Category Archives: Israel

The forgotten mass destruction of Jewish homes during ‘Kristallnacht’



A looted Jewish shop in Aachen, Germany on the day after Kristallnacht, Nov. 10, 1938.
Wolf Gruner and Armin Nolzen (eds.). ‘Bürokratien: Initiative und Effizienz,’ Berlin, 2001., Author provided

Wolf Gruner, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Every November, communities around the world hold remembrances on the anniversary of the Nazis’ brutal assault on the Jews during “Kristallnacht.”

Also known as “the Night of Broken Glass,” it’s one of the most closely scrutinized events in the history of Nazi Germany. Dozens of books have been published about the hours between Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when Adolf Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, decided to unleash violence against Jews across Germany and the annexed territory of Austria with the aim of driving them out of the Third Reich.

Most accounts tend to emphasize the attacks on synagogues and shops, along with the mass arrests of 30,000 men. A few note the destruction of Jewish schools and cemeteries.

Attacks on Jewish homes, however, are barely mentioned.

It’s an aspect of the story that has rarely been researched and written about – until now.

A pattern emerges in survivor accounts

In 2008, when I arrived at the University of Southern California from Germany, I had been researching Nazi persecution of the German Jews for 20 years. I had published more than six books on the topic and thought I knew just about everything there was to know about Kristallnacht.

The university happened to be the new home of the Shoah Foundation and its Visual History Archive, which today includes over 55,000 survivor testimonies. When I started to watch interviews with German-Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, I was surprised to hear many of them talk about the destruction of their homes during Kristallnacht.

Details from their recollections sounded eerily similar: When Nazi paramilitary troops broke the doors of their homes, it sounded as though a bomb had gone off; then the men cut into the featherbeds, hacked the furniture into pieces and smashed everything inside.

In an interview recorded by USC’s Shoah Foundation that’s now in their Visual History Archive, Kaethe Wells explains how her family home was attacked by stormtroopers wielding axes during Kristallnacht.

Yet none of these stories appeared in traditional accounts of Kristallnacht.

I was perplexed by this disconnect. Some years later, I found a document from Schneidemühl, a small district in eastern Germany, that listed the destruction of a dozen synagogues, over 60 shops – and 231 homes.

These surprising numbers piqued my interest further. After digging into unpublished and published materials, I unearthed an abundance of evidence in administrative reports, diaries, letters and postwar testimonies.

A fuller picture of the brutal destruction of Jewish homes and apartments soon emerged.

For example, a Jewish merchant named Martin Fröhlich wrote to his daughter that when he arrived home the afternoon of that fateful November day, he noticed his door had been broken down. A tipped-over wardrobe blocked the entrance. Inside, everything had been hacked into pieces with axes: glass, china, clocks, the piano, furniture, chairs, lamps and paintings. Realizing that his home was now uninhabitable, he broke down and – as he confessed in the letter – started sobbing like a child.

A systematic campaign of destruction

The more I discovered, the more astonished I was by the scale and intensity of the attacks.

Using address lists provided by either local party officers or city officials, paramilitary SA and SS squads and Hitler Youth, armed with axes and pistols, attacked apartments with Jewish tenants in big cities like Berlin, as well as private Jewish homes in small villages. In Nuremberg, for example, attackers destroyed 236 Jewish flats. In Düsseldorf, over 400 were vandalized.

In the cities of Rostock and Mannheim, the attackers demolished virtually all Jewish apartments.

Documents point to Goebbels as the one who ordered the destruction of home furnishings. Due to the systematic nature of the attacks, the number of vandalized Jewish homes across Greater Germany must have been in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Then there are devastating details about the intensity of the destruction that emerge from letters and testimonies from postwar trials.

In Euskirchen, a house was burned to the ground.

In the village of Kamp, near the Rhineland town of Boppard, attackers broke into the house of the Kaufmann family, destroyed furniture and lamps, ripped out stove pipes, and broke doors and walls. When parts of the ceiling collapsed, the family escaped to a nearby monastery.

In the small town of Großauheim, located in the state of Hesse, troops used sledgehammers to destroy everything in two Jewish homes, including lamps, radios, clocks and furniture. Even after the war, shards of glass and china were found impressed in the wooden floor.

In an interview recorded by USC’s Shoah Foundation that’s now in their Visual History Archive, Ruth Winick recalls how men in green uniforms burst into her family’s home, destroying just about everything inside.

‘Everything ravaged and shattered’

The documents I found and interviews I listened to revealed how sexual abuse, beatings and murder were commonplace. Much of it happened during the home intrusions.

In Linz, two SA men sexually assaulted a Jewish woman. In Bremen, the SA shot and killed Selma Zwienicki in her own bedroom. In Cologne, as Moritz Spiro tried to stop two men from destroying his furniture, one of the intruders beat him and fractured his skull. Spiro died days later in the Jewish hospital.

