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Der Schicksaltag, November 9th in History: Revolutions, Abdication, Republics, Repression, and A Wall Falls

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Schicksaltag: The Fateful Day and the Beer Hall Putsch November 9th 1923

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. In Russia however it was on July 4th 1918 that Czar Nicholas and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksaltag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death.

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

Kaiser Wilhelm II Cross the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

It was a gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918 when General Wilhelm Groener looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet was stunned, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents directed the war effort meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

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Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

In Berlin Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic, in part to prevent a Soviet takeover, which became known as the Weimar Republic. However, the promise of democracy was soured by a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, loss of territory, and occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy reparations, and war guilt; compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation doomed the young republic.

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Beer Hall Putsch Re-enactment 

Five years later an Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs and attempted a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party, which he hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler was wounded, convicted of treason and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf and continued to recruit others to his cause. Under ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. He quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub human and on Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler’s and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews, something that they had already been doing since the seizure of power. One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews, which coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments.

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Kristallnacht 

The murder was what Josef Goebbels needed and on the night of November 9th Nazi storm troopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps. About 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated. To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

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Occupied by the allied powers Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The divided Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

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But in the 1980s the Cold War began to thaw, the economically strapped Soviet Union was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement; Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo, and as borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the wall and on November 9th 1989 a tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points, but on hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved and Germany reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. It has now been thirty years since the Wall fell, eighty-one years since Kristallnacht, ninety-four years since the Beer Hall Putsch and one hundred and one years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary

Kristallnacht 75 Years Later

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“One of the men grabbed my father by the shoulder and spit in his face. They tore his World War I medals from his shirt and stomped them into the ground. They started beating my father. Furniture started flying through the windows. My mother was screaming: ‘Let’s get out of here. They are killing us.’ We slipped out a back street, hoping the men would be finished soon and we could go back home.” Alex Liebenstein Kristallnacht survivor. (Jewish Weekly.com 12 November 2004) 

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It is still hard for me to believe that a civilized people can be incited into mob violence against a minority, even one that is already being persecuted. Unfortunately has happened all too often. The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime 75 years ago on the 9th and 10th of November 1938 reverberate to today as we see a resurgence of a anti-Semitism around the world.

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The catalyst for the event was the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by the teenage son of a Polish Jewish immigrant who had recently been expelled from his home. However the death of the diplomat was a mere pretext for actions that the more radical National Socialists desired and had been building up to the previous five years.

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Josef Goebbels 

Preparations for the action were already underway when death of the diplomat Ernst was delivered at a meeting commemorating the Beer Hall Putsch. Ironically Von Rath was an anti-Nazi under suspicion and being watched by the Gestapo.

After the message was delivered, Goebbels who was in disgrace with Hitler after the discovery of an affair between him and an actress took the opportunity to regain favor with Hitler. He stirred up the assembled Nazis and reported that there were reports of anti-Jewish demonstrations and the burning of synagogues and that Hitler `has decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized by the party, but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are not to be discouraged either.’ Taking his exhortation as an order many Gauleiters ran to phones to begin the action in their districts.

But the fact was the pogrom was already planned. SS Gruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich sent the following order out the day before.

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich

TO ALL REGIONAL AND SUB-REGIONAL GESTAPO OFFICES 1:20AM, November 8, 1938

SUBJECT: MEASURES AGAINST THE JEWS THIS NIGHT
That only such measures were to be taken that would not endanger German lives or property  Businesses and residences of Jews may be damaged but not looted. Particular care is to be paid in business sections and surrounding streets. Non-Jewish businesses are to be protected from damage under all circumstances. Police are to seize all archives from synagogues and offices of community organizations, this refers to material of historical significance. Archives are to be handed over to the SS. As soon as possible, officials are to arrest as many Jews especially wealthy ones – in all districts as can be accommodated in existing cells. For the time being, only healthy male Jews of not too advanced age are to be arrested.
Reinhard Heydrich, SS Gruppenführer

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Heydrich’s Order

By two to three in the morning mobs were roaming the streets of German and Austrian cities. British Journalist Hugh Carlton Greene of the Daily Telegraph wrote:

“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the “fun”.” 

