Chronology of Jewish Persecution: 1938
In Holland, a collaborationist organization, National-Socialistische Vrouwen Organisatie (National Socialist Women’s Organization), is established.
The Swedish government institutes strict immigration standards.
Hitler names himself supreme commander of the Wehrmacht. Hitler’s Cabinet meets for the final time.
Austrian Nazis prepare to take over every Jewish business in the nation.
The German Army enters Vienna, Austria. Austria is annexed (the Anschluss) by Germany and is immediately subject to all antisemitic laws in effect in Germany. Jewish organizations and congregations are subsequently forbidden.
Law pertaining to the legal rights of Jewish cultural (ethnic) organizations. Jewish community organizations are no longer legal entities enjoying civil rights; instead, they can only be legally created associations.
Anti-Jewish riots spread across Poland.
Germany issues a decree that effectively eliminates Jews from the nation’s economy and provides for the seizure of Jewish assets.
The German government demands that all Jews register with the authorities all real estate and other assets exceeding 5000 marks. This is the first step toward expropriation of Jewish property; that is, Aryanization, a process whereby the Reich government seizes Jewish property and auctions it off to gentiles.
Following the Anschluss, Austrians force Jewish men and women to scrub the streets with small brushes and with the women’s fur coats.
Hungary adopts its first law restricting the rights of Jews. Hungary restricts the proportion of Jews holding jobs in commerce, industry, the liberal professions, and the Hungarian government to 20 percent.
Hitler announces to his general staff that he has decided to destroy Czechoslovakia. He says it is his “unalterable decision to destroy Czechoslovakia.” Chief of Staff General Ludwig Beck vehemently opposes Hitle’s ambitions and lobbies other top brass to put up a united front against aggression.
German legislation outlaws “decadent art.”
World-famous therapist Sigmund Freud flees Austria for England.
Nazis destroy the Munich Synagogue. They burn it to the ground.
Decree requiring the registration and identification of Jewish industrial enterprises. Creation of lists of wealthy Jews at treasury offices and police districts. All Jewish businesses that have not already been registered and marked must now comply with the Reich requirement.
AsocialAction: Arrest of all previously convicted Jews, including those prosecuted for traffic violations, and committing them to concentration camps (approx. 1,500 persons).
German-Jewish doctors are allowed to treat only Jewish patients.
Under a proposal called the Sosua Project, the Dominican Republic offers to accept 100,000 European Jewish refugees, to be settled in an area near Santo Domingo, in return for payment of millions of dollars from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). (Under the plan, only about 500 Jews will be admitted to the Dominican Republic before the country halts immigration in 1940.)
An international conference at Evian-les-Bains, France, is called by United States President Franklin Roosevelt to deal with the Jewish refugee problem. Roosevelt’s aims, some say, are to deflect American Jewish appeals to help the German Jews. Aside from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, which want enormous sums of money to allow a small number of Jews to immigrate, the 32 nations attending the conference decide that they will not permit large numbers of Jews to enter their countries.
The first 50 inmates arrive at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, about 20 miles from Berlin. Following Kristallnacht, 1,800 Jews are jailed here and subsequently murdered. By September 1939, the camp held 8,000 prisoners. In April 1940, the first crematorium was built. In March 1943, a gas chamber was added. In April 1945, as the Soviet Army advanced, 33,000 prisoners began a Death March. The Soviet Army found 3,000 survivors in the camp.
American radio broadcaster Father Charles Coughlin calls for the establishment of an American Christian Front to combat Communists and Jews. The Christian Front, which will come to fruition, will consist of mostly working-class Irish and German Americans. The organization will adhere to the beliefs that America is a Christian nation and that Catholics should march along with Protestants in a united Christian Front against the Jews.
Decree for the cancellation of the medical certification of all Jewish physicians effective September 30. Thereafter, Jewish physicians are only allowed to function as nurses for Jewish patients.
Henry Ford, an American industrialist and a leading antisemite, accepts the Third Reich’s medal of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. A year later, at the outset of World War II, Ford will claim that “the Jew bankers” are responsible for the war.
Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels introduces a new radio for the German people, the German Mini-Receiver also known as the Goebbels Schnauze (Goebbels’s Snout).
The first Austrian concentration camp is established at Mauthausen.
Destruction of the Great Synagogue in Nuremberg.
Decree to carry out the law pertaining to the change of first and last names. Effective January 1, 1939, all Jews must add to their name either Israel (for a Jewish male) or Sara (for a Jewish female).
The Swiss government denies entry to Jews. However, Paul Grüninger, local police commandant of St. Gall on the Austrian frontier, disobeys his superiors and allows 3600 Jews to pass the border from August through December 1938.
