This year is the 75th anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht, the start of a mass seven-year pogrom undertaken by the Nazis to rid Germany and ultimately their conquered world, of all Jews.
It was the visible onset of the tragic holocaust (“the Shoah,” in Hebrew) that resulted in the murder of six million Jewish men, women, children in concentration camps in Germany, France. Occupied Poland.
Prior to the November 9/10 “broken glass” night of terror — rampant vandalism, arrest and murder of tens of thousands of helpless victims, setting fire to Jewish shops and synagogues — the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 stripped Jews of all legal and citizen rights.
Jews could not teach, practice law or medicine, marry non-Jews, attend movies, concerts or theaters, own radios or pets, shop only during certain hours, add Israel or Sarah to their given name, have J for “Jude” stamped on ID cards, wear a yellow Star of David, visible on clothing at all times.
Failure to do so meant concentration camp imprisonment, beatings, torture, death. The excuse for the Kristallnacht rampage was the assassination of a diplomat in the German Embassy in Paris by a 17 year-old Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan. He shot Nazi Ernst von Rath in protest of the deportation of Grynszpan’s parents to German Occupied Poland.
Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels was relishing such an excuse to unleash large-scale retaliation of Jews in Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland. Adolf Hitler, “der Fuhrer” (Leader), sanctioned the radical action. Police, fire fighters, military were ordered not to interfere. Stand by and watch.
The damage was brutal: 267 synagogues set ablaze, thousands of windows shattered, 7,500 business and stores burned, looted. To compound the 24-hour carnage, Jewish owners were ordered to pay about $400 million for the total damage.
Propaganda Minister Goebbels responded to international media and broadcast outrage to the terror by telling a “big lie” strategy: Germany was responding to an international Jewish conspiracy for takeover of the civilized, Christian, “Aryan”, world. Rath’s assassination marked its beginning.
The trial of Herschel Grynszpan was — because France wasn’t defeated by Germany until 1940 — to take place under French legal jurisdiction. In actuality Grynszpan’s trial kept being postponed for a variety of war-related reasons, and when France was finally defeated, a trial in Germany was proposed.
It never got off the ground because of a perceived suspicion of gay hanky panky. Details have come to light in a new history, “The Short Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, A Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” by Jonathan Kirsch (Liveright Publishing).
It was during the Paris trial preparation that a sympathetic French lawyer suggested to Herschel that his defense would go better if he said he was having a homosexual affair with the German diplomat. Herschel said no way! But once jailed in Germany he shrewdly changed his mind. He said he slept with von Rath to barter for his parents lives.
The Nazis kept postponing trial dates. No German diplomat could be gay. What’s worse, would ever sleep with a Jew. Bad international publicity.