David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

Table of Contents
(iv) Conclusion >>

(i) Background

1. The second link in Irving's 'chain' of proof that Hitler defended the Jews is Hitler's actions during the events of 9-10 November 1938, part-trivialized, part-celebrated by the Nazis as the Reichskristallnacht or 'night of broken glass'. This episode is well known to historians. There have been many important scholarly studies based on a painstaking examination of the original archival documentation. These include two accounts by staff members of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich1 and other detailed studies by widely respected historians of Nazi Germany, also using the extensive original archival material available to historians in a wide variety of repositories in Germany, Britain and the USA. There have also been a number of local studies and exhibitions in German towns.2 The pogrom was carried out in public and widely reported in the German and international press,3 and the main events are not disputed by historians.
2. The course of events on 9-10 November 1938, and their immediate origins, can be briefly summarised as follows. On Monday, 7 November 1938, a young Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, shot and badly wounded the German legation secretary vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris. Grynszpan said his motive was as a protest against the expulsion of his parents from Germany. The expulsion was part of a dispute between the right-wing, antisemitic government of Poland, which was threatening to deprive Polish Jews living abroad of their Polish citizenship, and the Nazi government in Germany, which had reacted by trying to deport Polish Jews in Germany back to Poland en masse. On hearing of the shooting, Hitler expressed his concern for vom Rath by sending his personal physician to Paris.
3. On Tuesday 8 November, acting on the instructions of the official German Press Bureau, the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi daily paper, reported the shooting and threatened the Jews of Germany with retaliation, particularly against Jewish shops and landlords. These reports were repeated in the local and regional press. Nazi party members and local associations all over Germany were already preparing to celebrate the anniversary of Hitler's unsuccessful attempted putsch in Munich on 9 November 1923, and in Kassel and Dessau and some surrounding small towns they led attacks on Jewish community centres, synagogues and cafés, breaking windows and damaging interiors. On the evening of 8 November 1938, Hitler delivered his traditional speech, on the eve of the anniversary of the putsch, in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, without mentioning the assassination attempt on vom Rath.
4. Wednesday 9 November 1938 was marked by the usual parades and marches commemorating the putsch in Munich. Hitler was told, probably some time in the late afternoon, that vom Rath had died at 5.30 p.m. that day. The news was on the wires, announced by the official German news agency, at 7 p.m.. Hitler then went for dinner to the Old Town Hall, where the Party leadership was gathering to celebrate an evening of comradeship from about 8 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.. After a discussion with Goebbels, Hitler left the dinner to go to his Munich home, although the usual custom was that he should address those present at the commemoration.
5. Shortly afterwards, at about 10 p.m., Goebbels spoke to the meeting in Hitler's place. According to a report submitted to Hermann Göring by the Supreme Nazi Party Tribunal on 13 February 1939, Goebbels told his audience that there had already been anti-Jewish demonstrations in Hesse and Magdeburg-Anhalt, in which synagogues and Jewish businesses had been destroyed. He added: 'On his briefing, the Führer had decided that such demonstrations were neither to be prepared nor organized by the party, but insofar as they were spontaneous in origin, they should likewise not be quelled.' The decision had probably been discussed by Hitler and Goebbels during the previous dinner conversation. The report added that all those local party chiefs present understood this to mean that the party organization should organize anti-Jewish actions without being seen to do so.4
6. After the end of the meeting at 10.30 p.m. the Gauleiters present at the meeting contacted their local staffs and told them to act against Jewish shops, businesses and synagogues. Later that night, SA leaders in Munich also called upon the SA's regional   officials all over Germany to organize and participate in the pogrom. The police, meanwhile, were given orders to stay aloof, and police officers were instructed not to participate in the pogrom unless events took a turn which endangered German property or the lives of non-Jewish Germans and foreigners. They were, however, ordered at the same time 'to arrest as many Jews, especially well-off Jews, as can be accommodated in the available detention areas.'5
