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From the archives: Kristallnacht

This week 84 years ago German Jewry was confronted with a point of no return. On the night of Nov. 9-10, pogroms against German Jews ravaged the country, with synagogues burnt, Jewish-owned businesses looted and Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps. American Jewry — as evidenced by pages in the IJN — was already tuned into the danger their European brethren faced. But Kristallnacht, as the pogrom came to be called, the Night of Broken Glass, was a death knell for any hope for German Jewry.

The IJN and Denver’s Jewish community responded immediately and thoroughly. The first IJN after the pogrom was the Nov. 18 edition (the Nov. 11 edition had gone to press prior to Kristallnacht).

“WORLD SHOCKED BY POGROM — U.S. ENVOY IS ORDERED HOME” reads one headline. Another: “PRAYER SERVICES FOR OPPRESSED TO BE HELD SUNDAY.” The story begins: “Three Denver synagogs will join in services of prayer and intercession on behalf of the victims of European oppression.” The houses of worship are all still part of Denver’s Jewish fabric: BMH, Temple Emanuel and the Hebrew Education Alliance.

What is amazing about these trips into the archives is seeing how events were reported and perceived as they happened, often times highlighting aspects that haven’t remained part of a story as we know it today. For example, also part of the Kristallnacht coverage: “Famine Threatens Jews Of Germany—Huge Fine Leaves Them Destitute.” While it’s well known that German Jews were stripped of assets, how well remembered is a billion-mark ($400,000,000 — remember, this is in 1938 money!) fine levied against Jewish businesses? The article itself states: “Yet the fine and ban imposed on Jewish business seem momentarily less important than the imprisonment of 35,000 to 50,000 Jews and” — here’s the part that stunned us — “the approaching threat of famine.” The destitution Jews faced sparked real fear of starvation.

Also in the same article: The floating of the idea to ghettoize Jews, so that in the words of Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher “the day will come when Jews will live [in hovels].”

So much of the debate today focuses around whether the Americans should have bombed the camps or accepted more refugees. But what of the fact that the US, along with everyone else in the so-called civilized world, sat back and allowed the Nazis to utterly dehumanize Jews. It’s all there in the pages of the IJN and other Jewish media of the time. No one can plausibly say “we didn’t know.”

This online feature explores the IJN’s new digital archive, discovering the news of the week, years ago.

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