The chain of events that led to Kristallnacht began in Warsaw during the summer of 1938, as we are shown in the opening pages of “Europe Against the Jews, 1880-1945” by Götz Aly, translated by Jefferson Chase (Henry Holt & Co. /Metropolitan Books).
The Polish government issued an order that revoked the Polish citizenship of Jews who had been living in Nazi Germany for more than five years. “In response, at the end of October, German police arrested 17,000 Polish Jews, brought them to the Polish border, and forced them across,” Aly explains. He leaves out the tragic story of Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were among the deported Jews and who assassinated a German diplomat in Paris as an act of protest against their maltreatment, thus providing Hitler with a pretext for the excesses of Kristallnacht. But he marks Kristallnacht as the turning point that put Germany on the path to the Holocaust.
Aly concedes the Germans alone were responsible for conceiving of the Holocaust, building the infrastructure of mass murder, and putting the machinery into operation, but he also insists “the genocide could not have been carried out solely by those who initiated it.” Indeed, he shows us the culpability of “administrators, police, state officials and thousands of non-German helpers who all played a role in the atrocities.” The point of his book is to spread the blame: “There is no way we can comprehend the pace and extent of the Holocaust if we restrict our focus to the German centers of command.”
Aly, a leading German historian of the Holocaust, is the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award as well as Germany’s prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize. His 2011 book, “Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred and the Prehistory of the Holocaust,” was reviewed in the Jewish Journal, and his new book can be seen as a kind of sequel, if only because Aly widens the lens to take in the persecution of the Jewish people by people and governments outside of Germany.