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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nazi antisemitism revealed itself in November 1938, 8 Aug 2009
By 
Gerard Noonan "noonangerard" (Limerick, Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Focusing mainly on the pogrom suffered by German Jews in November 1938 in retaliation for the assassination of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris, the book is also an overview of the treatment suffered by the Jews during the whole twelve-year life of the Third Reich. During the course of 10 November, `Kristallnacht', or the night of the broken glass, more than one thousand synagogues were destroyed; tens of thousands of Jewish shops and homes were ransacked; over 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, and tortured in concentration camps over subsequent days; and ninety-one Jews were killed. Given that large quantities of petrol were conveniently to hand, and that anonymous rampaging mobs appeared on the scene with suspicious frequency, the Nazis' claim that ordinary Germans were engaging in a `spontaneous' burst of emotion by burning synagogues to the ground is highly suspect. In fact, the pogrom was highly organized. The police were ordered to suspend their interest in upholding the law and watch while Jewish shops and homes were looted, often by Hitler Youth, while the fire department was ordered to douse houses near burning synagogues lest the fires spread; the synagogues themselves should be allowed to burn. Moreover, many of the Jewish shops that were destroyed on 9 November had been marked the previous day by local Nazis.
The violence was ferocious. In Nuremberg, the British Daily Herald' reported that Nazi Brownshirts `smashed their way into Jewish houses, tore down the curtains, slashed carpets and upholstery with knives, and broke up the furniture. Terrified children were turned sobbing out of their beds, which were then smashed to pieces' (p. 33). The American Consul in Leipzig, David Buffman, recalled that `Having demolished dwellings and hurled most of the effects to the streets, the insatiably sadistic perpetrators threw many of the trembling inmates into a small stream that flows through the Zoological Park, commanding horrified spectators to spit at them, defile them with mud and jeer at their plight' (p. 87). In Baden Baden, the local Jews were rounded up and marched to the synagogue. Inside, one victim, Arthur Flehinger, later recalled that he was ordered to read aloud passages from Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'. `I read the passage quietly, indeed so quietly that the SS man posted behind me repeatedly hit me in the neck. Those who had to read other passages after me were treated in the same manner. After these "readings" there was a pause. Those Jews who wanted to relieve themselves were forced to do so against the synagogue walls, not in the toilets, and they were physically abused while doing so.' After being let out of the synagogue, the Jews watched as it was set alight. `If it had been my decision,' one of the SS men remarked, `you would have perished in that fire' (p. 89). How ordinary decent Germans could be moved to behave so abominably is hard to explain; that the apotheosis of such behaviour would betray itself in the systematic murder of millions of European Jews just a few years later is beyond belief.
Overall, Gilbert's book is a good read. It's a bit relentless though, as he quotes from eye-witness recollections from a lot of German towns and cities. Presumably, however, that relentlessness is deliberate, so as to overwhelm the reader with the sheer awfulness of the orgy of violence and destruction. If so, it's an aim he succeeds in achieving.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb., 3 Jan 2010
This review is from: Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Paperback)
In October 1938, the proliferation of Anti-Semitic policies under the Nazi regime continues unabated. Herschel Grynszpan family are amongst the 12,000 Polish born Jews living in Germany expelled by Hitler. In a fit of rage, he assassinates the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris. The subsequent events consist of a terrifying coordinated (even though it was not admitted as such) attack on the entire Jewish German population.

Gilbert describes in detail the barbarous events in Berlin, Vienna and throughout Germany. What's very clear is that the attacks were driven by a concerted plan, this was no co-incidental mob revolt. In total over 1,000 synagogues were burnt, 91 Jewish people murdered, countless others beaten up, detained and / or sent to concentration camps. In addition, thousands of Jewish shops and businesses were destroyed. Since only a detailed amount of systematic planning could be behind such carnage in such a short space of time, it really prompts the thought that a backlash for the assassination of Rath could have been a pretext rather than a trigger. Especially as the Jewish people were made to pay finacially for the attack as when the German government decided they needed to money to cleanup the carnage, they declared it was all the Jews fault ergo they should be paid for it. Difficult to find another example of such perverse reasoning.

The book is extremely well researched. Personal testimonies from the victims of the tragedy are provided from all over Germany, as are the stories of some heroes who manged to buck the wave of a very grave evil and in some cases put their own personal safety at risk for the benefit of others. Unfortunately their stories are only a minute minority in what can only be described as ubiquitous sadism.

Gilbert also details the reactions of other countries, organisations and leading figures at this very troubling time. For example, Pope Pius XI wished to break diplomatic ties with Germany following Kristallnacht but he was dissuaded by his successor Pope Pius XII who had negotiated the Vatican Concordat with Hitler five years earlier. The US and Britain come out in a positive light as they took in by far the largest number of refugees but lamentably some countries would take in none at all. This includes my own country the Republic of Ireland. At this time the Republic of Ireland was a staunchly Catholic state but not even a request from the Vatican could make it change its apathetic and shameful policies. They even refused a number of Jewish refugees had converted to Catholicism.

