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American Consul Samuel Honaker's Description of Anti-Semitic Persecution and Kristallnacht and its Aftereffects in the Stuttgart Region (November 12 and November 15, 1938)

During its first years in power, the Nazi regime sought to avoid criticism from both the international community and the general German population. To this end, it tried to contain street violence and other excesses against German Jews. Instead, Hitler directed National Socialist anti-Semitism into legal channels, using discriminatory laws to isolate the Jews socially and economically and to force them to emigrate. By 1938, this approach had prompted 250,000 Jews to leave Germany. Still, Hitler’s policy frustrated the most radical elements of the party and the government, who demanded an immediate solution to the so-called Jewish Question.

With anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany, the Polish government began to fear that Polish Jews living in Germany would want to return home. Thus, in March of 1938, the Polish government announced that all Polish citizens living abroad who failed to renew their passports by October 31st would lose their citizenship. The new policy had serious implications for the roughly 70,000 Polish Jews living in Germany, for failure to comply threatened to prevent them from either returning home or emigrating elsewhere. As a result, in the fall of 1938, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop ordered police action against Polish Jews living in Germany. On the night of October 28, 1938, the Gestapo arrested about 17,000 Polish Jews with the intention of deporting them to Poland. But Poland closed its borders on October 31st, leaving the majority of the deported stranded in the no-man’s-land between the German and the Polish border near the town of Zbaszyn. Since the Polish government initially refused to admit them, they had to endure extremely harsh living conditions for several weeks until their situation was finally resolved.

After seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynszpan (also written as "Grünspan" in German), then living in Paris, heard that his parents were caught up in this action, he decided to commit a spectacular assassination to draw the world's attention to the suffering of the Nazis’ Jewish victims. On the morning of November 7, 1938, he entered the German embassy in Paris and shot Legation Secretary Ernst Eduard vom Rath, who died of his injuries two days later. The SA and SS responded with immediate excesses against Jewish persons and institutions in Germany. When Hitler was informed of the diplomat’s death, he authorized Goebbels to stage a pogrom throughout all of Germany. It was to be sold to the world as a spontaneous eruption of the German people’s outrage over the so-called Jewish crime. That same night, the SA and SS unleashed a wave of violence and destruction over the entire country: thousands of Jewish synagogues, shops, factories, apartments, and houses were looted and vandalized. As the following eyewitness report by American Consul Samuel Honaker reveals, the Nazi regime was not able to maintain the fiction of the spontaneous people’s uprising against the Jews in the eyes of the world.

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I. Letter to Hugh R. Wilson, American Embassy, Berlin

American Consulate
Stuttgart, Germany, November 12, 1938

No. 307
Subject: Anti-Semitic Persecution in the Stuttgart Consular District

The Honorable Hugh R. Wilson, American Ambassador, Berlin


I have the honor to report that the Jews of Southwest Germany have suffered vicissitudes during the last three days which would seem unreal to one living in an enlightened country during the twentieth century if one had not actually been a witness of their dreadful experiences, or if one had not had them corroborated by more than one person of undoubted integrity. To the anguish of mind to which the Jews of this consular district have been subjected for some time, and which suddenly became accentuated on the morning and afternoon of the tenth of November, were added the horror of midnight arrests, of hurried departures in a half-dressed state from their homes in the company of police officers, of the wailing of wives and children suddenly left behind, of imprisonment in crowded cells, and the panic of fellow prisoners.

These wholesale arrests were the culmination of a day of suffering on the part of the Jews. The desecration and burning of synagogues started before daylight and should have proved a warning signal of what was to come during the course of the next few hours. At 10:30 A.M. about twenty-five leaders of the Jewish community were arrested by a joint squad of policemen and plain clothes men. The arrested persons ranged from thirty-five to sixty-five years of age and were taken from their community officer (Israelitischer Oberrat) to the police station in two motor vehicles. As the victims passed from the building to the motor cars bystanders cursed and shouted at them.

Other arrests took place in various parts of Stuttgart. While this city was the scene of many anti-Semitic demonstrations during the course of the day, similar events were taking place all over Württemberg and Baden. Jews were attacked here and there. So great had become the panic of the Jewish people in the meantime that, when the consulate opened after Armistice Day, Jews from all sections of Germany thronged into the office until it was overflowing with humanity, begging for an immediate visa or some kind of letter in regard to immigration which might influence the police not to arrest or molest them. Women over sixty years of age pleaded on behalf of husbands imprisoned in some unknown place. American mothers of German sons invoked the sympathy of the Consulate. Jewish fathers and mothers with children in their arms were afraid to return to their homes without some document denoting their intention to immigrate at an early date. Men in whose homes old, rusty revolvers had been found during the last few days cried aloud that they did not dare ever again to return to their places of residence or business. In fact, it was a mass of seething, panic-stricken humanity.

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