in October 1938, well before the pogrom, and were firmed up at a meeting called by Goring on 6 December 1938. On 20 December 1938, the Reich Unemployment Agency instructed regional labour exchanges to ensure that, since the number of unemployed Jews had increased substantially, such people should be put to work, freeing up Germans for armaments production.

On 4 February 1939, Martin Bormann repeated this instruction. Jewish workers were to be kept separate from the others. Firms that employed them would not suffer any disadvantage. Some were drafted into farm work, others in menial tasks of one kind or another. Labour service became the favoured means of keeping destitute Jews off the streets after they had been removed from the public welfare system. By May 1939, around 15,000 unemployed Jews were already employed on forced labour schemes, carrying out tasks such as rubbish collection, street-sweeping, or road construction; the ease of separating them from other workers meant that the last-named quickly became the main area into which they were drafted, and by the summer of 1939 some 20,000 were employed on heavy construction work for the motorways, work for which many of them were physically totally unprepared. Jewish forced labour remained on a relatively small scale in 1939, but already it was clear that it would reach much greater dimensions once war came, and plans were drawn up early in the year for the creation of special labour camps in which Jewish work draftees would be housed.196


When, on 16 November 1938, Heydrich finally ordered the arrests of Jewish men in the wake of the pogrom to stop, he did not do so with the purpose of simply releasing them back into society to continue their life in the Third Reich, such as it was. All Jews over sixty, sick or handicapped Jews and Jews involved in Aryanization processes were to be freed immediately. The release of others was made conditional in many cases on their promise to leave the country. Moritz Mayer’s wife was told that he would not be released until his brothers and sisters, who had already emigrated, made over their share in his property to him; he was released on condition that he sell his house and business. Turning over the negotiations to a local non-Jewish businessman, Mayer left for Palestine with his brother Albert and their families in February 1939, never to return. 197 As his example makes clear, the pogrom can only be understood in the context of the regime’s drive to force Jews to emigrate and thereby bring Jewish life in Germany to an end. The SS Security Service reported shortly afterwards that Jewish emigration had considerably declined and . . . almost come to a standstill as a consequence of the defensive posture of foreign countries and the lack of sufficient currency reserves in their possession. A contributory factor was the absolute resignation of the Jews, whose organizations only carried on performing their task under increased pressure from the authorities. In this situation, the November-action brought about a fundamental change.

The ‘radical procedure against the Jews in the November days’, continued the report, had ‘increased the Jewish community’s will to emigrate . . . in the highest degree’. In the following months, measures were taken to try and translate this will into action.198

In January 1939, Heydrich took the further step of ordering police authorities all over Germany to release all Jewish concentration camp prisoners who had emigration papers in their possession, and to tell them that they would be returned to the camp for life if they ever came back to Germany. There were still many Jewish men in the camps at this point, following the mass arrests of 9-10 November the previous year, and they were given three weeks to leave the country after their release.199 Yet at the same time, Nazi policies within Germany were actually making it more difficult for Jews to leave. The bureaucratic formalities that accompanied the application process for emigration were so complicated that they made it impossible for all but a few of those arrested in November 1938 to meet the three-week deadline. Jewish agencies worked reasonably well with officials in the Reich Interior Ministry, often former Nationalists or Centre Party members, in organizing emigration up to 30 January 1939, but at this point Goring, as head of the Four-Year Plan, passed the task of arranging Jewish emigration over to the Reich Centre for Jewish Emigration, founded on 24 January 1939 under Heydrich’s control. Jews’ funds were blocked so that they could not pay their passage to America. One of the aims of the Centre was ‘to take care that the emigration of poorer Jews is given preferential treatment’ since, as a Foreign Ministry circular noted in January 1939, ‘it would increase antisemitism in the western countries, in which Jews have found refuge . . . It is emphasized that it is in the German interest to pursue the Jews as beggars over the borders, for the poorer the immigrant, the greater the burden on the receiving country.’200

Despite all these obstacles there was a sharp rise in Jewish emigration from Germany after the pogrom and the arrests. Panic-stricken Jews crowded foreign embassies and consulates in their desperation to obtain entry visas. The numbers who succeeded in getting them are almost impossible to estimate, but according to Jewish organizations’ own statistics, there were about 324,000 Germans of Jewish faith still in the country at the end of 1937, and 269,000 at the end of 1938. By May 1939 this figure had fallen again to just under 188,000, and it fell again to 164,000 by the outbreak of war in September 1939. The official census taken at this time showed that there were 233,646 racially defined Jews left in Germany. Of them, 213,930 adhered to the Judaic faith, leaving around 20,000 Jewish members of the Christian Churches. Roughly 26,000 of the total were foreign Jews, however, so according to the official figures there were around 207,000 German Jews left in the ‘old Reich’ by this time, about 187,000 of whom practised the Judaic faith. In effect, therefore, the figures supplied by Jewish organizations were roughly correct, since Christian Jews and foreign Jews more or less cancelled each other’s numbers out.201

According to one estimate, 115,000 Jews left Germany in the ten months or so between 10 November 1938 and 1 September 1939, making a total of around 400,000 who had fled the country since the Nazi seizure of power. Most were now fleeing to countries outside the mainland of Europe: in all, 132,000 to the USA, around 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to the United Kingdom 10,000 each to Brazil and Argentina, 7,000 to Australia, 5,000 to South Africa, and 9,000 to the free port of Shanghai, which was to prove an unexpectedly accommodating refuge well into the war. Many more Germans who were classified as Jewish even though they did not practise the Jewish faith joined the flood of emigrants. So many people fled in terror without even a passport or a visa that neighbouring states began to set up special camps for them. Before the pogrom, the question of whether or not to emigrate had been a topic of continual and impassioned debate among Germany’s Jews; afterwards, there was no doubt left. There was no pretence any more on the part of the regime that Jews would be protected by law; they were, in effect, fair game for any Nazi activist or official to exploit, beat, arrest or kill. For many Jews, the shock of the pogrom was profound, destroying any last illusion they might have had that their patriotism, their war service, their skills, their education, or even the fact that they were human beings would protect them from the Nazis.202

Map 16. Jews in the Nazi Racial Census of 1939

Already at the Evian conference it had been clear that nativists and xenophobes in a number of countries were pressuring their governments to halt Jewish immigration from Germany in case their native culture became ‘swamped’ - hardly a likely prospect when the overall numbers of German Jews were so small, even leaving aside other considerations. By the same token, however, Jewish children could be acculturated into their host nations relatively easily; and the shock that went round the world at the events of 9-10 November 1938 and the subsequent drastic deterioration of the situation of the remaining Jews in Germany prompted a range of schemes to provide Jewish children with new homes abroad. Seventeen hundred children were sent to Holland, and more than 9,000 to the United Kingdom. But an attempt by Protestant and Catholic clergy to obtain entry for 20,000 children into the United States foundered on the rock of public opinion. A bill to this effect was withdrawn by its sponsor, Senator Robert F. Wagner, when Congress insisted that the 20,000 places be accommodated in existing immigration quotas, which would have meant refusing entry to 20,000 adults.203 Emigration was becoming more difficult than ever as the war drew near: another example of the increasingly irrational and contradictory nature of the policies of the Nazi regime on a wider scale.

