POGROM: The Editor’s Speech

To mark the publication of POGROM – NOVEMBER 1938: TESTIMONIES FROM ‘KRISTALLNACHT’, an event was held at The Wiener Library on Wednesday 11th November.

POGROM is a major contribution to Holocaust Studies, and is published in association with, and drawn from the archives of, The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide, founded by Alfred Wiener in 1933.

POGROM is the first English-language translation of these powerful individual testimonies, which reveal the experiences of ordinary Jewish people during, and after ‘Kristallnacht’. Some are angry, some beg for help, others are defiant; their voices vividly bring to life the destruction that followed.

Pogrom cover

Its 784 pages feature contextual historical information, images and a bespoke glossary, that will also be available online. The purpose is to remove the language barrier and enable historians, researchers, students, teachers and others internationally to understand and use information in English about this crucial milestone on the road to the Holocaust. 

Here is the speech given by Dr Ruth Levitt, Research fellow at The Wiener Library, and editor of POGROM, at the event:

“On the night of 9-10 November 1938, 77 years ago, in hundreds of towns and villages in Germany and Austria, thousands of Jews were simultaneously terrorised, persecuted and victimised.

This was neither a spontaneous event nor was it without roots in earlier anti-Semitic persecution and mistreatment. Since at least 1933, the Nazi regime had been imposing increasing restrictions and disenfranchisement upon Jews in Germany and Austria.

For example, in September 1935 the first Nuremberg Laws were adopted by the Nazi Party. The official title was the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour:

  • Jews were deprived of citizenship
  • Jews were barred from flying the German flag;
  • Jewish families employing a Christian household servant under the age of 45 could be convicted of racial contamination;
  • any couple circumventing the law by marrying abroad could be convicted of racial contamination;
  • mixed marriages and all sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews, which were said to contaminate the race, were forbidden;
  • related regulations defined a Jew as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents
  • regulations removed Jews from all spheres of German political, social, and economic life.

In March 1938 Nazi troops marched into Austria and it was annexed to the German Reich – this was the Anschluß.

Later in March 1938 the legal status of Jewish community organisations in the Reich was abolished.

In April 1938 Jews were obliged to make a detailed declaration of their property over the amount of 5,000 marks. This measure preceded the seizure and expropriation of their property.

In June 1938 there was a wave of arrests of men categorised by the Nazi regime as so-called Asoziale [asocial] and Arbeitsscheue [work shy], mostly unemployed or with a criminal record; about 20% of these men were Jews.

On 17 August 1938 German Jews were required to add to their passports the first name “Israel” for men and “Sara” for women.

On 12 September 1938 Hitler demanded the restitution of the Sudeten German territories in Czechoslovakia.

On 30 September 1938 Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Daladier signed the Agreement in Munich that ceded the Sudetenland to Germany in return for Hitler pledging peace.

On 3 October 1938 an order confiscated all Jewish property and regulated the transfer of Jewish assets to non-Jewish Germans.

On 5 October 1938 a Polish decree announced that all passports issued to Jews living abroad were null and void.

On 27 October 1938 Germany expelled Jewish Polish nationals to the Polish border but Poland refused to accept them; 17,000 people were stranded in a no-man’s land near Zbąszyń, Poland, including the Grynszpan family.

On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, studying in Paris, went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot Ernst vom Rath, third secretary. Vom Rath died in hospital in Paris on 9 November 1938.

On the night of 9-10 November 1938 a centrally orchestrated attack was unleashed upon the Jews in Germany and Austria:

  • over 1,200 synagogues were desecrated, looted and burned
  • thousands of Jewish shops, businesses and homes were damaged and looted
  • countless individuals were attacked, abused and beaten
  • well over 90 people were killed
  • over 25,000 men were arrested, deported and detained in the concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen for months, where they were brutally tortured and mistreated; many more died there.
  • a tax of RM 1.2 bn, the so-called Judenkontribution, was imposed on the Jews in 1938-9 for the cost of the Novemberpogrom damage.

The 356 testimonies published here in English for the first time provide a uniquely frank source of information about these events, unmediated by later interpretations, history-writing and the effects of memory. The testimonies were mostly collected in November and December 1938 and then for some the weeks and months afterwards.

Some are raw and personal, conveying unconcealed distress, despair or anxiety, expressing great misery, fear or desperation. Some beg for help. Others are angry or defiant or scornful towards the perpetrators.

Those that are written in a matter-of-fact, impersonal way, with little or no overt emotion or commentary, are equally chilling; some are minutely detailed, especially revealing about concentration camp experiences; several are bravely stoical; a few manage an ironic tone of gallows humour; one or two present hair-raising escapes or describe attempts to hide as exciting adventures.

I urge you to look closely at the testimonies and all the additional material in the book and on the website, and see for yourselves why these voices must be heard and understood now and in the future.

Finally, may I add my thanks to all those who made this project possible, and say again how generous and valuable their work has been.”

POGROM – NOVEMBER 1938: TESTIMONIES FROM ‘KRISTALLNACHT’ is now available in hardback (ISBN: 9780285643079) and online at http://wienerlibrarycollections.co.uk/novemberpogrom/home.

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