After Kristallnacht

On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, thousands of Jewish-owned businesses throughout Germany were destroyed by rampaging Nazis. Jews were attacked in their homes and beaten on the streets; about 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The episode that became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was reinforced in the days that followed by laws intended to further break Germany's Jewish population. Strangely enough, the front page of Nov. 13, 1938, juxtaposed this story with a smiling birthday photo of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice. An excerpt:

By Ralph W. Barnes
Special Cable to The Post

Berlin, Nov. 12- Nazi Germany's blackest week of anti-Semitic terror, destruction and legal oppression was climaxed today with issuance by the government of a series of decrees intended to destroy all that is left of the economic position of the Reich's 500,000 Jewish citizens.

As a starter, a crushing "fine" of 1,000,000,000 marks ($400,000,000) was levied on German Jews in their entirety as a sort of racial punishment for the act of a single Polish Jew, 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, in assassinating Ernst von Rath, secretary of the German embassy in Paris. The proceeds from the fine are to go to the Reich.

Other legal measures announced today provide:

  • From January 1, 1939, a Jew may not own or operate in the Reich a retail establishment, export firm, mail order house or handicraft enterprise.

  • From that same date, a Jew may not serve as a "business leader"-that is to say, in a managerial or supervisory capacity.

  • A Jew who occupies an important position in a firm-though not as a "business leader"-may be dismissed on six weeks' notice without dismissal pay or provision for pension.

  • The damage caused Jewish enterprises and homes through the excesses of last week must be repaired by the Jews concerned at their own expense.

  • Insurance claims of German Jews resulting from the anti-Semitic riots will be confiscated in favor of the Reich. ...

    The decision to issue these decrees was reached at a conference at the Air Ministry presided over by Field Marshal Goering ...

    The communique stated that in the near future "further decisive measures to exclude Jewry from German economic life and to prevent provocative activities" would be taken through laws and decrees.

    The transfer into "Aryan" hands of Jewish commercial enterprises-the bulk of which are now in a more or less damaged condition-is now progressing at such a rapid rate that obviously the process will be virtually completed before the January date fixed in the decrees. The transactions are being carried out, of course, at virtually confiscatory valuations, or perhaps in many cases without any price considerations.

    The estimated figure of 35,000 Jews taken into custody during the past few days is now believed in some quarters to be appreciably too low. ...

    Throughout the Greater Reich, distress, even real want, is increasing swiftly among the families of Jewish men, who have been whisked away in the dragnet operations of the police. Unless measures are taken quickly by the government, many Jewish women and children will be faced with starvation.

    Nearly all the Jewish community leaders, who might otherwise direct relief operations, are imprisoned and the Jewish agencies which might function in the matter remain closed by order of the authorities. The only Jewish body still permitted to function is Halfaverein, which handles only matters connected with Jewish immigration.

    This series is now in a book that can be purchased online at www.washingtonpost.com/ wp-srv/national/2000/collectors.htm