On this day: Kristallnacht

9 November 1938: the night of the broken glass


Recognised by many as the precursor to the destruction of the Jews of Europe, Kristallnacht began on November 9. The wave of violence and anti-Jewish pogroms continued for two nights, as Germans smashed windows of synagogues, homes and Jewish owned businesses.

The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of glass that lined the streets after Nazi officials, Storm Troopers and members of the Hitler Youth rioted against the Jewish residents of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland.

The German authorities claimed it was a spontaneous outburst – a response to the ultimately fatal shooting of a German diplomat by a Polish Jewish teenager in Paris.

Herschel Grynszpan fired at Ernst vom Rath after learning that his parents were among the thousands of Jews of Polish descent who had been rounded up and expelled for Germany that week. When Vom Rath died, the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels announced that it was a conspiracy by world Jewry and gave what amounted to a command for anti-Jewish attacks.

From that night, synagogues and Torah scrolls burned and glass lined the streets. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, some 267 synagogues were destroyed, and 7,500 Jewish businesses were looted and vandalised.
At least 91 Jews were killed, and countless more were attacked and abused. The pogrom led to the first large scale deportation of Jews, as the Gestapo arrested more than 30,000 Jewish men and sent them to concentration camps.

The Nazis blamed the Jews and fined them for the pogroms, confiscating insurance money and leaving the community to fund repairs to their damaged premises. In the weeks and months that followed, Jews were stripped of their rights and the population rounded up and decimated.

The Second World War officially began in September 1939, but for the Jews of Europe Kristallnacht was a turning point.

What the JC said on November 25 1938: He committed a criminal act which no one, certainly no Jew, would condone. But the crime was used as a pretext by the Nazi Party and the German Government to inflict upon the Jews in Germany a punishment of a kind which was unique in history…they did not know the exact number of newly arrested Jews in concentration camps and prisons – some reports spoke of as many as 50,000 – but they knew that the number was extraordinarily high., and they knew that the life of Jewry in Germany had been actually destroyed, when the violent outbreaks were called off by the same government that had staged the, new laws against the Jews were issued, laws whose ingenuity would do credit to their originators if their import did not surpass the limits of wickedness.

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Last updated: 9:12am, November 9 2010