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    Kristallnacht: Hitler Did Not Try to Stop It

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    Did Adolf Hitler try to stop the Kristallnacht pogrom?

    As a means of trying to exonerate Hitler, Holocaust deniers claim:

    When Adolf Hitler found out about the Kristallnacht pogrom he was angry and ordered Josef Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, to stop it immediately.

    For example, David Irving, who the High Court in London in 2000 declared to be a Holocaust denier, racist and antisemite, claims that when Hitler found out about the pogrom he was “livid with rage.” He summoned Josef Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, to his apartment and “made a terrible scene.”[1] Irving states that Hitler sent out Julius Schaub, one of his aides, with instructions to do everything possible to stop the violence and destruction. Hitler then ordered Goebbels and Rudolf Hess, the head of the Nazi party and part of Hitler’s inner circle, to the phones to try to “halt the most violent excesses.”[2]

    The facts are:

    Historical evidence does not support the idea that when Adolf Hitler learned about the Kristallnacht pogrom he tried to stop it. The diary entries of Josef Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and a member of Hitler’s inner circle, show that Hitler did not order him to stop the pogrom but rather authorized it.

    The facts about whether Adolf Hitler tried to stop the Kristallnacht pogrom:

    Goebbels’ diary reveals that a supposedly enraged Hitler did not send him out to stop the pogrom. Instead, Goebbels was free to revel in his initial progress. Later, after an evening event where he met with Hitler, Goebbels happily recorded the scene he witnessed from his car as he returned to his hotel: “In Berlin, 5 then 15 synagogues burn down. Now the people’s anger rages. Nothing more can be done against it for the night. And I don’t want to do anything either. Should be given free rein . . . As I drive to the hotel, windows shatter. Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues burn in all big cities. German property is not endangered.”[3] Goebbels’ euphoria continued into the next day (November 10). “Yesterday, Berlin. There, all proceeded fantastically. One fire after another. It is good that way. I prepared an order to put an end to the actions. It is now just enough . . . In the whole country the synagogues have burned down. I report to the Führer at the Osteria.”[4]

    Frankfurt synagogue burning on Kristallnacht.
    Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Goebbels’ diary entries shows that Hitler did not order him to stop the pogrom. Rather, Goebbels had a luncheon appointment with Hitler the next day to review the impact of the pogrom.

    The implementation of the Kristallnacht pogrom: Primary evidence

    The fact that Hitler gave no orders to stop the pogrom is evidenced in three telexes (telegrams) concerning the execution of the pogrom. High Nazi officials sent these telexes to their subordinates across Germany during the night of Kristallnacht.

    The telex on November 9, 1938 at 11:55 p.m.

    Heinrich Müller sent a telex from Berlin to German police officials with instructions about the pogrom. Müller’s telex read in part: “Actions against Jews in particular against their synagogues will very shortly take place across the whole of Germany. They are not to be interrupted.” Looting was to be prevented. The arrest of 20,000 to 30,000 Jews was authorized. “Propertied Jews above all are to be chosen.”[5]

    The telex on November 10, 1938 at 1:20 a.m.

    Reinhard Heydrich transmitted orders from Berlin to the police forces and Gestapo offices across the country. The orders were given to him directly by his boss, Heinrich Himmler (the head of the SS and the police in Germany), who reported directly to Hitler.

    This telex instructed the police not to prevent the destruction of Jewish property or get in the way of violent acts committed against German Jews. This telex said in part: “. . . demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in the course of this night—9th to 10th November 1938—in the entire Reich . . . the demonstrations which occur are not to be hindered by the police.”[6]

    The only real restrictions Himmler and Heydrich placed on the police and Gestapo is that they were not to endanger German life or property. Synagogues should only be set ablaze if there was no danger of the fire spreading to “Aryan”-owned buildings. The contents of the shops and dwellings of Jews should not be looted. Non-Jewish shops should be protected. Foreign Jews could not be assaulted.

    Reinhard Heydrich (National Archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    Telex signed by Reinhard Heydrich (page 1 of 4). National Archives [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

    The telex on November 10, 1938 at 2:56 a.m.

    Rudolf Hess sent out a cable to all the party offices throughout Germany. This telex forbade setting fire to Jewish shops: “On express orders issued at the very highest level, there are to be no kind of acts of arson or outrages against Jewish property or the like on any account and under any circumstances whatsoever.”[7] Forbidding the arson of Jewish shops was probably due to the fact that many Jews rented from non-Jews. Thus, burning these shops would actually destroy German property. There was also a risk that the fires would spread to adjacent German property. Finally, it became clear after the pogrom that the Nazis wanted to “Aryanize” the last Jewish-owned businesses in Germany—that is, the Nazis wanted to take them over and provide them to the so-called “Aryan” proprietors. In light of this eventual “Aryanization,” burning the shops and their contents would be counterproductive and wasteful in the long run.[8]


    The diary entries of Josef Goebbels, a member of Hitler’s inner circle, show that Hitler didn’t order him to stop the pogrom but actually authorized it. Goebbels’ diary reveals that he was thrilled with the progress of the pogrom throughout the night. When he met with Hitler the next day, it was only to conclude the details about wrapping up the pogrom. No other Nazi officials, including others in Hitler’s inner circle, tried to stop the pogrom either. Rather, they sent out instructions throughout the night of Kristallnacht, giving directions on how best to conduct the pogrom. None of these Nazi officials would dare start or encourage major violent action against German Jews without the permission of Hitler.


    [1] David Irving, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich (Focal Point, 1996), p. 277. You may download the entire book as a PDF at www.fpp.co.uk/books/Goebbels/.

    [2] David Irving, War Path (London 1978), p. 165 as cited in Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(E)(2-4) at www.hdot.org, “Expert Witness Reports.” Warpath can be downloaded as a PDF at http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/WarPath/.

    [3] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(E)(10).

    [4] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(iii)(A)(4).

    [5] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(F)(9).

    [6] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(F)(2).

    [7] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(G)(1).

    [8] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(ii)(G)(2-4).