Classic Essays

Deconstructing the Kristallnacht Myth

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TO PROCEED from the macrolie of the Holocaust to the microlie of Crystal Night is an interesting research trip into the mechanics of racial propaganda. In the press reports recounting the observance of the 40th anniversary of the famous outburst (Nov. 10, 1938) against German Jewry, triggered by the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a Polish Jew, the Associated Press solemnly affirmed:

Ninety-one Jews were killed in the attacks, which foreshadowed the extermination of 6 million European Jews in Nazi death camps during World War II.

Embroidering a giant falsehood with a midget one is a technique not unknown to the media profession or to the Baron Munchausens of Madison Avenue. If the major premise of six million is accepted, who can object to the addition of 91 more bodies? Who would remember, or dare to remember, that the world press was combing Germany for atrocity stories during every second of Kristallnacht, yet for days, amid all the million of words, cabled, radioed and mailed around the world, not one piece of credible evidence was advanced that National Socialists murdered one single Jew.

Let’s go back to the fall of 1938 and to the original reports in the New York Times, which gave more space to the event than any other newspaper in the U.S. or the world.

Nov. 10 — The first report in the Times, the radio transmission of an unnamed reporter, said Berlin’s largest synagogue was ablaze and that vandals were at work in the “fashionable West End shopping district.” The only physical violence reported was an attack on a non-Jew for protesting damage to a department store.

Nov. 11 — A three-column, front-page article by Otto Tolischus, the Times‘ foreign correspondent in Berlin, reported no violence, but did pass on the story that an anonymous informant had witnessed the beating of a Jew. Tolischus confined most of his report to an extensive rundown of the burning, looting or destruction of various synagogues and business firms. Another story in the Times, datelined Vienna, talked of 18 out of 21 synagogues burned, of “Jews attacked and beaten” and of 15,000 arrested. In “panic and misery … about 50 Jews, men and women, were reported to have attempted suicide; about 20 succeeded.” The report went on to describe how two Jews in a synagogue were injured by a dynamite blast. No names of victims were given, or were any of the synagogues identified.

A dispatch from Frankfurt-am-Main said, “the aggressors, however, seemed to have refrained from bodily attacks. They let the Jews alone, but smashed their property.” Shops owned by American Jews “were not molested.” A summary of reports from 13 other German cities pointed out shops and synagogues were destroyed, but contained not a single allegation of any Jew being assaulted. In the same issue, the leading Times editorial sympathized with murderer Herschel Grynszpan, but no claims were made of any killings, only of a “number of Jews being beaten” and of a “wave of suicide” in Vienna.

Nov. 12 — The lead story from Tolischus referred to Jewish suicides, but still emphasized that vom Rath, the German diplomat (ironically a non-National Socialist), was still the only fatality. Elsewhere in the paper, portions of editorials from 17 U.S. big city dailies were reprinted. Only the Washington Post hinted at any killing by comparing Crystal Night to St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France in 1572. In fact, in all the world press the only specific allegations of murder — and this was limited to one Jew — appeared in a British newspaper. The inside “angle” of most commentators, including the Times newshounds, was that the “pogrom” had been organized by Propaganda Minister Goebbels. The Times carried a denial from Goebbels, in which he said that if he had organized the affair, there would have been 700,000 people in the streets, not “a mere few thousands.” Goebbels went on to insist that’ “scarcely any Jews were hurt.” Tolischus wrote, “the anti-Jewish excesses … seemed to have ceased as promptly as they started.” In a Times report on the speech of the Bavarian Minister of the Interior, Adolf Wagner, the death of a Polish Jew named Joachim Both, a shopkeeper, was mentioned. There seemed to be some confusion about the facts. One version had it that Both had been killed near his shop while protesting the threats of National Socialist bully boys. The other was that he had been shot in his apartment. There was no evidence that any National Socialist party member did the shooting, which could have been the work of an ordinary criminal. The Times of the same date also carried a dispatch from Munich that “several thousand elderly Jews from Munich had been released on Nov. 11, one day after their arrest.” A summary of foreign press reaction in the same issue contained no hint of any Jew being killed. In New York there was a public protest against Hitler featuring District Attorney Thomas Dewey and former Governor Al Smith. Violent attacks were made on the Germans and the Times printed the speeches in full. But neither Smith nor Dewey went so far as to claim a single Jewish death.