Unable to enlist General Staff into resigning en masse and unable to dissuade Hitler from carving up Czechoslovakia, Beck resigns as Chief of Staff. The conspiracy to overthrow Hitler has begun with Beck as the main architect of the plot. Throughout August, co-conspirators on the General Staff have been secretly sent by Beck and Abwehr Chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris to London to persuade the British government to back their impending coup attempt by standing up to Hitler over Czechoslovakia.
The Berlin Putsch, with the aim of overthrowing Hitler and tossing him into an insane asylum, is planned by generals and influential civilians, but it never comes off because of poor organization and wavering leadership.
Pope Pius XII informally tells Belgian pilgrims that antisemitism is a movement in which Christians should not involve themselves. However, Pius says, each Christian has the right “to defend himself, to take means to protect himself against all that threatens his legitimate interest.”
Jews forbidden to attend public cultural events.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain meets with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, Germany, to discuss the Sudeten crisis. Hitler has demanded that the Sudetenland, which was part of Austria up through the end of World War I, be ceded by Czechoslovakia to Germany.
Army Chief of Staff General Franz Halder with the full knowledge of General Walther von Brauchitsch (Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) has a commando force assembled and on stand-by notice ready to launch the first coup attempt. Conspirators General Hans Oster and Major Wilhelm Heinz secretly agree to have Hitler killed. The conspirators await Britain’s and France’s next move.
British and French governments advise Czechoslovakia to accept Hitler’s terms.
Hitler promises that the Sudetenland will be his last territorial demand in Europe.
Decree for the cancellation of the license to practice for all Jewish lawyers, effective November 30. Thereafter, Jewish lawyers can only practice in special instances as Jewish Consultants for Jews.
Hitler threatens to march into Czechoslovakia without further delay. Halder anxiously expects Britain’s ultimatum to Hitler which will allow him to launch the coup. Major Heinz and 50 commandos are secretly cloistered in safehouses throughout Berlin waiting for orders to storm the Chancellory.
The Munich Conference is attended by French Premier Edouard Daladier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and Hitler. Climaxing the Allies’ appeasement policy, France and Great Britain permit Germany to illegally annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. Most of Europe breathes a sigh of relief because war is averted. Daladier, observing the huge crowds awaiting him at the Orly airport near Paris, fears that they will tear him apart for betraying France’s Czech ally. After he lands, he is relieved when his people throw roses at him.
The Czech representatives to the conference, who had been forced to wait helplessly in the corridor outside the conference hall, break down into sobs after hearing the news of the Allied concessions to Germany. Also at the conference, Chamberlain signs a Friendship Treaty with Germany without informing his French ally. Arriving home, he triumphantly holds this scrap of paper up to the crowd that surrounds his airplane and promises “peace in our time.”
First coup attempt falls apart with Chamberlain’s decision to negotiate away the Sudentenland.
Civiltá Cattolica, the foremost Jesuit journal, which is published in Rome and controlled by the Vatican, calls Judaism sinister and accuses Jews of trying to control the world through money and secularism. The journal says that the devil is the Jews’ master; Judaism is evil and “a standing menace to the world.”
The German Wehrmacht occupies the Czech Sudetenland under stipulations of the Munich Pact.
Following a request by Heinrich Rothmund, head of the Swiss federal police, the German government recalls all Jewish passports and marks them with a large, colored “J.” This is to prevent German Jews from passing as Christians and smuggling themselves into Switzerland.
Germany expels Jews with Polish citizenship to the Polish border. Poles refuse to admit them; Germans refuse to allow them back into Germany. Seventeen thousand are stranded in the frontier town of Zbaszyn, Poland.
Father Bernhard Lichtenberg, a Roman Catholic priest in Berlin, condemns the German assault on Jews. One of the few German Catholics to denounce the immoral behavior of the government, Father Lichtenberg sermonizes: “Outside the synagogue is burning, and that also is a house of God.”
Germany anounces the “Vienna Award” in which Germany cedes large parts of Czechoslovakia to Hungary and Italy. Sections of Slovakia as well as the Transcarpathian Ukraine are annexed by Hungary. Hitler has now directly violated the Munich Pact.
A distraught young Jew named Herschel Grynszpan, whose family has just been deported to Zbaszyn, enters the German Embassy in Paris and mortally wounds Third Secretary of Legation Ernst vom Rath. Academics often cite this as the beginning of the Holocaust. The Nazis will exploit this event by instigating a long-planned terror campaign against all Jews in Germany and Austria.
Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) occurs across Germany and Austria. Ninety-one Jews are killed; others are beaten. Thirty thousand male Jews are sent to concentration camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen), though most will be released in a few weeks. 267 synagogues are desecrated and destroyed (almost all of the synagogues of Germany and Austria). SS Security Service chief Reinhard Heydrich instructs security agencies to burn the synagogues unless German lives or property are endangered. Jewish businesses are looted and destroyed, including 7500 shops.
