• Germany's news in English

Historian questions Kristallnacht catalyst

AFP/DPA/The Local · 8 Nov 2013, 16:46

Published: 08 Nov 2013 16:46 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The attacks of November 9 and 10, 1938, saw Nazi thugs plunder Jewish businesses throughout Germany, torch synagogues and round up about 30,000 Jewish men for deportation to concentration camps.

Some 90 Jews were killed in the orgy of violence also known as 'The Night of Broken Glass' - a reference to the Jewish shops, buildings and synagogues that had their windows smashed.

Now a new account is shedding light on the murder of diplomat Ernst vom Rath, whose November 7, 1938 death Nazi leaders seized upon as pretext for the pogrom.

Fuming over Germany's treatment of Jews, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-oldJewish youth, shot vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris.

History has long regarded Grynszpan as a murderer, but a new book suggests the shots he fired may not have been fatal.

"I'm 90 percent certain that Herschel Grynszpan didn't murder Ernst vom Rath. Hitler let him die," Berlin investigative journalist Armin Fuhrer told AFP.

In his book, Herschel - Das Attentat des Herschel Grynszpan am 7. November1938 und der Beginn des Holocaust (Herschel - The Assassination by Herschel Grynszpan on the 7th of November 1938 and the Beginning of the Holocaust), Fuhrer argues the envoy could have survived gunshot wounds to his shoulder and stomach if Nazi leaders had not decided to make a martyr of him.

"Hitler sent his personal doctor, Karl Brandt, to Paris... so he would consciously let Ernst vom Rath die, and not give him the medical help he needed," Fuhrer said.

Fuhrer's book also reveals vom Rath had acute gastrointestinal tuberculosis at the time of his death, a detail Nazi officials didn't make public so as not to weaken the "causal connection" between Grynszpan's shooting and the official's death, Fuhrer wrote.

Grynszpan's parents had sneaked him out of Germany to France when he was 15.

The month before the shootings, his parents and siblings in Germany were rounded up with as many as 17,000 others, deported and forced to live in a no-man's land on the Polish-German border as Nazis tried to 'repatriate' Jews with Polish roots.

Learning of his family's plight via a postcard from his sister, Grynszpan let loose five shots in the German embassy, providing "exactly the excuse Hitler and Goebbels had long and eagerly waited for," to foment anti-Jewish violence, Fuhrer wrote.

The last official record of Grynszpan places him in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin in 1942.

Fuhrer said much of the previous scholarship on the events leading up to Kristallnacht had relied too heavily on Nazi accounts.

He based his work on documents in public archives, some of which have only recently been made available to researchers.

Anti-semitism on the rise?

But while the events leading up to Kristallnacht remain unclear, the pogrom itself is generally considered a catalyst for intensified discrimination against Jews in Germany.

“It massively sped up the persecution of the Jews, “said leader of the Centre for Holocaust studies in Munich, Frank Bajohr.

And when it took place Hitler was at the peak of his popularity according to Oliver Hochkeppel of Munich’s soon-to-be-opened National Socialist Documentation Centre.

“It was at a time when support for the regime was at its highest,” claimed the historian. “Hitler went from one foreign policy success to the next and was at the peak of his charisma,” he added.

Story continues below…

Although anti-Semitism in Europe has decreased since the time of National Socialism, it is still a problem according to a survey published by the Welt newspaper on Friday. In Germany 17 percent of Jews consider anti-Semitism ‘a very big problem’ and 44 percent think it is ‘quite a big problem’.

Across Europe, the results are a cause for concern with 76 percent of those surveyed convinced that anti-Jewish discrimination has risen in their home countries over the past five years.

A country remembers

In a country keenly aware of its past, public speeches, art installations and religious gatherings are scheduled in Germany to commemorate the events of Kristallnacht, which Chancellor Angela Merkel last week called "one of the darkest moments in German history".

On Friday in Berlin, German President Joachim Gauck visited a former workshop and sanctuary for blind and deaf Jews during WWII, now a museum.

And about 100 shop owners in the German capital are expected to stick adhesives to their windows to create the illusion of broken glass - with KaDeWe, Germany’s answer to Harrod’s, expected to take part.

Berliners are also being called upon to clean ‘Stolpersteine' memorials for Jews in their neighbourhoods. The "stumbling blocks" are small plaques bearing the names of Holocaust victims embedded in the street in front of their last known address.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

AFP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd