Local and National Responses

What did the world say?

The responses from German citizens and people around the world were numerous and varied, but overall, the response was one of horror, shock, and sympathy. The events of Kristallnacht left the world with many questions, but in particular: What are we to do? Several countries attempted to rise to the challenge and allow for Jewish refugees to immigrate and gain protection, but unfortunately, a lack of true understanding and decisive action left millions of German and Austrian Jews without a place to go.

Germany’s Response

A wide range of responses from the German people is reported, depending on one’s source. It is speculated that part of the German population favored the action against the Jews, although they did not approve of the destruction of so much valuable property, as this decreased the riches of the German Reich. Others say that the Germans were not particularly antisemitic, but that they did not do much to defend their Jewish neighbors. Still others argue that some Germans did protest the actions of the Nazis and that Germans felt contempt, indignation, and shame at the event. There are several reported incidences of German police protecting Jewish women and children and offering them refuge, as well as German residents offering help to the Jews by hiding them in their homes, despite it being a criminal offence. v

The Response from Abroad

The events of Kristallnacht and the fate of Germany’s Jews were widely publicized and became known across the world. Several countries offered responses to the actions of the Nazis, expressing their horror, shock, and sympathy.

In America, the Joint Boycott Council protested on the 23rd-25th of November against the anti-Jewish violence in Germany. The protestors burned swastika flags as part of their demonstration. Also, the American Federation of Labor called for a “moral ring” to be placed around Germany.

With the events of Kristallnacht, Great Britain lost all hope for peace in Europe, despite the British Parliament’s intense desire to develop harmony between the European nations. Also in Britain, the Chief Rabbi’s office established a Service of Prayer and Intercession for the Jews of Germany.

Immigration and Refugee Policies

Across the globe, the discussion turned to whether to allow Jews in Germany to emigrate out of Germany and to enter into the protection of other countries. The United States, Great Britain, and Cuba played a large role in these discussions, but, unfortunately, few Jews were actually able to successfully immigrate due to the obstructions set up by these countries.

In the United States, President Roosevelt asked Congress on November 20th to allow 12,000-15,000 German refugees already in the U.S. on visitor’s visas to stay indefinitely, as he said that it would be inhuman to make them return when they would face possible persecution. However, the president did not ask Congress to increase the quota for annual immigration or to establish a special category within immigration for refugees. This prevented any new German Jewish immigrants from coming to the United States, as the annual quota of 27,000 German and Austrian immigrants had already been met until the year 1940. American Jewish organizations attempted to increase this quota by proposing that 81,000 Jews be allowed to enter the United States immediately, but the U.S. government rejected their proposal.

Not everyone in the U.S. government was opposed to the idea of increased immigration, however. Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, proposed a plan to the Alaskan Territory’s Chamber of Commerce that would resettle German and Austrian Jewish refugees in Alaska. The plan was accepted by three of the seven Alaskan Chambers of Commerce, especially by the mayor of Seward, Don Carlos Brownwell, who said that the Kenai Peninsula could house 250,000 refugees alone. However, the majority of the Alaskan Chambers of Commerce opposed the plan, and the plan therefore did not go through.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were willing to accept new immigrants, and on November 18, a resolution was passed offering German and Austrian refugees a place of safety. However, complications arose when on December 15, 1938, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull declared that the resolution was “incompatible” with existing laws between the United States and the Virgin Islands. It took over a year for the Department of Labor to state that the resolution did indeed coincide with the laws, but the plan died when Attorney General Frank Murphy refused to revive it in October 1939.

Debates over immigration were also taking place in Britain, as the government was under pressure to do more for the Jewish refugees. On November 21, it was decided that “very large numbers” of German Jewish children would be allowed into the country. The Jewish National Council of Palestine offered to take 10,000 of these Jewish children, and later added that 10,000 Jewish adults could come as well. The matter was taken up in British Parliament, where doubts were raised about the plan. Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald stated that adults were ok, but bringing in so many children would be more difficult. At the time this matter was being discussed, a conference was pending in London between the British government and representatives from the Palestinian Arabs, the Palestinian Jews, and the Arab States. The Palestinian Arabs declared that if children were allowed into Palestine, they would not attend the conference and their confidence would be shaken. The Secretary of State of India, Lord Zetland, also opposed the plan, saying that allowing the children to enter would result in adverse Moslem opinion. Due to these objections, the plan proposed by the Jewish National Council of Palestine was rejected.