Magdeburg, zerstörtes jüdisches Geschäft

The banned Social Democratic Party reported:

“When the Jewish Synagogue was burning…a large number of women could be heard saying, That’s the right way to do it—it’s a pity there aren’t any more Jews inside, that would be the best way to smoke out the whole lousy lot of them. No one dared to take a stand against these sentiments….”

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Though horrified by the reports coming out of Germany the world did nothing to help the Jews. No country stepped up to allow increased immigration including the United States where anti-semitism was at its historic peak. Public condemnations of the Nazis by world leaders were at best muted. Likewise the passivity of many Germans to Kristallnacht encouraged the most radical parts of the party to enact even more restrictive and punishing laws and regulations on the Jews.

Goebbels was ecstatic and wrote in his diary: 10 November 1938 I reported to the Fuehrer and he decides: the demonstrations should be allowed to continue. The police should retreat. Let the Jews get a taste of popular anger. He is right. I immediately instructed the party and police accordingly. Then I gave a short speech along these lines to the Party leadership. Loud applause. Everybody goes to the telephones. Now the people is going to act…. I wish to return to my hotel, and see a glow as red as blood. The synagogue is burning.… We only put out the fires when they endanger adjacent buildings. If not, they should be burned to the ground.… Reports come from all over the Reich. 50 synagogues, then 70 are on fire. The Fuehrer ordered 20-30 thousand Jews to be arrested.… Public anger is running wild.… They have to be given the possibility to vent their rage.… Driving to the hotel, windows are being smashed. Bravo, bravo. The synagogues burn like big old huts. There is no danger to German property. For the time being there is nothing more to be done.… (Der Spiegel 1992)

Magdeburg, zerstörtes jüdisches Geschäft

Heydrich’s preliminary report stated:

The extent of the destruction of Jewish shops and houses cannot yet be verified by figures … 815 shops destroyed, 171 dwelling houses set on fire or destroyed only indicate a fraction of the actual damage so far as arson is concerned … 119 synagogues were set on fire, and another 76 completely destroyed … 20,000 Jews were arrested. 36 deaths were reported and those seriously injured were also numbered at 36. Those killed and injured are Jews.”

The Nazis even found a way to make money off of their persecution of the Jews. Hermann Goering convened a meeting of leaders on the 12th and discussed the economic implications of the action. The minutes of the meeting recorded his thoughts.

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Hermann Goering

“Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the economic angle it shall have to be tackled. Because, gentlemen, I have had enough of these demonstrations! They don’t harm the Jew but me, who is the final authority for coordinating the German economy. `If today a Jewish shop is destroyed, if goods are thrown into the street, the insurance companies will pay for the damages; and, furthermore, consumer goods belonging to the people are destroyed. If in the future, demonstrations which are necessary occur, then, I pray, that they be directed so as not to hurt us.” 

Accordingly those at the meeting decided that the Jews were to blame for the action and determined that the Jews be fined 1 Billion Reichsmarks for the slaying of Von Rath and 6 million for the damage to property. The money was taken from the insurance payments that Jewish business and property owners would have received.  The banality of Goering was typical of many Nazi leaders. He stated “We must agree on a clear action that shall be profitable to the Reich. … Anyway, the Jew must be evicted pretty fast from the German economy.”

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Goebbels made the announcement of the official party line that the riots and destruction were “a spontaneous wave of righteous indignation throughout Germany as a result of the cowardly Jewish murder of Third Secretary vom Rath.” Goebbels lied to foreign reporters saying “Not a Jew has had a hair disturbed.” 

But the truth was different. 91 Jews died as a direct result of the action while it is estimated several hundred more committed suicide during or just after Kristallnacht. Another two to three thousand of those arrested and sent to concentration camps died in those camps before the majority were released on the promise that they would leave Germany.

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Jewish Prisoners after Kristallnacht

The events of Kristallnacht and the decisions afterwards marked a distinct watershed in the annals of the Holocaust. They had already been stripped of citizenship and most rights but from this point they became the target of any petty bureaucrat or party official. Kristallnacht foreshadowed the future for the Jews of Germany and Nazi occupied Europe.

In the next year over 100,000 Jews would immigrate from Germany mainly to other European countries where many would again face the horrors of Nazi persecution as the Nazis implemented the Final Solution.

In hope of peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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