2.2 Early anti-Jewish policies in the Nazi government
Hitler's government was sworn in on 30 January 1933. On 28 March all Nazi Party organisations were urged to carry out a boycott of Jewish businesses and professionals on 1 April. The exhortation came from ‘the Party Leadership’ and claimed that the boycott was in response to the lies spread in the foreign press by Jewish emigrants; in reality, though, it was an attempt to impose some discipline on the freelance, anti-Semitic vandalism and violence of Nazi activists (especially the SA) in the light of the Party's political dominance. The German population as a whole did not show itself to be particularly sympathetic to the boycott, and it was called off as an organised, nationwide event after one day. Over the next two and a half years, while some local Nazi activists continued to rant against the Jewish ‘menace’ and, on their own initiative, assaulted or intimidated Jews, little was said or done publicly by the Party hierarchy. Then, on 15 September 1935, in a speech to the Reichstag assembled at the Party rally in Nuremberg, Hitler announced ‘defensive actions’. He declared that these were necessary as calming measures because of plots and boycotts which had been engineered against Germany by Jews abroad. These ‘actions’ became known as the Nuremberg Laws. The ‘Citizenship Law’ led to the division of the population into ‘subjects’ and ‘citizens’; Jews became mere ‘subjects’ and lost legal equality. The ‘Law for the Defence of German Blood and Honour’ forbade marriage and sexual relations between Jews and ‘Aryans’. At the same time Jews were banned from raising the German flag and employing non-Jewish female servants or staff under the age of 45. An additional thirteen decrees supplemented these laws over the next few years; the Protection Law, for example, was extended to include Gypsies and ‘Negroes’. Most of the new decrees, however, were concerned with removing Jews from influence and authority within the Volksgemeinschaft (the national community); thus the licences of Jewish doctors and lawyers were revoked, Jews were issued with new, distinct passports, and so forth. There was some negative reaction to this legislation – from a few businessmen who feared an adverse effect on the economy, and from churches, liberals and ideological opponents of the regime – but most ordinary German people appear to have accepted it, or at least turned a blind eye. But again, for a long period, there was little public comment from the Party hierarchy, and little public debate.
On 7 November 1938 the Third Secretary at the German Legation in Paris was assassinated by the 17-year-old son of a deportee. The Nazi response was the organised pogrom of the night of 9–10 November, Kristallnacht – ‘Crystal Night’, or ‘the Night of Broken Glass’ (some now prefer the less euphemistic term Reichspogromnacht – pogrom night). Documents II.8 II.9, and II.10, are extracts from reports of the event.
What is the origin of each of these reports?
Might you expect the origin of each document to affect how the events are reported in it?
In the light of your answer to question 2, can you detect from these reports a general picture of the reaction of the German people to Kristallnacht?
Document II.8 is a report smuggled out of Germany by socialists or socialist sympathisers; Document II.9 is a police report; Document II.10 is a report from a senior local government official.
Whatever document we are looking at, we have to be aware of who wrote it and for what purpose. We might, therefore, approach each of these documents with some reservations. Might the socialists have had an axe to grind? Might they have been tempted to couch their account in ideological terms, or in terms which their audience would have found generally encouraging about the direction events in Germany were taking? Similarly with the police and the local government official: how far might they have been writing what they knew their superiors wanted to read?
What is interesting is that, even given these differences of origin and ideological baggage, the reports tell roughly the same story – Kristallnacht was not universally well received by the German people.
Historians of Nazi Germany, whose conclusions are, of course, based on many more than three documents, generally agree that the destruction and violence of Kristallnacht prompted widespread criticism. Some of this may simply have been concern about violence on the streets; note, for example, the comments made by the Regierungspräsident towards the end of his report. Moreover, as the SOPADE report suggests, the reaction to the event – and to the persecution of the Jews in general – appears to have varied from place to place given the numbers of Jews present in the community, the extent of intermarriage and local traditions of anti-Semitism.