The violence and destruction of Kristallnacht lasted little more than 24 hours, but many historians consider it the event that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. It was, certainly, the culmination of the previous five years of Nazi propaganda and legal actions against German Jews. But how did the government’s response to Kristallnacht push Germany over the edge and send it pummeling down into the abyss?

The malevolent reaction of the Nazi party as a response to Kristallnacht proceeded with the full weight of Hitler’s approval. Party hierarchy met on November 12, 1938, just two days after the infamous day. The gathering was called by Hermann Goering (President of the Reichstag and Hitler’s designated successor) and attended by Goebbels (Chief of Propaganda), Heydrich (Head of the Gestapo and nicknamed The Hangman), Funk (Minister of Economics), and other top officials. At this meeting, Goering announced, “Today’s meeting is of a decisive nature. I have received a letter written on the Führer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another.”

In other words, Hitler demanded a final solution.

With all the laws of the previous five years in place and the German population properly indoctrinated by propaganda, November 1938 would become a real turning point.
First, Germany’s Jews were declared responsible for all damages incurred during Kristallnacht. A fine of 1 billion marks was imposed against the Jewish community for the murder of vom Rath and was collected through the forced government seizure of 20% of all Jewish property. Money paid out by insurance companies for broken glass, looting, and other damage, approximately 6 million marks, was declared “damages to the German Nation” and was consequently due to the state, rather than to the Jewish policy holders. This left Jewish property owners personally responsible for any repairs, something that, given their economic situation, was almost impossible for most.
In the months that followed, a string of further laws were passed that effectively eliminated the Jews from the German economy. These laws mandated that Jews:

• Turn over all precious metals to the government
• Could no longer collect pensions they had previously earned while holding civil service jobs
• Could only sell their stocks, bonds, jewelry, and art to the German state
• Must move to separate Jewish sections in most German towns
• Could no longer own carrier pigeons
• Could no longer hold a driver’s license
• Must relinquish all radios to the government
• Must abide by a strict curfew
• Were no longer covered by tenant protection laws
• Were allowed no weapons of any kind, including firearms, truncheons, and knives or pokers

In spite of the fact that all these restrictions reduced the legal assets of Jews to almost nothing, the number of German Jews who emigrated surged. More than 115,000 Jews left Germany in the 10 months following Kristallnacht. They went anywhere they could get visas—the United States, Shanghai, Central and South America, the Caribbean, France, The Netherlands, and Britain. When he landed in England on March 3, 1939, less than four months after Kristallnacht, Herman was one of these thousands of refugees.

But, most of the émigrés were not as lucky as Herman. They sought refuge in other European countries, and within little more than a year, as Hitler’s armies surged over the continent, they found themselves fleeing again, many trapped and falling victim to the Nazi’s final solution.


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