4.1 Newspapers' Report on the November Pogrom

This exercise contains articles from newspapers in Germany and the United Kingdom. By the end of this activiy you will have developed your ability to critically examine information from historical source materials and understand how historical events can be seen from different perspectives.

What to do?

In this exercise you are going to read about the 1938 wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms. First read the description and then do the press analysis that follows.

The November Pogrom

The November pogrom (earlier often called Kristallnacht or Reichskristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass”) refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms mainly occurred on November 9 and 10, 1938. This wave of violence took place throughout Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia recently occupied by German troops.

The violence was primarily instigated by Nazi Party officials and members of the SA (Sturmabteilungen: literally Assault Detachments, but commonly known as Storm Troopers) and the Hitler Youth.

In its aftermath, German officials announced that the November pogroms had erupted as a spontaneous outburst of public outrage in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath.

Vom Rath was a German embassy official stationed in Paris. Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, had shot the diplomat on 7 November 1938. A few days earlier, German authorities had expelled thousands of Jews living in Germany with Polish citizenship from the Reich. Grynszpan had received news that his parents and siblings, residents in Germany since 1911, were among them.

Vom Rath died on 9 November 1938, two days after the shooting. The day happened to coincide with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, an important date in the National Socialist calendar. The Nazi Party leadership, assembled in Munich for the commemoration, chose to use the occasion as a pretext to launch a night of antisemitic excesses.

Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a chief instigator of the Kristallnacht pogroms, suggested to the convened Nazi "Old Guard" that "World Jewry" had conspired to commit the assassination. He announced that “the Führer has decided that … demonstrations should not be prepared or organised by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”

The rioters destroyed some 1 400 synagogues and prayer rooms throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Many synagogues burned throughout the night in full view of the public and local firefighters, who had received orders to only intervene if the flames risked spreading to neighbouring “Aryan” buildings.

SA and Hitler Youth members across the country shattered the shop windows of an estimated 7 500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments and looted their wares. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions. Although murder was not an explicit goal in the central directives, the November pogroms claimed the lives of at least 400 Jews between 9 and 10 November.

Jewish traders remove traces of the pogrom at Potsdamer Strasse, 10 November 1938.

As the pogroms spread and following Reinhard Heydrich's instructions, units of the SS and Gestapo (Secret State Police) arrested up to 30 000 Jewish males and transferred most of them from local prisons to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and other concentration camps.

Significantly, the November pogrom marked the first instance in which the Nazi regime incarcerated Jews on such a massive scale simply on the basis of their ethnicity. Hundreds died in the camps as a result of the brutal treatment they endured. Most did end up being released over the next three months on the condition that they began the process of emigration from Germany. Indeed, the effects of the November pogrom would serve as a spur to the emigration of Jews from Germany in the months to come.   square.jpg

People arrested at the November Pogrom of 1938 being counted at roll call in Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany.

Compare the articles

You are going to read a shortened and edited newspaper article reporting on Kristallnacht. The first one is from a German source, the second one is from the United Kingdom. Work in pairs and compare the reports. Then fill in the table that follows. Make sure you only read one of the two reports and that your partner reads the other one.

Download newspaper articles and table sheet       

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