By 1938, Adolf Hitler had been in power for five years. He had imposed his Third Reich, a police state and his own personality cult. He was called “Führer” meaning leader or guide. Nazi fascist doctrine was racist and anti-Semitic.
On 7 November, German diplomat Ernst vom Rath was assassinated by 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew resident in Paris – whose family was forced out of Hitler’s Germany.
The assassination was seized as a pretext during the night from 9-10 November for coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany. They lost any rights. The attackers were paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians. The police stood by. This was called Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass. Jews were murdered in the rioting; tens of thousand would be transported to concentration camps. Thousands of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, cemeteries were profaned. The worst was in Berlin and the Austrian capital Vienna. Racial persecution grew.
Commemorating that 1938 beginning of the Holocaust Chancellor Angela Merkel would stress that many people’s failure to speak out had contributed to the “breakdown of civilisation”.
She said: “Racism and anti-Semitism must never be given another chance in Germany, in Europe.”
Now, on Kristallnacht’s 75th anniversary, Merkel called today’s continuing need for police protection for Jewish institutions a sobering reality.
The preparation for Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, his ‘Final Solution’ premise of an Aryan master race, included categorising Jews and documenting them, or stripping them of documents, businesses, possessions. It had begun with laws against inter-racial marriage, banning Jews from employment, from state hospitals, schools, libraries and parks… and it concluded in many death camps and gas chambers.