How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

Although there was some looting, many diplomats, like Finnish representative Aarne Wuorimaa, reported on "withering criticism" from members of the public. According to Wuorimaa, "As a German, I am ashamed" was a "remark that was heard very frequently." However, the reports generally do not delve into whether the critics fundamentally rejected the disenfranchisement of the Jews in general or just the Nazis' brutal methods.

US Consul-General Honaker estimated that about 20 percent of Germans supported the pogrom. There is a surprising parallel between this number and the result of a poll that American officials took in 1945, after the Holocaust, in their zone of occupation. At the time, one-fifth of all respondents still "agreed with Hitler over the treatment of the Jews." In other words, they admitted to being murderous anti-Semites.

For many of the later perpetrators of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht marked a turning point. Suddenly everything seemed possible, writes historian Raphael Gross, alluding to the emerging mood. The Nazis felt "like pioneers who had just successfully entered new territory," Gross says.

In the ensuing weeks, the regime enacted a large number of measures designed to harass and expropriate the Jews. Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend ordinary schools, and Jewish adults were barred from running craft businesses or entering universities. In a cruel irony, the victims were forced to pay a huge "atonement tax" of one billion Reichsmarks. "I wouldn't want to be a Jew in Germany," said Hermann Göring, one of the leading members of the Nazi party.

Unfortunately for the German Jews, many international observers failed to notice how radically the Nazis now felt about their victims. If they hadn't, perhaps some exile countries, such as the United States or Brazil, might have relaxed their rigid immigration requirements, which became a key obstacle to Jews trying to emigrate.

Even the diplomats from Hitler's closest ally, Italy, were still writing in November 1938 that it was "unimaginable" that the Jews in Germany "will all be lined up against the wall one day or condemned to commit suicide, or that they will be locked up in giant concentration camps."

Nevertheless, this "unimaginable" thing -- the systematic murder of European Jews -- would begin roughly three years later.

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