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Kristallnacht And The World's Response

Kristallnacht And The World's Response

The free world's muted reaction to the Kristallnacht pogrom foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis' Final Solution.


Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Week.

It was 65 years ago last week that Nazi storm troopers carried out the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews of Germany. On Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, nearly 100 Jews were murdered and 30,000 more were sent to concentration camps.Several hundred synagogues were burned down. More than 7,000 Jewish-owned business were destroyed. The vast amount of shattered glass from the windows of Jewish homes and shops gave the rampage its name, "Crystal Night," or "Night of the Broken Glass."

During the previous five years, Germany's Jews had been stripped of their legal rights and subjected to occasional outbursts of violence, but nothing comparable to the systematic, nationwide devastation of Kristallnacht. Now the Fuehrer awaited the world's response.

The American public was fully informed regarding the events in Germany. Detailed reports about Kristallnacht appeared repeatedly on the front pages of the nation's newspapers during the days following the pogrom. However, some newspapers had difficulty acknowledging that the Nazis were motivated by hatred of Jews. A New York Times editorial argued that the Hitler regime's real motive was financial "that the purpose of the violence was to "make a profit for itself out of legalized loot." Likewise, the Baltimore Sun characterized the pogrom as a "money collecting enterprise."

President Franklin Roosevelt responded to Kristallnacht with a sharp verbal condemnation and two gestures: He recalled the U.S. ambassador from Germany for "consultations," and he extended the visitors' visas of the approximately 12,000 German Jewish refugees who were then in the United States. But at the same time, FDR announced that liberalization of America's tight immigration quotas was "not in contemplation."

"20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults."

In the wake of Kristallnacht, humanitarian-minded members of Congress introduced legislation to aid German Jewry. A bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Edith Rogers (R-Mass.) proposed the admission of 20,000 German refugee children outside the quotas. Nativist and isolationist groups vociferously opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill. Typical of their perspective was a remark by FDR's cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, who was the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration. She warned that "20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults."

An appeal to FDR by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for his support of the bill fell on deaf ears, and an inquiry by a congresswoman as to the president's position was returned to his secretary marked "File No action FDR."

Mindful of polls showing most Americans opposed to more immigration, Roosevelt preferred to follow public opinion rather than lead it. Without his support, the Wagner-Rogers bill was buried in committee.

Ironically, when Pets magazine the following year launched a campaign to have Americans take in purebred British puppies so they would not be harmed by German bombing raids, the magazine was flooded with several thousand offers of haven for the dogs.

American Jewish organizations were reluctant to challenge either the administration's policy or the prevailing public mood. Three days after Kristallnacht, representatives of the General Jewish Council, the umbrella group for the four largest Jewish defense organizations, met in New York City to decide their response to the Nazi violence. Worried about stirring up domestic anti-Semitism, they resolved "that there should be no parades, public demonstrations or protests by Jews," and that although "on humanitarian grounds, mass immigration of German Jews could not be opposed... at least for the time being, nothing should be done with regard to this matter."

When FDR asked his closest Jewish adviser, Samuel Rosenman, a prominent member of the American Jewish Committee, if more Jewish refugees should be allowed to enter the United States in the wake of Kristallnacht, Rosenman opposed such a move because "it would create a Jewish problem in the U.S."

Four months before Kristallnacht, the Roosevelt administration had organized a conference in Evian, France, that brought together delegates from 32 countries to discuss the Jewish refugee problem. But the delegates reaffirmed their unwillingness to liberalize their immigration quotas, and the British refused to even discuss Palestine as a possible haven. The U.S. administration had consciously convened the gathering to give the impression that the free world was taking action when it was doing nothing of the sort.

One German newspaper's comment on Evian stands out: "We can see that one likes to pity the Jews ... but no state is prepared to ... accept a few thousand Jews. Thus the conference serves to justify Germany's policy against Jewry."

Kristallnacht did not fundamentally alter the international community's response to Hitler. There were many verbal condemnations, but no economic sanctions against Nazi Germany, no severing of diplomatic relations, no easing of immigration quotas, not even a complete opening of the gates to the Jews' own ancient homeland. The free world's muted reaction to the Kristallnacht pogrom foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis' Final Solution.

November 8, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 17

(17) Anonymous, March 6, 2009 2:04 PM

That was so sad.

That was the worst thing that has ever happened. I hope nothing like this happens in the future.

(16) tanisha tallman, February 26, 2009 11:21 AM

wow! this is alot o info....

(15) Anonymous, October 11, 2008 7:25 PM

hey now don't hate.

I think maybe what Bettina was trying to convey was that she would have hoped christians of the time would have responded better, based one of the key ideals of christianity- love thy brother, etc. and that the treatment of Jews was OBVIOUSLY not something that the teachings of Christianity would condone. On the other hand, not just jews were persecuted for their beliefs- jehovahs witnesses and homosexuals and many others. I think that Bettina was mainly trying to say that many people had the opportunity to try and stop the horrendous events of the holocaust, and maybe she was expressing her horror as best as she knew how. In reference to shut up please! I think you shouldn't spout peace love and happiness if you judge someone you don't even know on their sins based on their web posting comments.

(14) Shut Up Please, December 19, 2007 6:58 PM

Shut Up...Please!!!

This is in reference to the third comment by Bettina Ramseyer. I totally disagree with your statement about the christians and their sins you should speak for yourself and your sins. The events of the Holocaust were caused by many people including the Germans, Americans, Polish and even some Jews who hid their identity and took part in Nazi Crimes. By the way it really happened it wasn't a nightmare. Peace, Love, Happiness to All.

(13) Anonymous, December 10, 2007 7:26 PM

Mixed messages

Okay, first of all I'm in high School and doing a project on the holocaust so I've been reading all these comments to see what peoples opinions are on this topic. Personally, I am getting different vibes from each one, which makes it that more difficult to understand the concept. First, I deffinatly do not believe we should be putting blame on anyone except for the one responsible, Hitler. Now, many of you are probably saying "oh well she's jut a teen she doesnt know what she's saying or what even happened" and your mistaken. Just because i am a teen doesn't mean i cannot grasp the concept; surley i cannot fully understand ALL of it, but i unnderstand enough to know the just of the situation. I wanted to post this for mainly adults to see, so they can understand were i am coming from as a student. Honestly, Yes, it is hard to hear about but i think it was extremely important to our society to learn about this to prevent it from happening again.

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