Remaining in Germany was anything other than an easy option, however, as the experience of Victor Klemperer showed. As the antisemitic atmosphere became thicker in the spring and summer of 1938, Klemperer had to endure repeated harassment by the local authority over petty details of the construction and maintenance of his house and garden at Döltzschen, on the outskirts of Dresden. In May 1938 the Klemperers’ non-Jewish charlady resigned after the local authorities had threatened to dismiss her daughter from her job if she continued to work with them. Living outside town, the Klemperers escaped the violence of 9- 10 November 1938, but on 11 November two policemen subjected their house to a thorough search (allegedly for hidden weapons): Klemperer’s wartime sabre was discovered in the attic and he was taken into custody. Although he was treated courteously and released after a few hours without being charged, it was nevertheless a considerable shock. A more severe blow came when Klemperer, already banned from using the reading room of the local library the previous year, was officially barred from entering the library at all. The librarian in charge of the lending section, Klemperer reported, wept as he issued the ban; he wanted to kill the Nazis, he said (‘not simply kill, - torture, torture, torture’).204 The sharp increase in the tempo of antisemitic legislation after the pogrom began to restrict Klemperer’s life in other ways too. On 6 December 1938 he noted Himmler’s new decree withdrawing driving licences from all Jews and the ban on Jews visiting public cinemas. Unable to continue his work on eighteenth-century French literature because he could no longer use the library, Klemperer was now deprived of his two main leisure activities as well. He was faced with a large tax bill as part of the aftermath of the pogrom and feared that his house would soon be confiscated. Further attempts to emigrate came to nothing, though his friends and acquaintances were leaving the country in ever-growing numbers. A compulsive writer, Klemperer now turned to composing his memoirs, and his diary entries became ever more voluminous. He remained convinced that German Jews were Germans first and Jews second and continued to think of Zionism as little better than Nazism. But life was becoming rapidly harder, and he looked forward with foreboding to the future.205

A similar atmosphere of gloom spread through the household of Luise Solmitz and her Jewish husband. Immediately after the pogrom, the Gestapo called on them and were only dissuaded from arresting Friedrich Solmitz when he showed them his war medals. Nevertheless, he had to surrender his old war weapons (‘touched in honour, surrendered in shame’). The fine levied on German Jews came as a further shock. ‘Now Freddy admits it too: we are annihilated.’ Once again, however, Solmitz’s war service protected him. Asked by finance officials whether he wanted to emigrate he replied: ‘I am an old officer, born in Germany, and will die in Germany too.’ The officials allowed him to make over his property and assets to his wife so that they escaped confiscation. But the ban on Jews attending the theatre and other public events, and the looming threat of destitution, weighed heavily on their minds. ‘One doesn’t dare enjoy one’s possessions any more,’ wrote Luise Solmitz. ‘Today the house is no refuge, no protection any more.’206


By the summer of 1939, as these experiences indicated, the remaining Jews in Germany had been completely marginalized, isolated and deprived of their main means of earning a living. This was not enough for Heydrich, however. At the meeting of 12 November 1938, Heydrich had admitted that it would not be possible to force all of them to emigrate within a short space of time. He suggested that those Jews who stayed in Germany in the meantime should be made to wear a special badge. ‘But, my dear Heydrich,’ Goring had protested, ‘you won’t be able to avoid the creation of ghettoes on a very large scale in all the cities. They will have to be created.’207 For the moment, as Goring reported on 6 December 1938, Hitler himself vetoed the proposal to concentrate Jews in specific houses and to oblige them to wear a yellow badge in public, out of consideration for international opinion, which had reacted critically to the pogrom and the consequent legislation; and he also limited measures against mixed marriages and people of mixed race as defined by the Nuremberg Laws, in case harsh treatment would arouse discontent amongst their non-Jewish relatives. In practice, however, Jewish society in Germany was fast retreating into a ghetto anyway, almost completely cut off from mainstream everyday life, fast slipping beyond the consciousness of most Germans altogether.208

It was at this time, following the unopposed mass violence of 9- 10 November and the imprisonment in concentration camps of 30,000 Jewish men, if only for a few weeks, without any serious opposition being offered, that Hitler began for the first time to threaten their complete physical annihilation. Over the course of the previous two years, he had held back with public statements of hostility towards the Jews, partly out of foreign policy considerations, partly out of a desire to distance himself personally from what he knew was one of his regime’s less popular aspects amongst the great majority of the German people. It was fully in line with this approach that he withdrew from the Party meeting on 9 November once he had taken the decision to launch the pogrom.209But this relative abstention from public justification of antisemitic policy in rhetoric did not mean that Hitler had withdrawn from the implementation of antisemitic policy in practice. He discussed it on a number of occasions in private during 1936 and 1937, and there is little doubt that his Party Rally speech in September 1937 provided the deliberate stimulus for the intensification of antisemitism that began again at that point.210 In characteristic fashion, he presented the pogrom as the expression of a universal and fanatical hatred of the Jews amongst the German population, which he himself was doing his best to rein in. ‘What do you think, Mr Pirow,’ he asked the South African Defence Minister on 24 November, ‘would happen in Germany, if I took my protecting hand away from the Jews? The world could not imagine it.’211 The scarcely veiled threat here was palpable. Hitler was keen to pressure the Evian powers into accepting more refugees, and he did this not least by making it clear what would happen to Germany’s Jews if they were refused entry to other countries. On 21 January 1939 he told the Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister: ‘The Jews among us will be annihilated. The Jews had not carried out 9th November 1938 in vain; this day will be avenged.’212

On 30 January 1939, Hitler repeated these threats in public, and broadened them onto a European scale. Speaking to the Reichstag on the sixth anniversary of his appointment as Reich Chancellor, he said:

I have often been a prophet in my life and I was mostly laughed at. In the time of my struggle for power it was in the first place the Jewish people who received with nothing but laughter my prophecy that one day I would take over the leadership of the state and with it the whole people and then among many other things bring the Jewish problem to its solution. I believe that the roars of laughter of those days may well have suffocated in the throats of the Jews in the meantime.

I want to be a prophet again today: if international finance Jewry in Europe and beyond should succeed once more in plunging the peoples into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.213

This threat, broadcast on the weekly newsreel in its entirety, could not have been more public. It was to remembered and cited on numerous subsequent occasions. It deserves, therefore, the closest consideration.

The pogrom of November 1938 reflected the regime’s radicalization in the final stages of preparation for war.214 Part of this preparation in Hitler’s mind had to consist of the neutralization of what he conceived of as the Jewish threat. With a disdain for reality characteristic of paranoid antisemites, he assumed that ‘international finance’ was working together with international Communism, both steered from behind the scenes by the Jews, to broaden out this European war, which they knew Germany would win, onto a world scale, which could only mean by bringing the United States into it. This would be the only way they would stand any chance of success. By the time it happened, Germany would be master of Europe and have the vast majority of the continent’s Jews in its grasp. Anticipating this moment, therefore, Hitler was announcing that he would hold Europe’s Jews hostage as a means of deterring America from entering the war. If the USA did come in on the side of Germany’s enemies, then the Jews, not just in Germany, but in all Europe, would be killed. Nazi terrorism had now acquired an additional dimension: the practice, on the largest possible scale, of hostage-taking.215


The radicalization of antisemitism that took place in 1938 thus formed part of what everybody knew was the final run-up to the long-prepared war for the German domination and racial reordering of Europe. Expelling or, failing that, isolating Germany’s Jewish population was, in the Nazis’ paranoid racist ideology, an essential prerequisite for establishing internal security and warding off the threat from within - a threat that, in reality, existed only in their own imaginations. Radicalization occurred in 1938 not least because, indeed, this process of conquest and reorganization had already begun, starting with the annexation of Austria. Germany’s Jewish population had been, by and large, prosperous, and its expropriation by the state, and by numerous private businesses, was accelerated at this time not least because of the increasingly desperate need for hard cash to pay Germany’s rapidly growing armaments bill. It is tempting to describe anti-Jewish violence in the Third Reich as a ‘regression into barbarism’, but this is fundamentally to misunderstand its dynamics. Boycotts and expropriations of Jewish shops and businesses were driven on in particular by lower-middle-class small businessmen who may have been disappointed by the regime’s failure to better their economic position by more conventional means. But the social and economic extinction of Germany’s Jewish community was also ordered from above, as part of a general preparation for war. It was justified by a radical nationalist ideology that was linked, not to a vague vision of Germany’s return to some quiet medieval backwater, but on the contrary to a technologically advanced war of European domination, predicated on what counted at the time as the most modern, scientific criteria of racial fitness and racial supremacy.

That antisemitism in its racist guise was a fundamentally modern ideology can also be seen from its manifestations in other East-Central European countries at this time. In Poland, too, there was a rabidly antisemitic party in the form of Roman Dmowski’s Endeks, who attracted a broad coalition of the middle classes behind an increasingly fascist ideology during the 1930s. Poland was ruled by a military junta after 1935, and the Endeks were in opposition; nevertheless, they organized widespread boycotts of Jewish shops and businesses, which were often accompanied by considerable violence: one estimate claims that 350 Polish Jews were killed and 500 injured in violent antisemitic incidents in over 150 Polish towns and cities between December 1935 and March 1939. The Endeks pressed for the disfranchisement of the Jews, the banning of Jews from the army, the universities, the business world, the professions and much more besides. Poland’s Jews - 10 per cent of the population, some 3.5 million people - were to be herded into ghettoes and then forced to emigrate. Such pressure forced the increasingly weak government, disoriented by the death of the Polish dictator Piłsudski in 1935, to consider antisemitic measures to try and stop its support seeping away to the Endeks. Already since the 1920s, Jews had been effectively excluded from employment in the public sector and from receiving government business contracts. Now strict limits were set on Jewish access to secondary and higher education and medical and legal practice. Jewish students in Poland’s universities fell from 25 per cent in 1921-33 to 8 per cent in 1938-9.216

By this time, Polish students had succeeded in forcing their Jewish fellow students to occupy separate ‘ghetto-benches’ in lectures. In addition, increasingly severe restrictions were imposed on Jewish export businesses and artisanal workshops - a mainstay of Jewish economic life in a country where the Jews were on the whole not among the better-off sections of society. In 1936 the government outlawed the ritual slaughter of animals according to Judaic prescription, a direct attack not only on Judaic religious tradition but also on the livelihood of the numerous Jews who made a living from it. A ban on Sunday shopping struck at Jewish retailers, who now either had to open on the Jewish Sabbath or lose customers by staying closed two days a week. In 1938 the government party adopted a thirteen-point programme on the Jewish question, proposing a variety of new measures to underline the Jews’ status as aliens in the Polish national state. By 1939 the professions had barred Jews from joining them even if they had managed to obtain the requisite qualifications at university. Increasingly, the government party was thus taking on board policies first advanced by the Nazis in Germany: in January 1939, for example, some of its deputies put forward a proposal for a Polish equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws.

Nevertheless, there was one crucial difference. The vast majority of Poland’s Jews spoke Yiddish rather than Polish and adhered strongly to the Judaic religion. They appeared to Polish nationalists, as they did to the Polish Catholic Church, as a major obstacle to national integration. They were in effect treated as a national minority in the new Polish state. Polish antisemitism was thus by and large religious rather than racist, although the boundaries between the two inevitably became more than blurred in the violence of antisemitic rhetoric and following the Nazi example.217 By the late 1930s, the Polish government was pressing the international community to allow massive Jewish emigration from the country - a major reason for the summoning of the Evian conference, as we have seen. One idea, a commonplace of antisemites in many parts of Europe since the late nineteenth century, was to send the Jews to the French island of Madagascar, off the east African coast. Lengthy but inconclusive negotiations took place between the Polish and French governments on this issue in the late 1930s.218

Similar ideas and policies could be found in other countries in East-Central Europe that were struggling to build a new national identity at this time, most notably Romania and Hungary.219 These countries had their own fascist movements, in the form of the Iron Guard in Romania and the Arrow Cross in Hungary, that yielded little or nothing to the German National Socialists in the virulence of their hatred of the Jews; as in Germany, antisemitism here too was linked to radical nationalism, the belief that the nation had not achieved its full realization and that it was above all the Jews who were preventing it from doing so. In Romania, there were around 750,000 Jews in the early 1930s, or 4.2 per cent of the population, and as in Poland they counted as a national minority. Under increasing pressure from the radical fascist Iron Guard in the later 1930s, King Carol appointed a short-lived right-wing regime that began to enact antisemitic legislation which the King continued to enforce when he took over as dictator in 1938. By September 1939, at least 270,000 Jews had been deprived of their Romanian citizenship; many had been expelled from the professions, including the judiciary, the police, teaching and the officer corps, and all were coming under heavy pressure to emigrate.220

