Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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troops in every part of the country. In revenge for the assassina­
tion by Herschel Grynszpan of Ernst vom Rath, third assistant in
the Nazi Embassy in Paris, numerous synagogues together with
thousands of books, Torah Scrolls and manuscripts, were put to
the torch and completely destroyed. Reinhard Heydrich, head of
the Reich Security Chief Office, reported at a meeting of German
ministers on November 12, 1938, that 101 synagogues had been
destroyed by fire and seventy-six wrecked. Many more synagogues
were seized between November, 1938, and September, 1939. These
were converted into German schools, Hitler youth houses, sport
clubs, and the like. Synagogues were blasted and burned also in
Austria, Sudetenland and Danzig, although not yet incorporated
into the Reich. A contemporaneous Jewish estimate puts the
number of destroyed religious edifices between 413 and 520. This
destructive pattern was continued during World War II. Accord­
ing to an authentic estimate (
Former Jewish Communal Property
in Germany
, New York, 1947), there were approximately 1,300
synagogues in Germany in the beginning of 1938. Only a few of
this number were still in existence in 1945. It is impossible to
speculate on the number of books that were consigned to a fiery
doom. In only a few instances were Jewish religious objects and
books salvaged by courageous and well-meaning non-Jewish
Germans. The commendable efforts of Cardinal Michael Faulhaber
in 1938, on behalf of the Great Synagogue in Munich, are a
noteworthy example.
After the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland
in September, 1939, the German armies embarked upon a wild
spree of destruction, mainly of synagogues. German newspapers
described these acts of vandalism with utter callousness. In this
vein the
Krakauer Zeitung
of November 29, 1939, stated: “A
few nights ago the synagogue and prayer-house in Tomaszow . . .
went up in flames. The fire brigade succeeded in preventing the
fire from spreading to neighboring buildings.” The
stadter Zeitung
of November 16, 1939, reported: “The synagogue
on the Kosciuszko Alley went up in flames yesterday morning.
The first and third fire brigades prevented the flames from spread­
ing to adjoining buildings.” At times, however, the Nazi cor­
respondents shamelessly exhibited their flagrant glee in reporting
the barbarous acts. Thus, the destruction of the famous library
of the Lublin Yeshivah in 1939 elicited this arrogant statement:
“For us it was a matter of special pride to destroy the Talmudic
Academy which was known as the greatest in Poland . . . We
threw the huge Talmudic library out of the building and carried
the books to the market-place, where we set fire to them. The
fire lasted twenty hours. The Lublin Jews assembled around and