Murder and arson and pillage
were not the only tribulations suffered by innocent German Jews as the
result of the murder of Rath in Paris. The Jews had to pay for the destruction
of their own property. Insurance monies due them were confiscated by the
State. Moreover, they were subjected, collectively, to a fine of one billion
marks as punishment, as Goering put it, "for their abominable crimes, etc."
These additional penalties were assessed at a grotesque meeting of a dozen
German cabinet ministers and ranking officials presided over by the corpulent
Field Marshal on November 12, a partial stenographic record of which survives.
A number of German insurance firms faced
bankruptcy if they were to make good the policies on gutted buildings (most
of which, though they harbored Jewish shops, were owned by Gentiles) and
damaged goods. The destruction in broken window glass alone came to five
million marks ($1,250,000) as a Herr Hilgard, who had been called in to
speak for the insurance companies, reminded Goering; and most of the glass
replacements would have to be imported from abroad in foreign exchange,
of which Germany was very short.
"This cannot continue!" exclaimed Goering,
who, among other things, was the czar of the German economy. "We won't
be able to last, with all this. Impossible!" And turning to Heydrich, he
shouted, "I wish you had killed two hundred Jews instead of destroying
so many valuables!"
"Thirty-five were killed," Heydrich
answered, in self-defense.
Not all the conversation, of which the
partial stenographic record runs to ten thousand words, was so deadly serious.
Goering and Goebbels had a lot of fun arguing about subjecting the Jews
to further indignities. The Propaganda Minister said the Jews would be
made to clean up and level off the debris of the synagogues; the sites
would then be turned into parking lots. He insisted that the Jews be excluded
from everything: schools, theaters, movies, resorts, public beaches, parks,
even from the German forests. He proposed that there be special railway
coaches and compartments for the Jews, but that they be made available
only after all Aryans were seated.
"Well, if the train is overcrowded,"
Goering laughed, "we'll kick the Jew out and make him sit all alone all
the way in the toilet."
When Goebbels, in all seriousness, demanded
that the Jews be forbidden to enter the forests, Goering replied, "We shall
give the Jews a certain part of the forest and see to it that various animals
that look damned much like Jews—the elk has a crooked nose like theirs—get
there also and become acclimated."
In such talk, and much more like it,
did the leaders of the Third Reich while away the time in the crucial year
But the question of who was to pay for
the 25 million marks' worth of damage caused by a pogrom instigated and
organized by the State was a fairly serious one, especially to Goering,
who now had become responsible for the economic well-being of Nazi Germany.
Hilgard, on behalf of the insurance companies, pointed out that if their
policies were not honored to the Jews, the confidence of the people, both
at home and abroad, in German insurance would be forfeited. On the other
hand, he did not see how many of the smaller companies could pay up without
This problem was quickly solved by Goering.
The insurance companies would pay the Jews in full, but the sums would
be confiscated by the State and the insurers reimbursed for a part of their
losses. This did not satisfy Herr Hilgard, who, judging by the record of
the meeting, must have felt that he had fallen in with a bunch of lunatics.
German insurance would be forfeited. On the other hand, he did not see
how many of the smaller companies could pay up without going broke.
GOERING: The Jew shall get
the refund from the insurance company but the refund will be confiscated.
There will remain some profit for the insurance companies, since they won't
have to make good for all the damage. Herr Hilgard, you may consider yourself
The Field Marshal had had enough of this
commercial-minded man. Herr Hilgard was dismissed, disappearing into the
limbo of history.
HILGARD: I have no reason to. The fact
that we won't have to pay for all the damage, you call a profit!
The Field Marshal was not accustomed
to such talk and he quickly squelched the bewildered businessman.
GOERING: Just a moment! If you are legally
bound to pay five millions and all of a sudden an angel in my somewhat
corpulent shape appears before you and tells you that you may keep one
million, for heaven's sake isn't that a profit? I should like to go fifty-fifty
with you, or whatever you call it. I have only to look at you. Your whole
body seethes with satisfaction. You are getting a big rake-off!
The insurance executive was
slow to see the point.
HILGARD: All the insurance companies are
the losers. That is so, and remains so. Nobody can tell me differently.
GOERING: Then why don't you take care
of it that a few windows less are being smashed!
A representative of the Foreign Office
dared to suggest that American public opinion be considered in taking further
measures against the Jews. This inspired an outburst from Goering: "That
country of scoundrels! . . . That gangster state!"
After further lengthy discussion it
was agreed to solve the Jewish question in the following manner: eliminate
the Jews from the German economy; transfer all Jewish business enterprises
and property, including jewelry and works of art, to Aryan hands with some
compensation in bonds from which the Jews could use the interest but not
the capital. The matter of excluding Jews from schools, resorts, parks,
forests, etc., and of either expelling them after they had been deprived
of all their property or confining them to German ghettos where they would
be impressed as forced labor, was left for further consideration by a committee.
As Heydrich put it toward the close
of the meeting: "In spite of the elimination of the Jews from economic
life, the main problem remains, namely, to kick the Jew out of Germany."
Count Schwerin von Krosigk, the Minister of Finance, the former Rhodes
scholar who prided himself on representing the "traditional and decent
Germany" in the Nazi government, agreed "that we will have to do everything
to shove the Jews into foreign countries." As for the ghettos, this German
nobleman said meekly, "I don't imagine the prospect of the ghetto is very
nice. The idea of the ghetto is not a very agreeable one."
At 2:30 P.M.—after nearly four hours—Goering
brought the meeting to a close.
"I shall close the meeting
with these words: German Jewry shall, as punishment for their abominable
crimes, et cetera, have to make a contribution for one billion marks. That
will work. The swine won't commit another murder. Incidentally, I would
like to say that I would not like to be a Jew in Germany."