Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938)


Figure 1.--This Jewish boy in Berlin is cleaning up the damage to his father's shop after Kristalnacht. Available images mostly show tenage boys and women cleaning up the damage. That is because most Jewish men were arreted, brutlized and shipped off to Dachau and other concentration camps. In the aftermath, the NAZIs made Jews pay for the damage done. .

Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" was a vicious NAZI pogrom directed at defenseless German and by this time Austrian Jews. A Polish-born German Jew, Sendel Grynszpan, wrote to his son describing how he had been expelled to Poland and mistreated. His son Herschel was a 17-year old boy studying in Paris. Distraught by his parents' treatment, he shot the Third Secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst von Rath. As a reprisal, Hitler personally approved a massive assault on Germany's Jews in their homes and shops and the burning of their synagogues. The attacks began early on November 10. Members of the Gestapo and other NAZI organizations such as the SA and the Labor Front were told to report to the local NAZI Party office and were given their instructions. They then moved out ransacking Jewish shops and synagogues and setting firm to them. Groups of NAZIs broke into Jewish homes, looting them and destroying property that they did not want. Pets were killed before their horrified owners. About 100 Jews were killed which today seems like a small number given the level of violence and what we know now would be the dimensions of the Holocaust. About 20,000 mostly men were dragged off to the Buchenwald, Dachu, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The orgy of violence exceed even what the NAZI leadership had planned because of the viciousness of the NAZI rank-and-file. This was of concern to the leadership because they hoped to eventually seize the property that had remained in Jewish hands. The NAZIs required Jews to repair the damage to their shops and homes at their own expense. When the NAZIs realized that Jewish property was insured, Goering issued a decree requiring that insurance payments be made to the German Government not the Jewish holders of insurance policies. An additional 1 billion mark fine was imposed on the already impoverished German Jewish community. Kristallnacht coming after Munich confirmed to many Americans the dangers of war and the nature of the NAZIs, although the full appreciation of their evil was not yet apparent. It was enough to convince many Americans that increased military spending was needed, but many Americans also concluded that America should further distant itself from European affairs.

Term

Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" was a vicious NAZI pogrom directed at NAZI Jews. The name derives from all of the broken glass ("Kritstal") that littered German streets after the outburst of NAZI violence.

Deportations

The NAZIs began deportations of Jews to Poland before the start of World War II. The first wave of deportations had been precipitated by the Poles. The Polish Government, after the German Anshluss (March 1938) with Austria, concerned about an anticipated influx of Jews, ordered the cancellation of Polish passports of persons who had been away from Poland for more than 4 years. The Poles began enforcing this law October 30, 1938. The NAZIs, objecting to having thousands of stateless Jews, began deporting them to Poland. The Gestapo by the end of October had deported 17,000 of these Jews to Poland. [Davidson, p. 320.] The Poles objected to this and there were incidents at the border of Jews being expelled from Germany, but not accepted by the Poles.

Paris Shooting

Sendel Grynszpan, who had been born in Poland wrote to his son Herschel, describing how he had been expelled to Poland and mistreated. His son Herschel had been born in Germany. He was a 17-year old misfit unable to get a job. He has failed to graduate from primary school. He was living in Paris with his uncle, but had left when they quarled. He had almost no money to survive on his own. His Reich visa, Polish passport, and French visa had all expired. Disraught by his parents' treatment and his situation, on November 7, 1938 he shot the Third Secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst vom Rath--irronically a man who hated Hitler. [Davidson, pp. 320-321.]

Reprisal Ordered

As a reprisal, Hitler secretly approved a massive assault on Germany's Jews in their homes and attacks on Jewish synagoges. Hitler while vilifying the Jews in his speeches, never pubically envolved himself with Kristallnacht or the Holacaust which was to follow. Hitler delivered an impassioned speech on November 7 at the Munich Bürgerbräukeller to honor Party martyrs and commemmorate the failed 1923 "Beer hall Putch". He did not mention the Paris shooting. To have done so would have connected him with what was to follow that night. While he spoke, however, plans were being prepared.

The Attacks

The attacks began early on November 9, only a few hours after Hitler's speech, and continued on November 10. Members of the Gestapo and other NAZI organizations such as the SA and the Labor Front were told to report to the local NAZI Party office and were given their instructions. The SA wascgiven the primary responsibility, their first important task since the Röhm affair in 1934. (Röhm was the commander of the SA and one of Hitler's closest associates. Hitler had ordered him shot and the SA leadership purged to placate the Wehrmacht which considered the SA a Party army and a threat.) Gangs of NAZI SA storm troopers accompanied by youths from the Labor Front were given assigments and fanned out through Jewish neighborhoods. Jews they encounteredin the street, in many cases severely. They brroke into homes and ransaking and burning family possessions, often stealing valuable items. The NAZI gangs also broke windows of Jewish businesses and looted shops. They did what ever they wanted--knowing that no procecutions would follow. The burned synagogues throughout Germany. There were 101 synagogues destroyed. An estimated 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. Many Jews were physically attacked and beaten, oftem in their own homes in front of their families. Cherished family pets were killed. About 30-100 Jews were actually murdered, accounts vary. Much larger numbers of Jews were arrested.