Nov. 13 — The first public accusation that Jews were murdered appeared on the placards of marchers in a demonstration outside the German Consulate in New York by 70 members of the American League for Peace and Democracy (which at the time was supporting Stalin’s purges of tens of thousands of Trotskyites and other Jewish intellectuals in Russia). Most atrocity stories in the Times were now emanating from Czechoslovakia, not Germany. But even these still emphasized beatings and humiliations with no mention of deaths. In a Times editorial veiled suggestions were made that the German attacks were “aimed at Jewish lives,” but no specifics were given. The Times also printed a joint statement by various American Jewish organizations which condemned National Socialist actions against Jews, but did not allude to violence.

Nov. 15 — The Times reported that a Netherlands airliner flying refugees from Germany to Holland, crashed near Amsterdam, killing the crew of 6, as well as 8 Jewish passengers. Twelve other Jewish passengers were injured. All were fleeing Berlin.

Nov. 19 — A Berlin dispatch to the Times claimed that “cases on file” in an unnamed “diplomatic office” of a foreign country in Germany asserted four Jews were killed during Crystal Night. The names of the Jews were given and the deaths supposedly occurred in four widely scattered small German towns. Meanwhile, according to the Times, British newspapers claimed 200 Jews had been executed in Buchenwald. This was denied as “absurd” by other sources.

Dec. 1 — The Times, while reporting internal purges within the National Socialist Party, said that the German police had preferred charges against some persons for stealing Jewish property. Twelve Germans were imprisoned and given 6 months in a concentration camp.

Dec. 2 — Another “wave of suicides” among Jews was reported. This time in Berlin, not Vienna. The Times published an AP report that “Rabbis worked overtime conducting funerals.” The Times own reporters wrote that Grynszpan, at his preliminary hearing in a French court, testified that he did not intend to kill vom Rath; he only wanted to wound him to call attention to the predicament of Polish Jews in Germany. Grynszpan insisted the postcard he had received from his parents announcing their deportation to Poland from Germany upon expiration of their visas, drove him to his desperate act. (It is interesting that five years after Hitler took power Polish Jews were still trying to stay in Germany, rather than go back to their native Poland.)

Dec. 24 — The Times printed an AP dispatch to the effect that Jews were being sent home at the rate of several hundred daily from concentration camps. Nine hundred Jews were released from Dachau in one day, after having been arrested six weeks earlier. Another story concerned a thunderous condemnation of Germany signed by prelates of all U.S. Christian denominations. This was believed to be the first time that all Christian churches had united in a formal declaration on a subject of “world interest.” The statement summarized the property damage, synagogue burning and mass punishment, but scrupulously avoided mentioning the killing of a single Jew.

Dec. 30 — The Times reported from Paris that Grynszpan’s aunt and uncle, who had sheltered their nephew, were sentenced to four months in jail for harboring an illegal alien. Both were also ordered to stand trial on criminal charges, along with their nephew.

A check of wire service stories during the same period reveals a condensed version of the same reporting that appeared in the Times. Neither the Associated Press nor the United Press in the days following Crystal Night made any direct charges of Jewish deaths. Only a few reports referred to Jews being assaulted or molested. There was, however, mention of windows smashed in Jewish shops in Kassel, of property damage suffered by German and foreign Jews, particularly British Jews, and of the monetary fine levied on Jews by Goering. A front page story by AP foreign correspondent Louis Lochner, discussed new impositions on Jews and concentration camp sentences, but not one word about the killing of a Jew anywhere. An AP story on Dec. 14 revealed how Jews were being expelled from colleges and universities, which they had been attending on a quota system since 1935. In one story there was a veiled hint that Grynszpan was a killer hired by mysterious Britons to undermine the Munich settlement and the Chamberlain government. The AP also pointed out that November marked 31 continuous months of Arab-Jewish strife in Palestine, which in the last four months had produced 2,458 casualties. When Kristallnacht occurred 20,000 British troops in the Holy Land were busy trying to quell a week-long rebellion.

After the press reports and editorials had faded from memory, articles, books and essays about Crystal Night began to appear. One of the first was Governments of Europe (Macmillan, 1940), which later became the U.S. Army’s educational manual EM 254. In volume one, in a segment entitled “Government and Politics in Germany” (pp. 506-507), Karl Loewenstein, a refugee from Munich and later professor of political science at Amherst, wrote:

In April, 1938, on the basis of an authorization under the Four-Year Plan, all Jewish property inside and outside Germany had to be registered with the authorities. The purpose of this huge inventory became evident when, in November 1938, a young Polish Jew, desperate over the expulsion of his parents from Germany, killed an employee of the German legation in Paris. Beginning on the night of November 9/10, all over Germany and Austria occurred a “spontaneous outbreak of the people’s wrath.” Organized by the party, the Gestapo, and the Ministry of Propaganda, troops of Hitler Youth, led by members of the SA and SS, or their school teachers, destroyed systematically every single Jewish shop and store in every town and village, burned and dynamited every single synagogue in Germany and Austria — 528 in all — desecrated the holy scrolls, and manhandled the rabbis. Jewish homes were systematically pillaged and smashed. Since the burning and sacking of conquered cities in the Thirty Years’ War, no similar act of official vandalism has been recorded. About seventy thousand Jews of all ages were thrown into concentration camps which, in the following months, showed an unprecedented death rate.