A final major attempt of Jewish refugees to immigrate was a voyage on the German transatlantic liner the St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, 937 passengers, the majority of whom were Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, set sail on the St. Louis, traveling from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba. Most of the passengers had already applied for U.S. visas, but had Cuban landing certificates to allow them entrance into Cuba before going to the United States. However eight days before the ship sailed, Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru invalidated all of these certificates without the passengers’ knowledge. The media in Cuba, the U.S., and Europe knew that the passengers would most likely be denied entry, and sure enough, once the ship reached Havana on May 27, only 28 passengers were allowed into Cuba while the rest were forced to sail back to Germany on June 6, 1939. While passing Miami on the way back to Germany, a cable was sent to President Franklin Roosevelt asking for refuge for the ship’s remaining passengers, but the cable was never answered. Although Jewish organizations were able to negotiate with some European countries to allow some passengers entrance into Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, most of the 937 passengers eventually ended up under Nazi rule back in Germany. vi

Local survivor Henry Blumenstein was aboard the St. Louis on this fateful journey. His story is available on the DVD “Finding Family.” More information is available at the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education.

Passengers aboard the SS St. Louis. - USHMM, courtesy of Dr. Liane Reif-Lehrer

What did the Newspapers Say – the Response in Cincinnati and Abroad

In Cincinnati, both the Enquirer and the local German newspaper, the Cincinnati Freie Presse, reported on the events happening in Germany, the events of Kristallnacht, and its aftermath.

The Cincinnati Enquirer:

The events of Kristallnacht made front-page news in Cincinnati just a day after the destruction.
– (1938, Nov 11). “Nazis Burn Property, Loot Stores of Jews.” Cincinnati Enquirer. 1.

Just a day later, Nazi actions once again make headlines, depicting this time a picture of Nazi soldiers putting up signs warning Germans not to buy from Jews.
– (1938, Nov 12). “Reich May Revive Ghetto System; Dewey, Al Smith Assail Nazi Mob.” Cincinnati Enquirer. 1.

Following up on further Nazi actions, Cincinnati was told of the legislation in Germany persecuting the Jews. This article discusses the banning of Jews from businesses and the fine imposed on the Jews of Germany for the destruction caused by the Nazis during Kristallnacht.
– (1938, Nov 13). “Jews Fined $400,000,000 by German Government; Barred from Business.” Cincinnati Enquirer. 1.

The Cincinnati Freie Presse:

The headline reads: “Nuremberg warns the entire world.” This article, written in German for the Cincinnati German population, talks of the meetings in Nuremberg that led to the anti-Jewish legislation known as the Nuremberg Laws.

– (1938, Sept 11). “Nurnberg warnt die ganze Welt”. Cincinnati Freie Presse.

This headline reads: “Anti-Jewish Measures Taken in Reich, as a Result of the Death of Ernst von Rath.” This article talks about the events of Kristallnacht in Germany after the assassination of von Rath.
– (1938, Nov 10). “Antijudische Massnahmen im Reich, anlasslich des Todes Ernst von Raths.” Cincinnati Freie Presse.

The events of Kristallnacht were also reported throughout the rest of the United States. The New York Times reported on the events on several occasions.

The New York Times:

This article in the NY Times discusses the link between the assassination of Ernst von Rath and the events of Kristallnacht. It demonstrates how the Nazis abused the death of von Rath, using the single action of just one person, Grynszpan, to punish an entire group of people, the Jews.

– (1938, Nov 9). “Nazis Ask Reprisal In Attack on Envoy.” The New York Times. 24.

This article from the NY Times, written one day after Kristallnacht, describes and shows pictures of the destruction and the aftermath of that night.
– (1938, Nov 11). “Jews are Ordered to Leave Munich.” The New York Times. 3.

The events of Kristallnacht were also reported around the world, as evidenced by this article written for the London Times.

This article from the London Times was issued on November 11, 1938, just a day after the events of Kristallnacht. Issued on page 14 of the paper, the article explains to the citizens of Great Britain the details of what had happened.
– Correspondent. (1938, Nov 11). “Nazi Attacks on Jews.” The London Times. p. 14A.