The situation of the 445,000 or so Jews in Hungary was closer to that of Jews in Germany than to that of Jews in Poland: that is, they spoke Hungarian and were strongly acculturated. Most of them lived in Budapest, the capital, and regarded themselves as Hungarians in every respect. The prominence of Jews in the short-lived, radical Communist regime of Béla Kun in 1919 fuelled antisemitism on the right. The state’s counter-revolutionary ruler, Admiral Miklós Hórthy, allied Hungary to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s in the hope of winning back territory lost to Czechoslovakia and Romania in the Peace Settlement of 1919. This in turn brought new supporters to the Arrow Cross, whose popularity the government tried to undercut in May 1938 by passing the First Jewish Law, which imposed detailed restrictions on the proportion of Jewish employees in businesses, in the professions and other walks of life. Later in the same year a Second Jewish Law was passed, coming into effect in May 1939, tightening these quotas from 20 per cent to 6 per cent and barring Jews altogether from running newspapers, cinemas and theatres, from teaching, from buying land, from serving as officers in the army, and from joining the civil service. These laws, clearly reflecting the influence of Nazi Germany, were to a large extent racial in character, affecting for example Jews who had converted to Christianity after 1919. Hórthy himself disliked this fact, but was unable to prevent the racial clauses of these laws from coming into force.221

On a broader scale, all the states created or refounded in East-Central Europe at the end of the Second World War on the principle, enunciated by US President Woodrow Wilson, of national self-determination, contained large national minorities, which they attempted with a greater or lesser degree of force to assimilate to the dominant national culture. But the Jews in nearly all of them bore the additional burden of being regarded by nationalist extremists as agents of a worldwide conspiracy, allied to Russian Communism on the one hand and international finance on the other, and so posing a threat to national independence many times greater than that of other minorities within their borders. Seen in the context of other countries in East-Central Europe, therefore, the policies adopted and enforced by the Nazis against the Jews between 1933 and 1939 do not seem so unusual. Germany was far from the only country in the region at this time that restricted Jewish rights, deprived Jews of their economic livelihood, tried to get Jews to emigrate in large numbers, or witnessed outbursts of violence, destruction and murder against its Jewish population. Even in France there was a strong current of antisemitism on the right, fuelled by bitter hostility to the Popular Front government of Léon Blum, himself a Jew and a socialist and supported in the Chamber of Deputies by the Communist Party, that came to power in 1936.

Yet there were obviously also real differences, which arose partly out of the fact that Germany was far larger, more powerful and, despite the economic crisis of the early 1930s, more prosperous than other countries in the region, partly out of the fact that Germany’s Jewish minority was far more acculturated than Jewish minorities in Poland or Romania. Only in Germany was racial legislation actually introduced and enforced in the area of marriage and sexual relations, although a law along these lines was proposed in Romania; only in Germany were the Jews systematically robbed of their property, their jobs and their livelihood, although restrictions on all of these were certainly imposed elsewhere; only in Germany did the government organize a nationwide pogrom, although there were certainly pogroms in their hundreds elsewhere; and only in Germany did the country’s rulers succeed in driving more than half the entire Jewish population into exile, although there were certainly powerful political groups who dearly wanted to do this elsewhere. Above all, only in Germany did nationalist extremists actually seize power in the 1930s rather than wield influence; and only in Germany was the elimination of Jewish influence regarded by the state and its ruling party as the indispensable basis for a rebirth of the national spirit and the creation of a new, racially pure human society. The antisemitic policies of the Third Reich became something of a model for antisemites in other countries during these years, but nowhere else was there a regime in power that regarded it as crucial that they should be implemented all the way down the line and extended to the whole of Europe. The time for the Third Reich to take such steps had not yet arrived. It would only come with the outbreak of the Second World War.

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