Despite Loewenstein’s inflammatory charges, he does not allege the death of one Jew during the “pogrom,” which officially lasted from 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 10.

A book Crystal Night, written by two French Jews, Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, was published in English (Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1974) after originally appearing in France in 1972 under the title La Nuit de Crystal. Jewish organizations claim this is “the only complete account” of the happening. The authors say various Jews were killed, but do not give any concrete or credible evidence to support their assertion. They say there were several Jewish suicides. They also say that the National Socialist Party’s Supreme Tribunal tried and punished persons charged with three murders. The authors quote reports by U.S. Consuls in Leipzig and Stuttgart which described substantial damage to property and much roughing up of Jews, but contained nothing about any deaths. As for Grynszpan, the authors tell us his trial in France was postponed again and again, and still had not taken place when the Germans invaded France in May 1940. Finally, on July 18 of the same year, French authorities turned their prisoner over to the Germans. He then received a “relatively mild interrogation by the Gestapo” before being shipped to Sachsenhausen, where he was given “preferential treatment” prior to transfer to a Berlin prison. His trial never actually occurred, though it was set for various dates in February and May 1942. As Professor James J. Martin writes,

What happened to Grynszpan is not certain. Members of his family and some sympathizers assert he was put to death by the Germans, while others have maintained that he survived the war, assumed a false identity and either disappeared into the shambles of postwar Europe or emigrated, both routes taken by a substantial contingent of people subsequently listed as “executed” or perished as a result of various circumstances (see The Saga of Hog Island, 1977, p. 206).

John Toland in his Hitler (1976) claims 36 Jews were killed during Crystal Night, but cites no source of any kind. Like most other writers interested in the subject, he dwells almost exclusively on property damage and the transportation of Jews to concentration camps. Toland cuts down Loewenstein’s total of devastated synagogues from 528 to 91, and sets the number of wrecked Jewish stores and shops at 814 and the number of destroyed Jewish homes at 171. He asserts that only 20,000 Jews were sent to camps, not 70,000.

Charles C. Tansill in his Back Door to War (1952) discusses Crystal Night (pp. 436-437), but mentions only property damage and synagogue burning. He says nothing about physical violence. This is typical of most diplomatic histories of the period. They uniformly fail to charge that any murders were committed.

William Shirer in his Rise and Fall of the Third Reich reports that many Jews were killed in the Crystal Night bagarre. But Shirer can hardly be taken seriously. After the assassination of Heydrich, the National Socialist boss of Czechoslovakia in 1942, Shirer escalated the number of the conspirators killed in a Prague church basement from 7 to 127.

To sum up Crystal Night propaganda, if a stray Jew or two lost his life before, during or after the event, no evidence has ever been advanced that it was due to political causes and therefore part and parcel of National Socialist policy. The efforts of common thugs to take advantage of the situation is almost never dealt with by reporters or authors, and the extreme vagueness and lateness of the charges make the whole case very suspicious, as does the failure to come up with specific allegations. It is even quite possible that admitted Jewish suicides have been converted into killings by “Nazis” with the passing of time. Even going well beyond Nov. 10, the total of claimed Jewish dead is five. Four of these fatalities were based on a third-hand rumor, while the fifth might have been killed during an armed robbery.

What we are faced with here is nothing else than the Jews’ habitual effrontery and contempt for history, sanctioned by their knowledge that they are safe from criticism and the threat of contradiction. The AP dispatch stating “91 Jews” were killed by National Socialists on Crystal Night will probably take its place along with the “six million” as another example of irresponsible media repetition turning highly questionable figures into unquestionable facts.

Note: A riled Instaurationist asked the Associated Press where it had obtained the “91 deaths” figure since it never appeared in AP reports filed during and after Kristallnacht. He received a cautious reply from Keith Fuller, president and general manager, who wrote:

I have checked with our people in Germany and they advise me that the source for the figure was Heinz Galinski, Chairman of the Jewish Community in West Berlin.

It is the quiet, uncritical acceptance of such tainted evidence that has turned the American media into the most gigantic lie factory in history.

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Source: Instauration magazine, June 1979

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