As Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder reminded us in Thursday's post, the Nazis created or waited for crisis situations, then took advantage of them to take drastic actions. The day after the Reichstag fire, nearly all civil liberties were suspended in Germany: freedom of speech, freedom of press, habeas corpus, etc.
Professor Snyder's cautions hit home with me because for more than a year I've been immersed in 1930's Germany. I'm working on a book about Emily's family's escape from Mannheim, Germany, and because of that, parallels between that time and our own come screaming out at me.
|The Hauptsynagogue in Mannheim, roofless after being set ablaze on Kristallnacht.|
The Holocaust began with Kristallnacht, an orgy of thuggery across Germany in early November 1938. Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps, Jewish businesses were vandalized and ruined, and 1000 synagogues in Germany and Austria were destroyed. As the elimination of civil liberties was "justified" by the Reichstag fire, the destruction and arrests associated with Kristallnacht were "justified" by the assassination of a German diplomat. Interestingly, the assassination was in revenge for the deportation of immigrants.
I have a section in the book about it:
Most mornings a barber visited the Rosenberger apartment in Mannheim. Opa Freiberg had a standing appointment – not for a trim, but to have his head shaved. Heinrich Freiberg's grandchildren thought he was mostly bald anyway, but he actually had a full head of hair; he just preferred a shaved head. Because it was not safe for the barber to serve Jewish customers in his shop, he came to the Rosenberger apartment, where he would not be observed.
On the morning of November 10, 1938, a Thursday, Emil was lying in bed when the barber arrived. Emil had a cold, and his mother decided it was best to keep him home from school. As he was lying there, he might have been thinking ahead to his bar Mitzvah, planned for later that month.
But on that morning, he heard the barber arrive with a terrifying warning: During the night mobs had burned down the Rosenberger's synagogue, he said, and now the SS were going from door to door, arresting all Jewish men.
Just two weeks before the barber’s warning, 17,000 Polish Jews (called Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews), including many living in Mannheim and attending synagogue there, had been rounded up and expelled from Germany without warning. The deportation was the culmination of a German/Polish tit-for-tat of legislation and decrees, each government determined to reduce the number of Jews within its borders.
In March 1938 the Polish legislature passed a law, targeted primarily at Jews, which revoked the citizenship of any person who had lived outside the country for 5 or more years without being in touch with the Polish government. According to Nazi estimates, there were up to 70,000 Polish Jews living within German borders. If the Polish law applied to them, they would be rendered stateless – with no country that would accept them – and thus permanent residents of Germany. At first, little action was taken by the Poles to implement their law, allowing the Germans to make a move of their own.
On August 22, a German police order announced that all residence permits for foreign nationals would expire by March 31, 1939. Although foreigners could request new residence permits before the end of 1938, the permits would be issued only to those considered “worthy”. In the Nazi state, no Jew qualified as “worthy”.
The Polish government understood that the result of the German legislation would be the return of tens of thousands of Polish Jews, and moved to quickly cut off that possibility. On October 15 an order was published by the Polish Ministry of the Interior requiring citizens living outside the country to present their passports at a Polish consulate within the next 15 days. If, upon inspection, the provisions of the March legislation concerning 5 years’ absence from the country were found to apply, the presenter’s citizenship would be immediately revoked.
After seeking assurances from the Polish government that Polish Jews resident in Germany would be allowed to return to their native country regardless of the Ministry’s order – and receiving no such assurance – the German government took action. On October 27, Polish Jews were arrested throughout the country – including at least 75 men, women, and children from Mannheim. They were forced to leave all their possessions behind and transported to the border, where they were unceremoniously, and with great resistance from the Poles, deported.
North of Mannheim, in Hanover, a Polish family named Grynszpan was one of those arrested. Sendel Grynszpan and his wife, Rivka, had lived in Hanover for more than 25 years. At the trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, Sendel, a tailor, described his family’s deportation:
On [Thursday] October 27, 1938, in the evening, a policeman came to my home and asked us to go to the 11th precinct with our passports. He assured us that we would be returning directly and that it was unnecessary to take our belongings with us. When I arrived at the precinct with my family, we found many people there, seated and standing, and some of them in tears. A police inspector was shouting at them, “Sign this paper. You are expelled.”Arrested and deported with Sendel Grynszpan were his wife, a daughter, Berta, and probably others of the couple’s six children. A son, 17-year-old Herschel, was in Paris for schooling.
… On Friday night they put us in police vans, 20 to a van, and took us to the station. The street was full of people chanting, “The Jews to Palestine!” We were taken to Neu-Bentschen, the last German city before the Polish frontier, arriving at 6:00 a.m., Saturday the 29th.
… At the border we were searched and our money taken from us. They left us with only 10 RM each. German law forbade the export of capital. They said to us, “When you arrived, you only had 10 RM; there’s no reason for you to leave with more than that.”
Herschel received a note from his sister Berta on Thursday, November 3, describing what was happening to his family. On Friday he pored over lengthy and graphic accounts of the deportations in Paris’s Yiddish press, becoming increasingly agitated. Sunday Herschel purchased a pistol, and on Monday morning, November 7, he appeared at the German embassy, intent upon assassinating the German ambassador to France in revenge for what had been done to his family. Instead, he shot and wounded the first embassy officer to appear, a third secretary named Ernst vom Rath.
|Herschel Grynszpan in French custody after shooting Ernst vom Rath.|
And that night, using the excuse of a murder by a Jewish immigrant, Kristallnacht began.
Vom Rath died on the afternoon of November 8. Reaction from Berlin was swift in coming. All Jewish periodicals in Germany were ordered to cease publication immediately. On Wednesday, November 9, inflammatory articles in the non-Jewish newspapers quoted Joseph Goebbels as saying, “The German people are entitled to identify the Jews in Germany with this crime.”