"Kristallnacht" The Night of Broken Glass

In 1938 I was 21, living in Würzburg in southern Germany and studying at the Jewish Teachers' Seminary.

I was supposed to have an exam on Nov. 10, the final one before I would have got my diploma that would have made me a Hebrew teacher.

So on the ninth, I headed home early in the evening and went to bed at 9 so I would be refreshed the next morning. We had already heard a few days before about the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, an official at the German embassy in Paris, killed by a Polish Jew, and it was a very bad omen. Everything went fine until about 2:30 in the morning, when we were awakened by a big crash. I got up and didn't know what might have happened. I lived in a large dormitory room with two friends. I thought that it was something terrible and that we should be ready to meet the emergency. We packed our valises in case we needed to leave. We heard people coming closer, and we tried to lock our door. I don't know if we opened it or if they broke it, but they were Nazis dressed as civilians. They said, "Throw your bags against the windows." And they went down the hall and threw three typewriters against the windows, and then they came back and went to the big dormitory room and broke several more things, like the faucets in the sink and the hanging lamps.

About 6 the next morning, a whole group of people came, as if they were looking at a museum, to enjoy themselves and see what the Nazis had done in our building. One man, another Nazi in civilian clothes, told us to go outside and form a line five abreast in the cobblestone street. As we walked along, the civilians at the side spat at us and called us names. We passed by the burning synagogue as they led us to the prison, and all these onlookers, they were laughing, they were shouting, and they were spitting.

Kristallnacht was a turning point because up to that time, the Nazis did not openly incite the whole population to kill publicly. Before, people were killed secretly and individually, but this happened openly. After that night, the whole world knew it would not get better at all, and Jews knew only a dark future. It was called the "Night of Broken Glass," but it was more than that. You can clean up glass, but you cannot do that with people.

A massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich on the night of November 9, 1938, into the next day, has come to be known as Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glass.

The attack came after Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Jew living in Paris, shot and killed a member of the German Embassy staff there in retaliation for the poor treatment his father and his family suffered at the hands of the Nazis in Germany.

On October 27, Grynszpan's family and over 15,000 other Jews, originally from Poland, had been expelled from Germany without any warning. They were forcibly transported by train in boxcars then dumped at the Polish border.

For Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, the shooting in Paris provided an opportunity to incite Germans to "rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews."

On November 9, mob violence broke out as the regular German police stood by and crowds of spectators watched. Nazi storm troopers along with members of the SS and Hitler Youth beat and murdered Jews, broke into and wrecked Jewish homes, and brutalized Jewish women and children.

All over Germany, Austria and other Nazi controlled areas, Jewish shops and department stores had their windows smashed and contents destroyed. Synagogues were especially targeted for vandalism, including desecration of sacred Torah scrolls. Hundreds of synagogues were systematically burned while local fire departments stood by or simply prevented the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings.

About 25,000 Jewish men were rounded up and later sent to concentration camps where they were often brutalized by SS guards and in some cases randomly chosen to be beaten to death.

The reaction outside Germany to Kristallnacht was shock and outrage, creating a storm of negative publicity in newspapers and among radio commentators that served to isolate Hitler's Germany from the civilized nations and weaken any pro-Nazi sentiments in those countries. Shortly after Kristallnacht, the United States recalled its ambassador permanently.

In Germany, on November 12, top Nazis, including Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels, held a meeting concerning the economic impact of the damage and to discuss further measures to be taken against the Jews. SS leader Reinhard Heydrich reported 7500 businesses destroyed, 267 synagogues burned (with 177 totally destroyed) and 91 Jews killed.

Heydrich requested new decrees barring Jews from any contact with Germans by excluding them from public transportation, schools, even hospitals, essentially forcing them into ghettos or out of the country. Goebbels said the Jews would be made to clean out the debris from burned out synagogues which would then be turned into parking lots.

Kristallnacht (German pronunciation: [kʁɪsˈtalˌnaxt]; literally "Crystal Night") or the Night of Broken Glass was an anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany and Austria on 9 to 10 November 1938. It is also known as Novemberpogrome, Reichskristallnacht, Reichspogromnacht or Pogromnacht in German.

The Kristallnacht was triggered by the assassination in Paris of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew. In a coordinated attack on Jewish people and their property, 91 Jews were murdered and 25,000 to 30,000 were arrested and placed in concentration camps. 267 synagogues were destroyed, and thousands of homes and businesses were ransacked. This was done by the Hitler Youth, the Gestapo and the SS. The Kristallnacht also served as a pretext and a means for the wholesale confiscation of firearms from German Jews.

While the assassination of Rath served as a pretext for the attacks, the Kristallnacht was part of a broader Nazi policy of antisemitism and persecution of the Jews. Kristallnacht was followed by further economic and political persecutions. It is viewed by many historians as the beginning of the Final Solution, leading towards the genocide of the Holocaust.