The Righteous Man From Fulda – For use in the classroom
(Film length: 37:30 min.)
Use of the film in class:
With a running time of 37 minutes, the film can typically be shown during one lesson. The following questions can be used to discuss the content and theme of the film with the students. The questions have been divided into four sections:
A) General B) The tablecloths C) Kristallnacht D) Applicability today.
Depending on the time to be invested, one or all of the four sections can be addressed per teaching unit. This can be done either in a class discussion or in small group settings. As a supplement to these discussions, each topic can also be worked on as a continuing project within the class or in breakout among a group of students. The topical suggestions are listed below.
1. Film discussion:
Contents of the film:
- Clarify any questions regarding the content or message.
- What was new for you?
- What in particular “struck” you?
1.2 The tablecloths
- What do the tablecloths represent?
- Why did Mrs. Schuhej want to re-gift the tablecloths?
- Why did the Bensinger family come to Fulda for them?
- Is the re-gift of the tablecloths a reparation? (provide reasons)
- What was new for you?
- Who were the perpetrators and what was their motivation?
- Who were two of the victims and describe their experiences and emotions?
- What actions did one man take that distinguished him from the perpetrators and bystanders?
- What happened to the possessions – houses, furniture, pictures, pets, objects, etc. of Jewish families? And where may they be today?
- What were the precursors of Kristallnacht?
- How did Kristallnacht impact future events which culminated in the Holocaust?
1.4 Applicability today:
- Can something similar happen again today? What signs would you look for? (if applicable, possible options for action on the part of students and of the school).
- Define the terms perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander and provide past or current examples of each.
2. Project work
Possible further development of the topic by students:
- What kind of Jewish businesses exist/existed in your community?
- Where is/was the synagogue, the cemetery and where was the Jewish community located?
- Are there any memorials or places of remembrance?
- Are there similar stories of “righteous” people?
- Search for biographies of Jewish individuals/families.
- How is Kristallnacht commemorated in your community?
- Explore the range of reactions to the violence of Kristallnacht among the German people. What pressures and motivations may have influenced their choice to participate, to help the victims, or to turn away?
- Research how the United States and other countries responded to the news of Kristallnacht? What responsibilities do other nations have to citizens that may be persecuted in another country?
3. Resource Materials
Gilbert, Martin. Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Pehle, Walter H., editor. November 1938: From “Reichskristallnacht” To Genocide. New York: Berg, 1991.
Read, Anthony. Kristallnacht: The Nazi Night of Terror. New York: Times Books, 198
Schwab, Gerald. The Day the Holocaust Began: The Odyssey of Herschel Grynszpan. New York: Praeger, 1990.
An Introduction to Kristallnacht
A number of historians regard the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938 as the beginning of the Holocaust.
- 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps;
- 7,500 Jewish stores were smashed and looted;
- 267 synagogues burned to the ground and many others were attacked and damaged; 100 Jews were killed, and countless others beaten; There were some Jewish suicides;
- Many Jewish institutions were vandalized.
These Nazi-sponsored attacks, on Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, took place throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in full view of neighbors of Jewish victims, most of whom stood by. Though there were instances of courageous support, Kristallnacht ended the possibility for any continuing viable Jewish existence in the Third Reich.
The German pretext for the attacks of Kristallnacht was the spontaneous reaction to the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris on November 7, 1938 by 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan. But Kristallnacht was a planned and coordinated action. Its purpose was to terrify Jews still remaining in the expanding Nazi empire into leaving. The problem was that for many there was nowhere to go.
On October 28, 1938, the Nazis forcibly deported 17,000 Jewish men, women and children with Polish citizenship from Germany. Among them were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, who had been living in Germany since 1911. The Jews were thrown out of the country with no warning and with great brutality, and the largest number were left stranded near the Polish/German border town of Zbasyn without adequate food, water and shelter. They were unable to enter Poland, because the Polish government had previously banned Polish Jews living abroad from returning.
When Herschel, who was living with his aunt and uncle in Paris, heard what had happened to his parents, he went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot diplomat Ernst vom Rath.
In his pocket was found a postcard to his parents. It read: “With God’s help. My dear parents, I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy… I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me.”
Vom Rath died two days later, on the afternoon of November 9. That evening Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister and a fanatic Nazi, obtained permission from Hitler to launch a pogrom against the Jewish communities in Germany, Austria and the German-occupied Sudetenland, formerly a part of Czechoslovakia. Publicly, the Nazi propaganda machine claimed it was a spontaneous uprising by German people in revenge for the murder of vom Rath. That night, rioting Nazi Storm Troopers, SS men, party members and others set fire to synagogues. Fire companies stood by, allowing the synagogues to burn. They stepped in only when the flames threatened to spread to “Aryan” property.
Several hundred synagogues were destroyed or heavily damaged along with Torah scrolls, prayer books and Bibles. The attackers looted and destroyed some 7,500 Jewish businesses. Many Jewish homes, schools, orphanages, hospitals and cemeteries were vandalized, and 30,000 Jewish men were thrown into concentration camps. There they were mistreated and humiliated.
Following Kristallnacht, Jews were completely driven out of the German economy. They were compelled to sell their businesses and their valuables at a fraction of their worth. Jewish children remaining in German schools were expelled. Jews were forbidden entry to all public places. Jewish organizations were abolished or stripped of their autonomy. The Nazis sped up coercive measures to promote emigration.
The Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmarks as “reparations” for the murder of vom Rath, and the government confiscated the proceeds from all insurance claims paid to Jews from the damage to their homes and businesses. Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second in command at the time, declared, “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”
Jews imprisoned in concentration camps were released if they could demonstrate that they had a valid visa to another country. Quickly, the search for refuge became desperate, but doors everywhere were closed to the Jews of Central Europe. As many as 1,000 died in concentration camps due to maltreatment, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation, disease, the bitter cold and despair.
German public opinion did not, generally speaking, approve of the excesses of Kristallnacht, which brought people face-to-face with violence and brutality. From this, the Nazi government learned to plan attacks on Jews and other “enemies of the Reich” with more care and carry them out in greater secrecy. There were very few in Germany, however, who openly condemned what had occurred. The German churches were largely silent.
The reaction of Western powers was one of shock and dismay, but little or no retaliatory action. There was widespread condemnation of the pogrom in the American press, and President Roosevelt recalled the American ambassador to Germany and ordered that current refugee quotas be filled. But existing policies and attitudes did not undergo any fundamental change.
In the wake of Kristallnacht, Nazi Jewish policy fell more and more under control of the SS, which was to become the key instrument in the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. With Kristallnacht, the Nazis crossed the line from segregation, humiliation and fitful expropriation of Jews to outright physical assault and total expropriation.
The explosion of Nazi sadism in Kristallnacht vividly revealed the Nazis’ bottomless hatred for the Jews and lust for violence. It became an ominous harbinger of the coming genocide.