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December 11, 2010

Kristallnaht on Nov. 9, 1938 and what happened just months before this date

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 9:26 am

One of my favorite web sites is suite101.com.  Today I read an article on suite101.com about “what Kristallnacht means to the Jews” here.  Kristallnacht needs no explanation; most people know about it — unless they have been living in a cave somewhere for the last 70 years.  But how many people know about the Evian Conference that was held in July 1938, just months before the pogrom known as Kristallnacht took place on Nov. 9th and 10th in 1938.   

The Evian Conference was not a meeting to discuss bottled water.  It was a conference that was called by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to decide which country would take the Jews who were soon to be kicked out of Germany because Hitler wanted Germany only for the Germans.

Hitler was a native of Austria and in March 1938, Germany and Austria had joined together in “der Anschluss,” which was the beginning of the Greater German Reich.

In the photograph below, the slogan on a banner over Loos Haus in Vienna has the words of Hitler: “Those of the same blood belong in the same Reich.” This poster was displayed, after the Anschluss, to encourage the Austrians to vote for incorporation into the German Reich. When the plebiscite was held, the Austrian people voted 99.7% in favor of unification with Germany. Only 12,000 people dared to vote against it. Austria’s population was 4% Jewish in 1938, but the Jews could not vote because their citizenship had been taken away from them.

"those of the same blood belong in the same empire"

After Austria and Germany were joined together, the Jews were ordered to leave and most of them left for other countries in Europe.  America had laws that had been passed in 1920 and 1921 which limited the number of emigrants from Germany and Poland.  These laws were designed to keep Jews out of America.  Instead of demanding that Congress change those laws, President Roosevelt called for a conference to find other countries willing to take the Jews.

Students and tourists who have been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC might have seen the exhibit which tells about the Evian Conference.  This exhibit is in a corner of the fourth floor of the museum; when I was there ten years ago, I observed that many visitors skipped this exhibit, not realizing the importance of the Evian Conference in the history of the Holocaust.

The Evian Conference exhibit at the USHMM is in a semicircular niche completely covered with a huge photograph of Lake Geneva. The title of the exhibit is “No help, No haven.” The Evian Conference, in July 1938, was composed of representatives from 32 countries, who met at a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva to discuss the coming Jewish refugee problem.  But no country wanted to help the Jews; no country was willing to provide a haven for the Jews.

The Evian conference was a failure because no country wanted to accept the Jews, but the United States did agree to admit the full quota of Eastern Europeans and Germans allowed by our immigration laws, which had not been done up to that time.

After seeing the Evian exhibit, the next section on the fourth floor of the USHMM is the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht) exhibit. In sharp contrast to the small Evian Conference exhibit, Kristallnacht is given much more space.  There is also a small room in the USHMM entirely devoted to the media coverage of Kristallnacht in America.  It seems that every newspaper in America covered this story on the front page with huge headlines at the top of the page.  I did not see any mention that the press covered the Evian Conference.

The museum uses the Polish word “pogrom” to characterize the event which happened on November 9, 1938. A pogrom is a state organized or state sanctioned riot in which Jewish property is destroyed, and the Jews are beaten and killed in an effort to force them to leave a town or province, or in this case, a country. The exhibit does not make it clear that pogroms had been a regular occurrence in Europe for at least a thousand years, and that this was the Mother of all Pogroms. The caption on the exhibit says that 25,000 Jews were arrested after this night. Most sources claim that around 30,000 were arrested. Later on, in another USHMM exhibit, the number is reduced to 20,000 who were arrested.

The exhibit caption mentions that the Jews were sent to the three main German concentration camps, Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald, where they were released if they agreed to emigrate quickly.

The last thing in the Nazi Assault section on the fourth floor is the story of the St. Louis, a ship with European Jews that was denied entry into the United States.  These Jews were sent back to Europe by heartless Americans who would not allow them entry, and many of them died during the Holocaust.  Yet, it is Germany that gets all the blame for not wanting the Jews, not America.

What would have happened if every one of the 32 countries at the Evian Conference had agreed to take a million Jews.  No, wait a minute, the total number of Jews in the entire world in 1938 was less than 16 million.  According to the USHMM, the total number of Jews in Europe was 9 million.

What does the Evian Conference mean to the Jews?  Do the Jews commemorate the date of the Conference every year?  As far as I know, the Jews only remember Kristallnacht, year after year.

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