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How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

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In the days surrounding Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazis committed the worst pogrom Germany had seen since the Middle Ages. To mark the incident's 75th anniversary, an exhibition in Berlin gathers previously unknown reports by foreign diplomats, revealing how the shocking events prompted little more than hollow condemnation.

Consul-General Robert Townsend Smallbones had already seen much of the world. He had been in Angola, Norway and Croatia, and he had spent eight years in Germany with the British diplomatic corps. Despite the Nazi dictatorship, the 54-year-old held Germans in high esteem. They were "habitually kind to animals, to children, to the aged and infirm. They seemed to me to have no cruelty in their makeup," Smallbones wrote in a report to the British Foreign Office.

Given his impression of the Germans, the representative of the British Empire was all the more astonished by what he experienced in early November 1938. In Paris, Herschel Grünspan, a 17-year-old Jewish refugee from the northern German city of Hanover, had shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in an act of protest against Hitler's policies regarding the Jews. At first, the Nazis only hunted down Jews in the Hesse region of Germany, surrounding Frankfurt. But, after Rath's death on Nov. 9, the pogroms spread throughout the German Reich, where synagogues were burned, Jewish shop windows were smashed and thousands were taken to concentration camps and mistreated.

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"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana

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