How the Jewish Chronicle stopped the presses in 1938 to report Kristallnacht

Our coverage reflected shock, horror and a warning about what could follow


The full horrors of Kristallnacht unfolded across the Nazi Reich — then composed of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland — on the night of Wednesday November 9, 1938.

Then, as now, the Jewish Chronicle would go to press on a Wednesday night, but the gravity of the news meant that the issue dated Friday November 11 contained a last-minute “Stop Press” notice, added as the paper went to print.

It read: “Over five thousand Jews arrested, mostly in Vienna, where 22 people committed suicide during the riots. In Berlin, Munich and many other cities, synagogues set on fire. Nine Berlin synagogues destroyed.”

The notice also contained similarly brief reports from Cologne, Frankfurt and Hamburg.

It was only a week later, by which time the full savagery of the attacks had been laid bare, that this newspaper could publish a full report on what it called “The Nazi Pogroms”. Kristallnacht was not a term which it would use to describe the event until the 1950s.

The JC’s leading article on November 18 talked about how the “pogrom has disgraced the name of Germany in the eyes of civilisation”.

Yet, as the paper stated, “it is only the culmination of a process which began five years ago with the accession to power of the most ruthless set of desperadoes that has ever seized the reins of government.”

Even then, in 1938, there was an understandable inability to comprehend that this horrendous “process” had not come close to its devastating “culmination”.

But a full-page advertisement taken out in that same issue looks particularly heartrending now. Placed by N.M Rothschild and Sons, it was a call for funds to help the victims: “Humanity to the rescue of German Jewry. HELP! Before it is too late.”

The striking advertisement in the JC, November 18, 1938 (Photo: JC archives)


The JC detailed “Britain’s unanimous condemnation” of the Nazi terror, from “Churches, Politicians and Press”, as well as the international outrage.

But, as the paper said, “The Nazi leaders care nothing for the indignation of the rest of the world, because they know very well that the aim of Germany’s foreign policy is in any case incapable of achievement without the damaging and crushing of other nations.”

The Rothschild advert was one of several appeals for funds to help German Jews.

“Their plight is appalling,” another read. “If they are not assisted instantly, this terrible story will have a yet more ghastly sequel.”

But there were also strong calls to help fund defence initiatives for Jews in the UK. In a piece titled “Jewish Defence — What are we doing?”, the paper’s special correspondent described the nefarious activities of the British Union of Fascists.

“It is the duty of every British Jew to help strengthen his defence organisations,” the correspondent wrote.

“By defending himself, he will be defending the British people; for as the Jews are in the first line of the attack on democracy, so everything that increases the resistance of that first line strengthens democracy.”

And on the letters page, a reader wrote: “The volumes of the Jewish Chronicle will remain an open indictment of Nazi Germany because of the authentic and detailed record they contain of actual happenings.

“May this record in the future be a happier one for Israel.”

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