Concentration Camps

An estimted 20,000 Jews, mostly men, were arrested. Some estimates are as high as 26,000. Some were held under "protective custody" by the police. Others were dragged off to the Buchenwald, Dachu, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

First Hand Accounts

Many Germans, both Jews and non-Jews, have writtem moving accounts of Kristallnacht, their experiences and the destruction they witnessed. One HBC reader, Stephan Wellershaus, recalls the destruction the day afterwards. The NAZI controlled German newspapers described the violence as "spontaneous outbursts". In fact they were organized by the NAZI part and carried out by Party organizations. Many Germans were apauled at the mindless violece. Others cheered the NAZIs on. One Jewish youth studying to be a Hebrew teacher, one of the few professions still open to Jews in Germany, was preparing for his final exam. Heraing loud noises they backed their bags. NAZIs dressed in civilian clothes barged into his dormitorry and ordered them to throw their suitcases at the windows. The NAZIs then through typewriters through the windows and then wrecked what ever came to mind like faucets and light fixtures. In the morning ordinary Germans came through the school and dormitory to see what the NAZIs did. Another NAZI in civilian clothes ordered the students to forn a line five abreast outside. As they were marched along, Germans along the side of the strat spat at them as well as insulted them amd laughed. They were marched past the burning synagogue on the way to prison. [Wiener, pp. A20-21.] Steven Muller recalls staying in his Talmudic school while the synagoge in Hamburg was attacked. When they got home they found that their father had been arrested. Another acount from Jill Pauly describes her family experience, "I’ll never forget how scared I was 77 years ago on Kristallnacht. This wave of antisemitic attacks throughout Germany and Austria caused my family to flee our small German town. We drove to a relative’s apartment in Cologne, and my grandparents forced my sister and me to sit on the car floor so we wouldn’t see the violence on the streets. That evening and for many following it, the men in my family drove all night to evade German officers and avoid becoming some of the 30,000 men who were arrested just for being Jewish. This was a major turning point for my family, when our lives became dangerous and our future uncertain."

Uncontrolled Destruction

The orgy of violence exceed even what the NAZIs had palnned. This was of concern because the NAZIs hoped to eventually seize the property. The Jews were thus required to repair the damage to their shops and homes.

Reparations

When the NAZIs realized that Jewish property was insured, Goering issued a decree requiring that insurance payments made to the German Government. An additional 1 billion mark fine was imposed on Germany Jewish community.

Separation

The NAZIs followed Kristallnacht with a series of laws and decrees designed to completely isolate Jews and sever them from German national life and Aryan Germans. The NAZIs imposed curfew on Jews. [Golabek] The Jews sill remaining in German schools were exelled. Jews were barred from theaters, concerts, museums, circuses, and other educatioal or recreational facilities. They could be excluded from public parks. They were excluded from hotels. They were not permitted to drive cars and think licenes were revoked. Jews were increasingly assaulted on streets. Jews were prevented from making any kind of livlihood in Germany. Doctors, pharamicisrs, and vetenarians were no longer allowed tompractice their professions. shop owners could not operate their stores independently. Merchants could not frequent markers, fairs, or exhibitions. Companies still employing Jews could no use them as managers or section heads, many had to be fired. Jewish businesses were to Aryanized or liquidates. Jews had to "deposit" stocks and other securities with a statre agency. Another decree began the process of seizing gold and other precious metals and jewelry. [Davidson, p. 233.]

Emmigration

Kristallnacht convinced most Jews that they had to leave Germany. Many Jews had already left Germany. One estimate suggests that about 180,000 of the approximately 500,000 had left by 1938. Fiven the abuse and descrimination, this seems a realtively small number. After Kristallnacht, a panic set in among the Germany community and most Jews were now desperate to leave Germany. The problem was that the many actions taken by the NAZIs had increasingly impoversished Germany Jews, making immigration increasingly difficult even if a visa could be obtained.

International Image

Americans were apauled. Despite the ani-semitism in America, ne poll showed 94 percent of Americans disapproved. The German Ambassador in Washington reported to Berlin on the impact of Kristallnachr on American public opinon. Ambassador Dieckhoff reported, "Even the respectable patriotic circles which were thouroughly anti-Semitic ... began to turn away from us." [Frridel, p. 313.] Similar reactions occurred in Britain and France. All of this was of little assistance to German Jews. It was part of the series of events thatvwas changing American public opinion and would allow President Roosevelt to begin America's rearmament, provide vital aid to Britain and a critical point in the War, and enter into an undeclared naval war with Germany months before Pearl Harbor.

Sources

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Golabek, Mona, and Lee Cohen. The Children of Willesden Lane. Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love and Survival (Warner), 272p.

Wiener, Jacob G. "Nov. 9, 1938: The night hope shattered," Time, March 31, 2003, pp. A20-21.






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Created: January 15, 2002
Last updated: 5:42 PM 11/10/2015