Finally, the sad fate of the Jewish people in World War II is discussed. But this is really just a summary, if one could even use that word for one of the saddest and bleakest episodes of human history. The book's main focus is Kristallnacht itself.

It's hard to find any criticisms in what is an excellent book. But if I were to be a bit pedantic there isn't too much background given to the antisemitism which existed outside the Nazi regime and throughout Europe (apparently it was quite high in Poland and France as well). In the introduction, Gilbert does point out Martin's Luther's unequivocal antisemitism, referencing Luther's pastoral letter: 'On Jews and their Lies'. In this, in a bitter and horrific irony Luther advised that the synagogues of the Jews should be set on fire for the 'honour of God'. However, it's still very hard to understand why 400 years later how what were less than 1% of the Germany population could be turned on by such an evil. The Jewish people were people who in many cases were proud Germans and who fought in World War I. It's in no doubt that evil can manifest very quickly and very easily but the reasons why merit a lot of thought.

But that's being picky. Overall it's a superb book. I have read a few Gilbert's books. He's a superb writer and Historian. Buy it, read it and reflect on it.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pivotal night, 29 July 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Writing history as a snapshot of time is a risky venture. While a close examination of an event provides a sense of precision, broader implications are too often omitted. This is the case with Martin Gilbert's "Kristallnacht". It's an example of fine journalism underpinned by good research and scholarly presentation. Hardly an entertaining evening's read, this book chronicles how guided prejudice led to an orgy of violence and destruction against Germany's Jews. Stores were smashed and looted, synagogues burned and demolished, homes invaded and people terrorised during a two-day expression of hatred. The wreckage littering the streets, particularly the shop windows, gave the episode its name - and this book's title. It is a glimpse into the past we all must see and endure.

Gilbert gathered the remembrances of people or their offspring who survived the onslaught. There are letters, journals and interviews with the author, bringing a disturbing intimacy to this account. That there were survivors to make these records seems surprising after a half-century of condemnation by the victorious Powers. Yet, Kristallnacht itself wasn't an orgy of killing. Less than a hundred died of beatings or unknown causes, although there were many suicides. Jews were seized and incarcerated, even in the notorious concentration camps, but most were later released. Pre-war Germany was more interested in ridding itself of its Jews by exile and emigration was encouraged. "Time to leave" became a byword among Germany's Jews after Kristallnacht, which was part of its purpose, according to Gilbert. Emigration, however, was more than packing up and leaving. There had to be places to go, and not all nations opened their borders to Jews fleeing manifest hatred.

Although the historian notes how the destruction was orchestrated by Nazi officials and that Brownshirts and the Hitler Youth were present, the attackers were either joined or cheered on by a large, although not universal, proportion of the general population. The opportunity to obtain goods, stores, homes and money was seized by many Germans. Firms were closed, to open "under new management" by the stroke of a pen. Homes gained new owners as Jews emigrated, were shoved into ghettos or concentration camps or, later, killed. There were few enough to defend them and Gilbert avoids explaining whether lawyers helped or hindered the processes. Given the absolute powers the Nazi regime granted itself, the only good lawyer was one who acceded to the process. Another void in this book is the lack of accounts from smaller towns. Gilbert provides a series of maps showing how many towns experienced Kristallnacht's violence. Yet, the text focusses on Vienna, Frankfurt-am-Main, Hamburg and other large cities. How big did a town have to be to host a synagogue? How many small-town neighbours assisted in its destruction? We aren't given this information.

If history has "watersheds", Kristallnacht serves as a type specimen. Only the French massacre of St Bartholomew's Night stands as a peer. In the same way that a cabal of French Catholics plotted to rid their country of its Protestant minority, so too, did Nazi thugs await a trigger to launch their onslaught. It came with the murder of a German diplomat in Paris, but the event hardly matches the scope of the response. Clearly, "everyday" Germans participated in the destruction, but Gilbert ties the causes solely to Nazi policy. That hardly seems sustainable, but worse, it denies the possibility of a reprise in different nations under different leaders. If this book could teach us anything, it's that being on guard against those promoting hate is an endless task. Read this book for what happened, but go elsewhere to learn why it did. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Ontario]
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book about a tragic event I discovered I personally ..., 5 July 2014
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This review is from: Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Paperback)
Great Book about a tragic event

I discovered I personally know some of the people of interviewed by Sir Martin Gilbert.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars another magisterial combination of narrative and analysis from Sir Martin Gilbert, 22 Jun 2006
By 
Dr. Sn Cottam "Steve the medic" (Preston, England) - See all my reviews
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prolific historian Sir Martin Gilbert has produced another of the works on 20th century history that he does so well, combining narrative and analytical history with well-chosen vivid contemporary accounts of the relevant events. many of these accounts have clearly been gathered by Sir Martin in his own interviews and correspondance with eye-witnesses.

Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, was a dreadful event. On 10th November 1938, in response to the murder of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish man, the Nazi high command launched an officially sanctioned wave of hooliganism and crime directed against the German Jewish community. thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were trashed, synagogues (many centuries old) were burned, 93 people were murdered, many more were beaten or arrested and enough glass was smashed to account for the whole output of the Belgian glass industry for a year (hence the name of the event). as the series editors point out in their excellent introduction, Kristallnacht was a defining moment that marked the transition of Naziism from a rough populism to systematic criminality and set Nazi Germany on a downward trajectory away from any legitimacy and towards the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Sir Martin's short account is clear and vivid, his use of eye-witness accounts masterly. the horror of the events are dramatically brought home. Sir Martin also discusses the aftermath of Kristallnacht, again illustrated with personal stories, which led to 70 % of German and Austrian Jews leaving the Reich, many to safety in Britain and the United States, many, sadly to other European countries where they would be victimised after the German conquest in 1940.

there are minor criticisms of course. Martin Luther's inflammatory comments of 1538, referred to in the introduction, are symptomatic of thought at that time and don't really seem to relate to the events of 400 years later. By the 1930s Germany's Jews were some of the most integrated in the world and as Sir Martin points out the community had served their country with distinction in many spheres, not least during the First World War. And the quantum leap between the sanctioned hooliganism and criminality of Kristallnacht and the cold blooded, systematic, industrial killing of the Holocaust is not always clear although Sir Martin's closing thoughts that evil is a process is one that the world continues to needs to learn.

But there is hope. On the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1989 the Berlin Wall, symbol of another tyranny, finally fell and a free and united modern Germany was able to take her place among civilized nations.
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and heartwrenching, 17 July 2008
By 
This review is from: Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Paperback)
On November 7 1938, a 17 year old German Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, enraged by the suffering of his parents, who had been expelled from Germany together with 12 000 other Jews, walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot junior German diplomat Ernst vom Rath, who died three days later.
Vom Rath's assassination sparked what the Nazis had been planning for months, a nationwide pogrom and orgy of destruction against the Jews, across the Third Reich (Germany, Austria and Sudetenland).
On on November 8 it had been announced that Jewish children could no longer attend "Aryan" state elementary schools, something that had hitherto been allowed where there were not sufficient Jewish elementary schools. At the same time all Jewish cultural activities were suspended "indefinitely."suspended "indefinitely."
On the night of the 9-10 November Kristallnacht took place co-ordinated by the Nazi leadership.
That night 91 Jews were murdered, and 25,000-30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps.
On the night of the 9-10 November Kristallnacht took place co-ordinated by the Nazi leadership.
That night 91 Jews were murdered, and 25,000-30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps.
In the early hours of November 10, coordinated destruction broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the Third Reich.
More than 2 000 synagogues were destroyed and tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes ransacked.

In this disturbing and heart wrenching work, Gilbert gathers together hundreds of eye witness accounts of the Kristallnacht atrocities.
As one British newspaper reported:"Brownshirts smashed their way into Jewish houses, tore down their curtains, slashed carpets and upholstery with knives and broke up the furniture...Terrified children were turned sobbing out of their beds, which were then smashed to pieces.

Extremely disturbing is the refusal of the nations of the world to take in refugees.

Between January 1933 and March 1938 more than 35 000 German Jews were granted immigration certificates to Palestine. Following the 1936 Arab Revolt, the British restricted Jewish immigration the Holy Land to 3000 a year.
On November 30 1939 the Jewish National Council for Palestine offered to take 10 000 German Jewish children into the Holy Land to be dispersed among the 250 Jewish agricultural and urban centres there.
To appease the Arabs in Palestine and Muslims in India and other parts of the British Empire the offer to take the children was rejected.
The British authorities turned back Jewish ships full of refugees and put pressure on the governments of Yugoslavia, Romania, Turkey and Greece not to allow Jewish refugees passage through their territories to the Holy Land.
Haven't enough Jewish lives been sacrificed to appease Muslim rage?
Proposals were made to settle Jewish in British Guiana, Brazil, Madagascar, Uganda and Tanganyika but all were abandoned.
A proposal to resettle Jews in Newfoundland in Canada was rejected due to public pressure from the local population there. Ireland. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull blocked a proposal by the Legislative Council of the Virgin Islands to take in refugees from the Nazis claiming it was 'incompatible with existing law".

The book is an important testimony and contains hitherto unrevealed accounts.
It is an account of how hatred can lead to destruction on such a massive scale.
Today we are faced with Jew-hatred on a scale as great as that of the Nazis in the form of hatred of Israel.
If this is not stopped who knows where it will lead?
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Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction
Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction by Martin Gilbert (Paperback - 6 Aug 2007)
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