In September 1935, Hitler used the Seventh Reich Party Rally in Nuremberg as an opportunity to prod the government bureaucracy into passing a law with two objectives: to establish a clear racial criterion for German citizenship and to ban intermarriage, even sexual relations, between German Jews and “Aryan” Germans. At the time, some German Jews hoped that this demotion from the status of citizen to subject, however humiliating, might at least offer some stability for the future. After the passage of the so-called Nuremberg Laws, there was indeed a temporary lull in the introduction of new measures against the Jews. This, however, was likely attributable to German efforts to present a good public face to the world during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The German annexation [Anschluss] of Austria on March 12, 1938, and the riskier annexation of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia (made possible by the Munich Agreement of September 29, 1938) emboldened the Nazis, leaving them less concerned with foreign opinion and ever readier to eliminate the Jews within their steadily growing reach. At the end of October 1938, the Gestapo transported about 17,000 Jews of Polish origin to the no-man’s-land between the borders of Poland and Germany. These stateless Jews, who could neither enter Poland nor return to Germany, were left wandering in this no-man’s-land until the Polish government established refugee camps for them directly inside its border. After seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, a Pole living in Paris, heard that his parents were caught up in this action, he shot the secretary of the German legation there, Ernst Eduard vom Rath (1909-1938). The attack occurred on November 7, 1938; vom Rath died from his injuries two days later.
The shooting gave Nazi officials a convenient excuse for punishing German Jews. The Nazi-controlled press quickly declared that Grynszpan’s act was part of an international Jewish conspiracy against Germany, and, after receiving the signal from Hitler, Goebbels recommended “spontaneous” outbreaks against the Jews. On the evening of November 9, 1938 (commonly referred to as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass), the SA instigated a country-wide campaign of violence against German Jews. The attacks lasted for several days, killing approximately 100 Jews, injuring countless others, and destroying more than 7,000 Jewish businesses and 267 synagogues throughout Germany. Foreign observers, newspaper reporters, and diplomats gathered extensive information on the government-sponsored violence and communicated it to the rest of the world. Samuel Honaker, the American consul in Stuttgart, recognized that the “spontaneous” outbursts were, in fact, carefully stage-managed.
On November 11, 1938, Hitler charged Göring with addressing the aftermath of Kristallnacht. The next day, Göring called a large interagency meeting at the Reich Aviation Ministry. Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, and Martin Bormann (then chief of staff to “deputy Führer” Rudolf Heß) were among the powerful figures in attendance at the four-hour meeting. Göring advocated state seizure of Jewish property and was therefore eager to prevent further destruction to, or private seizure of, valuable Jewish assets. To achieve his objective, Göring proposed a range of measures to expropriate, restrict, or expel Jews – in short, to separate them from German society. Heydrich, however, rejected the idea of establishing Jewish ghettos within German cities, arguing that they would become breeding grounds for crime and disease. Göring exhibited some interest in Heydrich’s suggestions for increasing Jewish emigration, but he also threatened that severer measures would be adopted in the event of war.