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The Birth Of The 'Final Solution'

by George Ayoub Friday, Nov. 14, 2003 at 2:15 PM

In the dark hours between Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, hordes of Nazis, party regulars, supporters and sympathizers went on a rampage in Germany and Austria. They attacked Jews in their homes, at work, at synagogues and simply out in public.

The Birth Of The 'Final Solution'

George Ayoub, Grand Island Independent, November 13, 2003

Among the horrors experienced by those Americans we honored on Veterans Day was the evil they found at places with names like Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Dachau.

Nazi concentration camps of World War II -- where monsters used extermination and starvation in their incessant and efficient preoccupation with killing Jews -- revealed inhumanity at its most hideous and grotesque. The Holocaust took 6 million lives.

Sixty-five years ago last Monday, on their march to the Holocaust, the Nazis gave definitive form to their wont to drive all Jews out of Germany. It became known as Kristallnacht or "The Night of Broken Glass," what some believe was the beginning of the Holocaust.

In the dark hours between Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, hordes of Nazis, party regulars, supporters and sympathizers went on a rampage in Germany and Austria. They attacked Jews in their homes, at work, at synagogues and simply out in public.

By dawn nearly 100 Jews were dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed, hundreds of synagogues were burned, 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent, in a chilling prelude to the Holocaust, to concentration camps.

All this came about while police and firefighters watched.

So much glass was broken that Germany could not replace all the window panes, waiting instead for up to six months for glass from Belgium.

Kristallnacht was not a spontaneous uprising, but rather an opportunity. Throughout the 1930s, Adolf Hitler created a number of laws curtailing Jewish rights and Jewish businesses. He was particularly angry that Germans would rather do business at Jewish-owned shops because they had better prices and quality.

Late in the decade Hitler had become more aggressive. On Oct. 27, 1938, 25 days before Kristallnacht, he ordered 18,000 Polish Jews, including the parents of 17-year old Herschel Grynszpan, back to Poland. They were refused entry and were forced to try to survive in hovels along the border.

Grynszpan was studying in Paris when he heard his family had been deported and they were camped in the wilderness. Distraught, he went to the German embassy and shot and killed an official whom he believed was the German ambassador. Ironically, the dead man turned out to be Ernst Vom Rath, a minor government secretary with little regard for the Nazis.

Nevertheless, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, saw his opening. He convinced Hitler to fuel "retribution" riots through political orchestration. He delivered Hitler's order with these directions: "Such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized by the party, but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are not to be discouraged either."

The resulting Kristallnacht not only destroyed Jewish businesses, but depleted consumer goods that German citizens needed. In typical Nazi fashion, the government blamed the Jews for the uprising, fining them 1 billion marks for the assassination and a terribly prophetic 6 million marks for the broken glass.

The world condemned Kristallnacht. President Roosevelt said he could "scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization." The U.S. ambassador was recalled from Germany.

Still, only a few countries -- excluding the U.S. -- changed immigration policies to allow more Jews to escape the inevitable maelstrom of the Holocaust.

Two days after Kristallnacht, official Nazi policy became one that would "eliminate the Jew from the economic life of Germany." Seven years later, American, British and Soviet soldiers would see the grim extrapolation of that policy at work -- Hitler's "Final Solution" -- in places called Auschwitz, Lodz and Bergen-Belson.

At the Holocaust Learning Center's Web site are the words of veteran Dr. Harold Herbst, part of General George S. Patton's Third Army, which liberated Buchenwald in April 1945.

"I heard a voice and I turned around and I saw a living skeleton ... talking to me, and he said, 'Thank God the Americans have come.' And that was a funny feeling. Did you ever talk to a skeleton that talked back? And that's what ... I was doing. And later on I saw mounds of these living ... I mean, these skeletons that the Germans left behind them."

Many believe the first step toward the horrors Herbst saw was Kristallnacht.

George Ayoub is senior correspondent for the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent

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