Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alan E. Steinweis' "Kristallnacht 1938"

Alan E. Steinweis is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Kristallnacht 1938, and reported the following:
My book offers a new synthesis of the November 1938 Pogrom against the Jews of Germany, an event known as the "Kristallnacht," or "night of broken glass." This pogrom was the single instance of large-scale, public, and organized physical violence against Jews inside Germany before the Second World War. It unfolded in the open, in hundreds of German communities, even those with very few Jewish residents, and took place partly in broad daylight. It led to the deaths of hundreds of Jews, the arrest of 30 thousand Jewish men and their transfer to concentration camps, and the massive destruction of Jewish personal and communal property, including, most notably, most of the country's synagogues. The pogrom inaugurated the definitive phase of so-called "Aryanization," i.e., the coerced expropriation of German Jewish property; led to a dramatic rise in applications for emigration among German Jews, further exacerbating the international Jewish refugee crisis; and intensified diplomatic tensions between Germany and other countries, which had already suffered considerably as a result of the very recent crisis over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.

Page 99 of the book describes a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels over lunch in Munich on November 10, 1938, at a moment when antisemitic violence was still raging in many parts of Germany. Hitler affirmed his approval of the violence, but also instructed Goebbels to issue a statement calling for the pogrom to cease. This passage does not reflect the main focus or interpretive thrust of the book, which has more to do with the participation in the violence by "ordinary" Germans than with the actions of the country's leaders. But the passage does reinforce an important (if not entirely original) point made in the book: Hitler played a very direct and decisive role in the decision to unleash the pogrom, as well as in the decision to call an end to it. This point is significant because it was longed believed that Goebbels, and not Hitler, had been the Nazi official most responsible for the pogrom. It is worth mentioning that the conversation between Hitler and Goebbels described on page 99 was reconstructed from the diary of Joseph Goebbels. This relevant entry is contained in a segment of the diary that had been locked away in a Soviet archive for decades after 1945, and which was published only in 1998.
Read an excerpt from Kristallnacht 1938, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue