Kristallnacht: The difficulty of interpreting contemporary sources

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Reports for the Social Democratic Party in Exile (Sopade)

Reports for the Social Democratic Party in Exile (Sopade)

  1. ‘In Mannheim the mob, led by SA and SS people, forced their way into the apartments of Jewish people, [and] maltreated the family members, in the course of which even women, children, and old people were not spared.’
  2. ‘In Mannheim the mob, led by SA and SS people, forced their way into the apartments of Jewish people, [and] maltreated the family members, in the course of which even women, children, and old people were not spared.’
  3. ‘A particularly sad sight was the participation of children in plundering. Insofar as one can talk at all about excitement or enthusiasm in this whole action, it was only present among children and young people. They have no prior experience of life and genuinely see the Jews as criminals and evil spirits, as is generally taught nowadays. Youth therefore saw it as important and necessary to take part in the destruction of Jewish property.’
  4. ‘The few Jews who still live in the towns [in Saarpfalz] have a sad fate.  They can no longer walk the streets in the daytime. As soon as one of them shows himself in the open, hordes of children run after him, spit at him, throw dirt and stones, or use crooked sticks to “hook in” his legs and make him fall down. The Jew who is persecuted in this way cannot say anything, because that would count as threatening the children. Parents don’t have the courage to hold their children back, because they are afraid of difficulties.’
  5. ‘In Saarlauten they pulled Jews out of their beds and drove them through the town. The chief pleasure in this consisted in the fact that they were chased around barefoot, in the state in which they had been pulled out of bed. The sadism even went so far that women and girls had to undress completely in front of these filthy rogues.  A well-known Jewish resident of the town suffered a heart attack and died on the spot. With the exception of the SA guys who had been ordered there, people remained passive. […] Later a few people came along who were curious, aroused by the noise, but they remained quite passive and quiet.’
  6. ‘The population have sympathy [with the Jews] but no one is allowed to help them and when they do give any help, it has to be in secret. Even many Nazis are ashamed.’ 
  7. ‘The Hitler Youth acted like they were possessed. They spat at the Jews and made the most unflattering remarks.’
  8. July 1939 report from North-Rhine Westphalia, reporting on continuing discussion among Germans of the destruction wrought by Kristallnacht: ‘Two petty bourgeois individuals who came by said loudly enough for others to hear: “Heavens; even the communists couldn’t have managed to do worse than this.” Another day I observed a mother with her eight-year old little girl. The child said to her mother: “Look Mummy, is that what the Jews have done again?” The mother however was of the view that “Come away from here, that wasn’t the communists that did it, it was the National Socialists.” At this she started to cry.’
Questions
  1. What conclusions can be drawn from these reports about the responses of different groups and generations?
  2. Why might different people have believed and behaved as they did?
  3. In what ways might the source of the reports for the Social Democratic Party in Exile have affected the incidents, perceptions and generalisation that they choose to convey?
Sources

Selections (i) – (viii) from:Deutschland-Berichte der Sozialdemokratschen Partei Deutschlands (Sopade), Fünfter Jahrgang, 1938 (Verlag Petra Nettelbeck, 1980), November 1938, pp. 1189- 1195.

Selection (ix) from: Deutschland-Berichte der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (Sopade)

1934-1940, Sechster Jahrgang 1939 (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Petra Nettelbeck und Zweitausendeins, 1980), July 1939, p. 926.