The November Pogrom of 1938

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The November Pogrom in the night of November 9 to 10, 1938 – also called the “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”– was an action against Jews and Jewish establishments in the entire German Reich, which was organized and controlled by the Nazi Regime.

Over 1400 synagogues, prayer rooms and assembly rooms were destroyed, as were thousands of Jewish cemeteries, businesses and residences. 400 people of Jewish descent were murdered or driven to suicide in the period from November 7 to 13, 1938. Hundreds more died when 30,000 people were taken away to concentration camps in the days following. This monstrous event in the modern history of the civilized world marked the turning point from discrimination against the Jews since 1933 to systematic persecution.

The blatant injustice and brutality of the November Pogrom met with disapproval and horror among the overwhelming majority of the Protestant populace and pastors. In regions traditionally tied with the church such as Württemberg it was said that the Jews are people, too, and the destruction of their places of worship constituted blasphemy. Even pastors who considered themselves anti-Semites regarded this open violence and destruction as a disgrace for every “respectable” German. Nevertheless, the condemnation of the November Pogrom by the majority of Protestants led to public protests only in a few exceptional cases.

The radical German Christians on the other hand “welcomed” the November Pogrom. The Thuringian regional church consistory issued a pulpit announcement on November 16, 1938, which called for the historical struggle against the volk-corrupting spirit of Judaism. In this struggle, the church would have to stand loyally at the Führer’s side out of Christian conscience and national duty. Individual German Christian pastors and members of church governments in other regional churches also commented similarly. All in all, only a minority approved or was even involved in the November Pogrom.

Public protests from church governments never materialized. The regional churches remained silent just as the German Evangelical Church did. This was also true for the regional churches of Hannover, Bavaria and Württemberg affiliated with the “moderate” Confessing Church. At the same time, the crimes of the November Pogrom provoked dismay and shame among their church governments.

Such crippling silence about the abominable deed of the November Pogrom prevailed in the churchwide office in Hannover. A protest rally was stopped out of fear of the Gestapo and concentration camps. Hans Meiser, bishop of the Bavarian regional church, justified his silence with his official responsibility, which he had to bear for his regional church. Theophil Wurm, bishop of the Württemberg regional church, later commented in his memoirs, it was as if a spell had been placed on church officials, as if one’s mouth had been sealed by an invisible power.

The subjection of the Confessing Church itself to increasing reprisals from the state and party in the second half of 1938 likely also contributed to its silence. Hard pressed, especially after the Provisional Church Government’s liturgy of prayer at the end of September 1938, not even the “radical” faction of the Confessing Church ventured to protest against the crimes of the November Pogrom.

Commentary at the Confessing Church’s congress in Berlin-Steglitz on December 10 to 12, 1938 was correspondingly innocuous. It was confined to establishing the equality of all human beings before God and issuing a statement of solidarity, though “only” with believers in Christ among the Jews. Acknowledging the crimes as such and publicly denouncing them was left up to individuals.

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