7. The terror lasted well into the morning of 10 November, 1938, and in some places even longer. One historian has aptly described it as a 'relapse into barbarism.'6 During the night, according to a first official balance-sheet drawn up on 11 November 1938 by Reinhard Heydrich, head of the security police, 191 synagogues had been set on fire and a further 76 had been completely destroyed.7 The real figures were of course much higher. A total of around 20,000 Jews had been arrested by the police. The majority of these Jews were released from concentration camps after a few days or weeks, but not before undergoing repeated beatings and humiliations by the SS camp guards. At a meeting chaired by Göring on 12 November 1938, it was disclosed that 7,500 shops and businesses had been destroyed and that there had been some 800 cases of looting, which -unlike the destruction of Jewish premises - appeared to the Nazi leaders as criminal   acts.8 The report of the Supreme Nazi Party court on 13 February 1938 on the pogrom referred to 91 killings, but the real number of deaths, including suicides, was certainly much higher.9
8. These events were the only major nationwide pogrom undertaken in public against the Jewish population during the 'Third Reich'. It is important to understand the nature of the violence unleashed not only against property but also against persons, which justifies referring to the night of 9-10 November 1938 as a pogrom. The US consul in Leipzig, David Buffum, reported on 21 November on the events in his town staring at 3 o'clock in the morning of 10 November:
Jewish buildings were smashed and contents demolished or looted. In one of the Jewish sections an eighteen-year-old boy was hurled from a three-storey window to land with both legs broken on a street littered with burning beds and other household furniture and effects from his family's and other apartments. This information was supplied by an attending physician. ...Jewish shop windows by the hundreds were systematically and wantonly smashed throughout the entire city...According to reliable testimony, the debacle was executed by SS men and Stormtroopers not in uniform, each group having been povided with hammers, axes, crowbars and incendiary bombs. Three synagogues in Leipzig were fired simultaneously by incendiary bombs and all sacred objects and records desecrated or destroyed, in most cases hurled through the windows and burned in the streets. No attempts whatsoever were made to quench the fires, the activity of the fire brigade being confined to playing water on adjoining buildings....Having demolished dwellings and hurled most of the movable effects onto the streets, the insatiably sadistic perpetrators threw many of the trembling inmates into a small stream that flows through the Zoological Park, commanding horrified spectators to spit at them, defile them with mud and jeer   at their plight. The latter incident has been repeatedly corroborated by German witnesses who were nauseated in telling the tale. There is much evidence of physical violence, including several deaths. At least half-a-dozen cases have been personally observed, victims with bloody, badly bruised faces having fled to this office, believing that as refugees their desire to emigrate could be expedited here.10
Numerous cases brought before German courts shortly after the war against the perpetrators indicated a similar pattern of violence and destruction all over Germany.
9. The maltreatment of the 20,000 or more Jewish men arrested and taken to concentration camps was similarly described in a large number of eyewitness reports filed both during and after the war by those who successfully reached exile. There is only space here for one such report to give an impression of the kind of hostility and brutality to which the arrested Jewish men - who had been neither formally tried nor found guilty of no crime or offence against the law of any kind - were exposed in the camps. One of the six thousand Hamburg Jews taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp on 10 November described in an eyewitness report written only a short time after these events how he and his fellow-prisoners were
met by a large contingent of SS men upon our arrival in Sachsenhausen. They immediately started to mistreat us so badly by kicking and beating us with rifle butts and truncheons that the police guard which had accompanied us stood aside aghast and then quickly departed...We were forced to stand in the camp for nineteen hours (in some cases, this period was even up to twenty-five hours). During this time, if someone collapsed, he was greeted by a hail of kicks and blows from the butts of rifles. The first thing we heard was a shout for the rabbi in the group, who was dragged by his beard and roughed up. He was then presented with a sign reading, 'I am a traitor and share responsibility for vom Rath's death'. He was forced to carry this sign at arm's length for   a period of twelve hours...Then our beards and heads were shaven, and we were forced to stand out in the pouring rain for six hours without food, drink, or head covering...The work we were marched to at double-time pace was performed in the clinker factory (Hermann Göring Werke) and consisted of transporting sand and sacks of cement...Sacks of cement weighing a hundred kilos were lifted without distinction onto the backs of men sixty and sixty-five years old, and they were then forced to drag this heavy burden ...During the return march from work, we trotted in rows of five. Those who collapsed along the way were beaten and then carried on stretchers inside the rows of five men...Whoever did not perform exercises in a sufficiently energetic manner was compelled to 'roll around', that is, he had to roll and spin in the sand until he fainted. These unfortunate souls frequently threw themselves onto the electric fence and were electrocuted or shot by a guard who saw them trying to get across the barrier.11
10. The Nazi press presented all this as 'a vivid demonstration of the degree to which the anger of the German people has reached, without Jews suffering any physical harm as a result.'12


1. Hermann Graml, Der 9. November 1938. "Reichskristallnacht" (Bonn, 1956); Helmut Heiber, 'Der Fall Grünspan', Vierteljahreshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 5 (1957), 134-72.
2. For example, Wolfgang Benz, 'Der Novemberpogrom 1938', in Wolfgang Benz (ed.), Die Juden in Deutschland 1933-1945: Leben unter nationalsozialistischer Herrschaft (Veröffentlichung des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte, Munich, 1988), 499-544, William Sheridan Allen, 'Die deutsche Öffentlichkeit und die "Reichskristallnacht". Konflikte zwischen Werthierarchie und Propaganda im Dritten Reich', in Detlev Peukert and Jürgen Reulecke (eds.), Die Reihen fast geschlossen (Wuppertal, 1981), 397-412, and Uwe Dietrich Adam, 'How Spontaneous Was the Pogrom?', in Walter H. Pehle (ed.), November 1938. From 'Reichskristallnacht' to Genocide (Oxford, 1991), 73-94; Rita Thalmann and Emanuel Feinermann, La nuit de cristal (Paris, 1972); Dieter Obst, "Reichskristallnacht ". Ursache and Verlauf des antisemitischen Pogroms von November 1938 (Frankfurt am Main, 1991). This is only a selection from a considerable literature. There are also numerous local studies.
3. For a selection of eyewitness reports, see Herbert Schultheis, Die Reichskristallnacht in Deutschland: Nach Augenzeugenberichten (Bad Neustadt, 1985). See also Heinz Lauber, Judenpogrom. "Reichskristallnacht" November 1938 in Deutschland: Daten, Fakten, Dokumente, Quellentexte, Thesen und Bewertungen (Gerlingen, 1981). The events were the subject of extensive criminal investigations after the war, which produced a mass of further evidence.
4. Nuremberg Document 3063-PS, in Der Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militargerichtshof (Nuremberg, 1948), Vol. XXXII, pp. 20-29.
5. 'so viele Juden - insbesondere wolhlhabende - festzunehmen, als in den vorhandenen Hafträumen untergebracht werden können'. Abschrift des Blitzfernschreibens aus München vom 10. 11. 1938, 1 Uhr 20, in Der Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militärgerichtshof, Vol. XXXI, ND 3051-PS; see also Fernschreiben an alle Stapo-Stellen und Stapoleitstellen, 9. 11. 1938, in ibid., Vol. XXV, ND 374-PS.
6. Wolfgang Benz, 'The relapse into barbarism', in Pehle (ed.), November 1938, pp. 1-43.
7. Heydrich to Göring, 11 November 1938, in Der Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher, Vol. XXXII, 3058-PS.
8. Stenographische Niederschrift von einemTeil der Besprechung über die Judenfrage unter Vorsitz von Feldmarschall Göring im RLM am 12. November 1938, in ibid., Vol. XXVIII, ND 1816-PS.
9. Der Oberste Parteirichter to Göqring, 13 Feb. 1939, in ibid.,Vol. XXII, ND 3063-PS.
10. Nuremberg Document L-202, cited in Noakes and Pridham (eds.), Nazism, doc. 424, pp. 554-56.
11. Eyewitness report, 26 November 1938, Wiener Library, P II d, No. 658 (also lfZ archive MZS 1/1). These eyewitness reports are only two out of a vast number long available to historians.
12. Göttinger Tageblatt, 11 November 1938, quoted in Peter Wilhelm, Die Synagogengemeinde Göttingen, Rosdorf und Geismar, 1850-1942(Göttingen, 1978), p. 55.
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(iv) Conclusion >>

accessed 11 March 2013