Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass

Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass

The interior of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin after Kristallnacht

Before Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, Jews had been fully integrated into German society as citizens.  They owned businesses, their children attended German schools and they could move about freely and enjoy German culture.  After Hitler, it became a different story; he blamed the Jews for the loss in World War I and for all the economic and political problems of Germany.  He instigated the 1935 Nuremberg laws that stripped Jews of citizenship and inter-marriages.

An incident in Paris in November of 1938 created a plausible reason for Hitler and the German Nazi regime to instigate violent widespread anti-Semitic attacks.  This two day spree of destruction came to be known as “The night of broken glass,” or Kristallnacht.

Physical damage during Kristallnacht

Hitler already had the wheels in motion for deportation and emigration of Jews from Germany. In early November, 1938, a number of Jews had just been evacuated from their homes and expelled from Germany.  Among them were the parents of a 17 year old boy living in Paris, Herschel Grynszpan.  As a protest against Hitler and his regime, Grynszpan shot and assassinated a German Embassy official named Ernst Vom Rath. This event gave the Nazis an opportunity for spreading their anti-Semitic propaganda, through Joseph Goebbels, that Jews were responsible for all the problems in Germany. It was enough to incite the violence attacks, called Pogrom that followed.

Vom Rath’s assassination coincidentally corresponded to the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, and a Nazi meeting held in commemoration.  Hitler sent messages to the SA and Hitler Youth organizations that “spontaneous reactions resulting in violence” would not be hampered.  His justification for the Pogrom plus the propaganda messages immediately led to party leaders issuing instructions.

The destruction began in the evening of November 9th and continued into the early hours of November 19th.  The areas targeted were Germany, annexed Austria, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia that was occupied by Germans.  SA officers, dressed in civilian clothes tried to give the illusion of a public uprising of citizens.

The front page of The New York Times of November 11, 1938 refers to the attacks occurring “under the direction of Stormtroopers and Nazi party members,” but also said that Goebbels called a stop to it.

Even though central orders from Heydrich of the SS gave special instructions to the SA and State Police to not endanger non-Jewish lives or properties, and to remove synagogue archives and materials prior to vandalizing, they were given a green light to arrest as many young, healthy Jewish men as possible.  As synagogues burned, firefighters were instructed to only intervene in the event of danger to surrounding buildings of non-Jewish ownership.  The SA and Hitler’s Youth members shattered and broke more than 7,500 windows of Jewish owned businesses, splaying shards of glass everywhere which led to the Pogrom’s name of Kristallnacht.

Mobs of SA officers roamed the streets, attacking, looting, raping and forcing acts of humiliation on Jews.  At least 91 were killed and there were many suicides. Over 30,000 Jewish males were arrested and sent to concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.  This was the first of many large scale incarcerations of Jews in the Nazi regime base solely on ethnicity.

Some of the 30,000 gained releases over the next few days, with orders to leave Germany, but the majority died in the camps.  Nazi party leaders used this incident as the catalyst to introduce their policies for totally eliminating Jews from Germany.

Jews arrested during Kristallnacht line up for roll call at Buchenwald, 1938

Thousands of Synagogues were burned in Germany, Austria and Switzerland; 7,000 businesses ruined and to add to their misery, the Regime put the blame for Kristallnacht on the Jews, and confiscated any insurance payouts for damages, deprived them of owning any property and earning a livelihood, and ordered the “Aryanization Policy.”  This policy was the mandatory transfers of property from Jews to Aryan ownership.  German schools expelled Jewish children and Jewish people in Germany lost the right to drive, attend movies or concerts and basically lost their freedom.  This was the turning point for the National Socialist Anti-Semitic Policy to become permanently ingrained in German law.

As the German people seemed to be passively accepting, the Nazi regime moved forward quickly.  Their goal was to rid Germany of all Jews, and when deportation and emigration was not satisfying enough, turned to annihilation, which was the beginning of Hitler’s “Final Solution” programs and the Holocaust.

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