Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – was a pogrom against the Jews of Germany in which synagogues were destroyed, Jews were killed, injured, and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was not, however, one night of broken glass, but three days of broken glass. David Cesarni’s Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1939, provides an analysis of this pogrom and the fateful conference held in its aftermath.
What the pretense for starting the pogrom?
In October of 1938, the Polish government announced its intention to bar any Polish citizen residing abroad from ever reentering the country unless he or she applied for and obtained a passport revalidation by November 1. This had to happen on Polish territory. Well, there were many Polish Jews who were living in Germany. So, Germany, knowing that it wanted to somehow expel these Polish Jews from its land, rounded them up and delivered them to the Polish border. This way, they could get their passports revalidated and keep open the possibility of later expulsion from Germany. Poles refused to let these Jews into Poland to revalidate their passports and many languished on the border.
Among the deportees were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jew living illegally with relatives in Paris. Herschel was angry at the treatment his parents received and he took revenge by walking in the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938 and shooting the third secretary, a young diplomat named Ernst vom Rath. Von Rath died the next day, which was the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putch – Hitler’s 1923 coup attempt.
Goebbels used the death of vom Rath to inflame the German people against the Jews. He exhorted the people, as an act of self-defense, to revenge vom Rath’s death – against the Jews. Beginning with November 9 and lasting until November 11, a “spontaneous demonstrations” took place. I would call it a pogrom.
“That night fires were ignited all over Germany, and the shattered plate glass that was to give the pogrom its name littered the streets of German towns and cities. Synagogues and Jewish institutions were burned to the ground. Over 7000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and killed nearly 100 people.” (Dawidowicz, War Against the Jews at 136)
As the Jewish community picked up the pieces of their destroyed infrastructure and egos, the Nazis were busy planning to further destroy the body and soul of the Jews of Germany. On November 12th, just one day after the streets quieted, Hermann Göring, the second most powerful man in Germany, called a meeting of approximately 100 people – all the major players in Germany’s economic and domestic affairs to discuss the “Jewish question.”
“I have had enough of demonstrations! They don’t harm the Jew, but me, who is the ultimate authority for co-ordinating the German economy . . . It’s insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse then have a German insurance company make good the loss. . . the fundamental idea in this programme [sic] of the elimination of the Jew from the German economy is first, the Jew being ejected from the economy transfers his property to the State.’”
Göring continued, that although the Jews were to be deprived of their livelihoods. they would not benefit directly from the sale of their property: “they would be compensated with bonds that would generate enough income for them to live off.”
During a four-hour meeting, this group of esteemed Nazis agreed to forbid Jews’ entry to cinemas, theaters, and concerts. Resorts, beaches, woods or parks would be off limits to Jews. They could only rest on park benches marked for Jews. Jewish children would no longer be allowed to attend state schools.
Officials of the German insurance industry attended this meeting. They were concerned about paying out claims for all the lost and destroyed Jewish property from Kristallnacht. On the one hand, they did not want to pay the claims of these Jewish property owners. On the other hand, if they did not pay the claims, their reputation in the world economy would be tarnished. “It was eventually agreed,” states Cesarani, “that the claims would be met, but the payments would never reach the German Jewish claimant. As Reinhard Heydrich put it, ‘That way we’ll save face.’”
After several hours of debate and discussion, Heydrich felt that the conversations were drawing to a close. So, he spoke up: “‘In spite of the elimination of the Jews from economic life, the main problem, namely to kick the Jew out of Germany, remains. May I make a few proposals to that effect?’” He recommended that a Vienna-type emigration system be put in place that would send 8,000 – 10,000 Jews out of the country each year for the next ten years. For the remaining Jews in Germany, would be impoverished and isolated to keep them out of “normal German routine of life.” Undeterred by the realization that this would lead to overcrowding and mass starvation of Jews, the group agreed that driving licenses of Jews should be confiscated and car ownership prohibited. Further, Jews should not be allowed into spas or resorts and should be restricted to “Jewish-only” health services.
During the closing moments of the meeting, Göring obtained agreement from all present that the Jews should be fined for the damage caused during Kristallnacht. They would be fined one billion marks, “as punishment for their abominable crimes.”
Goering finished with a doozie:
“Incidentally, I’d like to say again that I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”
 Cesarani, David. Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 at 203.
 Id. at 203-204.
 Id. at 204.
 Id. at 205.
 Id. at 206.
 Id. at 207.
 Id. at 207.