In a letter dated Nov. 20, 1938, a Viennese woman described her family’s injuries to a relative:

“You can’t imagine, how it looked like at home. Papa with a head injury, bandaged, I with severe attacks in bed, everything ravaged and shattered… When the doctor arrived to patch up Papa, Herta and Rosa, who all bled horribly from their heads, we could not even provide him with a towel.”

The brutality of the attacks didn’t go unnoticed. On Nov. 15, the U.S. consul general in Stuttgart, Samuel Honaker, wrote to his ambassador in Berlin:

“Of all the places in this section of Germany, the Jews in Rastatt, which is situated near Baden-Baden, have apparently been subjected to the most ruthless treatment. Many Jews in this section were cruelly attacked and beaten and the furnishings of their homes almost totally destroyed.”

These findings make clear: The demolition of Jewish homes was an overlooked aspect of the November 1938 pogrom.

Why did it stay in the shadows for so long?

In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, most newspaper articles and photographs of the violent event exclusively focused on the destroyed synagogues and stores – selective coverage that probably influenced our understanding.

Yet, it was the destruction of the home – the last refuge for the German Jewish families who found themselves facing heightened public discrimination in the years leading up to the pogrom – that likely extracted the greatest toll on the Jewish population. The brutal attacks rendered thousands homeless and hundreds beaten, sexually assaulted or murdered.

The brutal assaults also likely played a big role in the spate of Jewish suicides that took place in the days and weeks after Kristallnacht, along with the decision that tens of thousands of Jews made to flee Nazi Germany.

While this story speaks to decades of scholarly neglect, it is, at the same time, a testament to the power of survivor accounts, which continue to change the way we understand the Holocaust.The Conversation

Wolf Gruner, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History; Founding Director, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Early Bronze Age in the Levant


The link below is to an article that looks at the early Bronze Age in the Levant (in the Middle East) region.

For more visit:
https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2019/06/collapse-and-resilience-of-levant.html


The 1956 Suez Crisis



Obsession with Sykes-Picot says more about what we think of Arabs than history


James L Gelvin, University of California, Los Angeles

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, we’ve got a package with an explanatory article about the secret accord, an argument that its influence is overstated (below), and the counter-view that it still underlies the discontent in the Middle East.


In 1915-16, Sir Mark Sykes, of the British War Office, and François Georges-Picot, French consul in Beirut, negotiated a secret agreement to divide the Asiatic provinces of the Ottoman Empire into zones of direct and indirect British and French control after the first world war.

The agreement also “internationalised” Jerusalem – a bone thrown to the Russian Empire, then a British and French ally. The Russians were worried that Orthodox Christians might be put at a disadvantage if the Catholic French had the final say about the future of the holy city.

Although Russia never officially signed the agreement, it acquiesced to it. In return, the allies pledged their commitment to Russian control over Istanbul and the Turkish Straits. They also agreed to direct Russian control over parts of eastern Anatolia (Asia Minor, or the modern-day Republic of Turkey) at the close of hostilities.

As straightforward as all this was, over the years the words Sykes-Picot have taken on two meanings – one significant, the other less so.

A dead letter

Let’s start with the less significant meaning, which alludes to the actual accord. Except for demarcating a line in the desert that anticipated the boundary between contemporary Syria and Iraq (drawn in 1922), the impact of the accord is zero.

It never went into effect. By the end of the first world war, it was already a dead letter. This was the case for a number of reasons.

In the first place, the British did not like the borders drawn between their zone and the French zone. In particular, the Sykes-Picot map placed northern Palestine and Mosul – two areas the British coveted – in the French zone.

Second, by the end of the war the British, not the French, occupied the inland Asiatic Arab territory that had belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Since they were playing a stronger hand than the French, they took it upon themselves to divide that territory into zones under the authority of the “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration”. And the boundaries of the various administrative zones conflicted with those established by the Sykes-Picot agreement.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Focused on consolidating power at home and not particularly concerned with access to holy places or inter-imperialist agreements, the new government renounced all secret agreements to which the tsarist government had been party.

Adding insult to injury, Russia published them, much to the embarrassment of former allies. Britain and France both viewed the changed circumstances as an opportunity to rethink their agreement.

Not really relevant

The irrelevance of the accord becomes apparent if one compares a map of the contemporary Middle East with the map proposed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Is any area of the region under direct British, French or Russian administration?

Is Jerusalem – and the adjoining region – under international control? Do France and Russia directly control parts of Anatolia? And does Britain directly control parts of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula?

Whatever Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot agreed to, the current boundaries in the Levant (an area in the Eastern Mediterranean encompassing Syria, Palestine and Lebanon), Mesopotamia (the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq) and Anatolia actually resulted from two factors.

