Reading

The Narrowing Circle

Learn how Nazi officials used laws and bureaucracy to exclude Jews from public German life in the aftermath of Kristallnacht.
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At a Glance

Reading

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • The Holocaust

Witnessing Antisemitic Violence

Edith Reiss, from Bolton, England, describes witnessing antisemitic violence on the streets of Göttingen, Germany, when she was a visitor there in 1939.

Millions of non-Jewish Germans, though shocked by the events of Kristallnacht, continued to go about their daily lives. But German leaders were worried about the public outcry that had followed the violence. On November 11, 1938, the day after the pogrom, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels called a press conference where he told reporters that Kristallnacht was not a government action but a “spontaneous” expression of German dissatisfaction with the Jews.
He declared, “It is an intolerable state of affairs that within our borders and for all these years hundreds of thousands of Jews still control whole streets of shops, populate our recreation spots and, as foreign apartment owners, pocket the money of German tenants, while their racial comrades abroad agitate for war against Germany and gun down German officials.” 1

Most government officials, however, were opposed to Kristallnacht and other “undisciplined individual actions.” Indeed, Kristallnacht was the last occasion when street violence of anywhere near that size and intensity took place in Germany.

In the weeks that followed, key Nazi officials—led by Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the German police and the head of the SS—saw to it that measures against the Jews were accomplished through bureaucratic and legal means. At the same time, they began harsh but disciplined actions that would continue to increase the exclusion of Jews from German public life and further endanger their safety. On November 15, the government excluded all Jewish children from state schools. By December 6, Jews could no longer walk or drive in certain parts of every major city; Jews who lived in those areas had to have a police permit to go home. Jews were advised to move and perhaps even exchange homes with “Aryans” who lived in Jewish sections of town.

At about the same time, the government announced that Jews could no longer attend German universities. A few days later, Himmler prohibited them from owning or even driving a car. Jews were also banned from theaters, movie houses, concert halls, sports arenas, parks, and public swimming pools. The Gestapo even went door to door confiscating radios owned by Jewish families, thus depriving them of a vital source of information.

Connection Questions

  1. How did life for Jews in Germany change after Kristallnacht?
  2. For what reasons were some German officials opposed to the events of Kristallnacht? 
  3. How did the Nazis use laws to restrict the rights of Jews? Why would the Nazis want to rely on law instead of street violence to target or exclude Jews?
  • 1 Quoted in Ben Cosgrove, "After Kristallnacht: An Infamous Press Conference ‘Justifies’ Terror, 1938," Time, October 13, 2013, accessed August 4, 2016.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History and Ourselves, "The Narrowing Circle," last updated April 29, 2022.

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