Prolific WWII historian and Churchill biographer Gilbert (Churchill and America, 2005, etc.) analyzes the first coordinated, nationwide attack on Germany’s Jews.
Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” took place on Nov. 10, 1938. Within 24 hours, thousands of Jewish homes, shops and houses of worship were ransacked and burned; a quarter of the Jewish men remaining in the Third Reich were arrested; and hundreds of Jews of all ages were beaten and killed. The campaign was largely conducted by Hitler’s Storm Division, the Brownshirts, who staged attacks everywhere more than a few Jews lived, from small farms to the center of Berlin. Goebbels, Himmler, Heydrich and presumably Hitler drew great satisfaction from the spasm of violence, happily noting that even little German boys were joining in to beat and burn. Gilbert’s account is rather general on where the orders from on high originated, but it is searing and specific in relating the violence as it unfolded, documenting myriad brutalities, but also the small acts of resistance mounted by ordinary Germans—from concierges to military officers—in order to protect their neighbors. He exposes a few ironies: the Gestapo’s acquiescence in allowing what would become Israel’s Mossad to operate in Berlin to recruit Jews to emigrate to Palestine; the utter destruction of a kosher restaurant in Vienna that had just been sold to a Nazi Party member. Where Western governments did almost nothing in response, Indian and Chinese officials offered asylum. Yet ordinary citizens around the world finally saw the Nazi regime for what it was, for no other event in the war against the Jews was so thoroughly covered by the international press as it was happening. “Kristallnacht,” Gilbert concludes, “taught the Nazi administrators and planners that they must in future act with silence and secrecy, hiding what they were doing to the Jews from the eyes of world indignation.”
A well-written survey of a turning point in modern history.