Hitler mentions to Hermann Göring that he would like to see all German Jews forcibly resettled on the island of Madagascar. Opportunistically chosen by the Nazi leadership, the date of the pogrom is of great symbolic importance. It coincides with two important national holidays, the Nazi Blood Witness Day of November 9 and Martin Luther’s birthday of November 10. Blood Witness Day commemorates the Nazi “martyrs” who died for their cause. Martin Luther advocated the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues as well as the impoverishment, forced labor, exile, and death of Jews.
Hermann Göring leads a discussion of German officials that results in a one-billion-mark ($400-million) fine against the German-Jewish community to pay for Kristallnacht. Göring calls this extortion an “expiation payment.” Seizing the money German insurance companies were paying the Jews for their damages, the Nazis require the Jews to pay for the repair of their own properties damaged in Kristallnacht.
The Nazis decide on a decree to remove all Jews from the German economy, society, and culture. Reinhard Heydrich suggests that every Jew be forced to wear a badge. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels suggests that Jews be kept from using public parks. Hermann Göring mentions that Hitler told him on the phone on November 9 that if war breaks out, Germany “will first of all make sure of settling accounts with the Jews. [Hitler] is going to ask the other nations: ‘Why do you keep talking about the Jews? Take them!’” In the Nazi Party’s principal newspaper, Goebbels writes: “We want only one thing, that the world loves the Jews enough to rid us of them all.”
Decree for the atonement payments by German Jews in the amount of one billion marks; decree for the elimination of German Jews from involvement in the economy; decree for the reconstruction of the facades of all Jewish shops (Jews have to pay for all damage caused during Kristallnacht); Jews prohibited from attending movies, concerts, and other cultural performances.
All Jewish children are expelled from German schools. From now on, they may only attend Jewish schools.
The American Virgin Islands Assembly offers the islands as a haven for Jewish refugees. The American government does not explore this possibility.
Using Nazi documents, American radio commentator Father Charles Coughlin contends that Jews are responsible for Russian communism and for Germany’s problems. All of Coughlin’s radio programs are approved by his archdiocese as not contradicting Catholic faith or morals. Some Catholics protest Coughlin’s broadcasts, including Chicago’s Cardinal George Mundelein, but most of the American Church is silent.
The British House of Commons objects to German persecution of minorities.
The SS transfers 500 male concentration camp prisoners to the village of Ravensbrück, north of Berlin, Germany. The prisoners begin the construction of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Ravensbrück will serve as the main camp for women prisoners in Germany.
Police decree pertaining to the appearance of Jews in public: Restrictions in the freedom of movement and travel, etc.
Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht travels to London to propose to George Rublee, of the Intergovernmental Committee for Political Refugees, an extortionate scheme: German Jews could emigrate if they put up cash assets that would be transferred to the Reich upon emigration. This Schacht-Rublee plan will be abandoned in January 1939, when Schacht will be dismissed by Hitler after Schacht objects to the high cost of Germany’s rearmament.
The British Cabinet allows 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain in an action called the Kindertransport. (Britain, however, refuses to allow 21,000 more Jewish children into Palestine.) The rescued children come from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia with the help of British, Jewish, and Quaker welfare organizations. Because of the Holocaust, most of the children will never see their parents again, and many of the Jewish children will be converted to Christianity.
Confiscation of Jewish drivers’ licenses. Creation of a Ban Against Jews in Berlin; decree pertaining to the forced disposal (Aryanization) of Jewish industrial enterprises and businesses; directives concerning the ousting of Jews from German economic life.
Thousands of Father Charles Coughlin’s followers take to the streets of New York City, chanting, “Send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats!” and “Wait until Hitler comes over here!” Many Christian policemen are sympathetic to the Coughlinites. The protests will last until April 1939. They are opposed by other Catholic organizations and by leftists and liberals.
Several members of the American Catholic hierarchy and leading Protestants sign a Christmas resolution expressing “horror and shame” in response to the Kristallnacht pogrom.
1938: Other imporant events
The first issue of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt (Jewish Newsletter), a Nazi-controlled publication, keeps German citizens abreast of Nazi regulations regarding Jews.
Ludwig Schemann, a leading German advocate of racism, dies.
Adolf Hitler tells Minister of Justice Hans Frank that he has come to fulfill the curse imposed by the Jews themselves in the New Testament: “His [Jesus’s] blood be upon us and upon our children.” Hitler, born and raised as a Roman Catholic, observes that had Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, been fully aware of the Jewish threat, he would not have criticized Catholicism; instead, he would have put all of his energy into attacking the Jews.
Sources: Various books and chronologies related to World War II and
the Holocaust Memorial Center