The first is the establishment of the mandates system by the precursor of the United Nations, the League of Nations. This system allotted Britain and France temporary control over territory in the region. The two powers took it upon themselves to combine or divide territories into proto-states in accordance with their imperial interests.

Britain created Iraq and Trans-Jordan after the war (Israel and Palestine would come later); France did the same for Lebanon and Syria.

Islamists, particularly those affiliated with al-Qaeda and IS, include references to the ‘Sykes-Picot boundaries’ in their propaganda.
Reuters/Stringer

Second, Anatolia remained undivided because Turkish nationalists fought a gruelling four-year war to drive foreigners out of the peninsula. The result was the contemporary Republic of Turkey.

Why, then, do commentators and others still focus on the Sykes-Picot Agreement 100 years after the fact? It wasn’t, after all, the first secret agreement that aspired to divide the Ottoman Empire among the allies; that would be the Constantinople Agreement of 1915.

A metaphor

The answer lies in the second meaning of the accord: its usefulness as a metaphor. During the last century, the expression Sykes-Picot has served three functions.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, Arab nationalists invoked the secret agreement as a symbol of Western treachery. The West, they claimed, thwarted the natural inclination of Arabs to unite in a single state. In addition, it supported the State of Israel — a “dagger stuck in the heart of the Arab world”, as then Egyptian president Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser once put it – to achieve that goal.

From the 1980s to the present, Islamists, particularly those affiliated with al-Qaeda and now Islamic State (IS), have included references to the “Sykes-Picot boundaries” in their propaganda to connote a conspiracy the West (or, in the case of al-Qaeda, “Crusader-Zionists”) entered into to keep the Islamic world weak and divided.

Read about how Islamic State uses Sykes-Picot in its propaganda

For al-Qaeda, this conspiracy justifies its defensive jihad. For IS, it justifies an offensive jihad to re-establish a caliphate that, they anticipate, will eventually unite the entirety of the Islamic world.

Commentators in the West and elsewhere use the agreement to explain the contemporary turmoil in the Arab world. For them, it represents “blowback” — unintended and adverse effects of imperialist meddling in the region.

The American arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s led directly to the rise of al-Qaeda and 9/11, for instance, and indirectly to the rise of IS. The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq unleashed a sectarian nightmare.

In a similar vein, commentators assert, imperialist meddling and the creation of “artificial” borders in the region at the end of the first world war prevented populations from consolidating nation-states based on their “natural” and “primordial” sectarian and ethnic identities (as, the argument would have it, had happened in the West).

All borders, not just those in the Middle East, are, of course, artificial. And if you choose to worry about the durability of states whose borders were drawn by far-off diplomats, worry not just about Syria and Iraq but about Belgium as well.

Most important, the fact that we tend to harp on “natural” and “primordial” ties of sect and ethnicity in this particular region feeds into the all-too-common tendency to view Arabs as primitives incapable of forming modern political identities. They most certainly are not.

For all the talk of artificial borders in this particular corner of the Arab world, it is easy to forget one essential fact: except for the decolonisation of the Gulf in 1971, and the unification of the two Yemens in 1990, the state system in the Arab world has been remarkably stable for almost three-quarters of a century. It has been more stable, in fact, than the European state system.


This article is part of a package marking the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Read the counter-argument about the legacy of the document, or the introductory article about the accord.

The Conversation

James L Gelvin, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Los Angeles

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Israel: Gold Coins Found



The First Photographs of Jerusalem


The link below is to an article featuring the first known photographs of Jerusalem.

For more visit:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/see-first-photographs-ever-taken-jerusalem-180949473/


To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 2, by Jack Watt)


PublisHistory Blog

To what extent did the populations of rural Lithuania and Poland engage in hostilities and Nazi collaboration against Jewish fugitives and partisans surviving in forests? (Part 2, by Jack Watt)

Traditional anti-Semitism was rife in pre-war Eastern Europe and was not a recent phenomenon. Yehuda Merin asserts that ‘most of the local population harboured feelings of hatred for the Jews in the family camps… well-rooted in past ages.’ This was certainly the case for many rural areas, where Catholicism was strong and integration between Jewish and non-Jewish communities was less developed. Such attitudes in Poland and Lithuania were encouraged by German propaganda, and the rhetoric of some nationalist political organisations (such as the Lithuanian Activist Front). In Poland too, ‘on the basis of anti-Semitism and anti-Sovietism, some groups even tried to get along with the occupier, thanks to a common ideological language.’

Thus, encroachment onto land, and theft of property by forest fugitives could be framed as a distinctly Jewish problem. Sakowicz echoes this kind of anti-Semitism in one of his diary entries, as Jewish activity around Ponary became more…

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