In the late hours of this day, November 9th, the sounds of glass breaking, shouts, and the sight of flames sent a clear warning to the world of what was to come. It has been 77 years now, but it still remains a clear warning.
On Kristallnacht, November 9-10th, 1938, over 1,000 synagogues in Germany and Austria were destroyed. Sacred objects were desecrated. Jewish hospitals and homes were attacked by mobs incited by Nazi leadership. They destroyed Jewish owned businesses and schools as the night wore on into early morning of November 10th.
At least 91 Jewish citizens were killed. Another 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Many more sustained various injuries. All were afraid.
Most view this night as the beginning of the Holocaust. It is believed that the pogram was planned long before and only awaited a “reason” for the violence. The assassination of German diplomat Ernest vom Rath in Paris by a Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan on November 7, 1938. He had recently received a postcard from his family explaining that they had been expelled from the German city of Hanover. When he was arrested for the shooting, he carried the postcard in his pocket and said, “May God forgive me… I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do.”
The unfortunate choice of vom Rath lies in the politics of this career diplomat. He is believed to have held strong anti-Nazi sympathies and was actually under surveillance by the Gestapo at the time of his death. However, Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine never wasted an incident they could spin. Suddenly, vom Rath became a patriotic German who was slain mercilessly by a dangerous Jew. Of course, Grynszpan had no way to know that he was killing a friend and not enemy.
In fact, his protest was heard around the world. The resulting pogrom in Germany and Austria was as well. It was reported by international journalists as it happened. The message was very clear that Jews were being targeted and were not safe. To the dismay of the Jews of Europe, the world did not act upon this message. The Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews and other minorities would continue for years and cost more than 6 million lives in the Holocaust.
For further learning:
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass – a children’s book from the point of view of a cat. A fantastic and gentle way to introduce children to the story of this night.
Kristallnacht: The Nazi Terro That Began The Holocaust – a collection of primary sources regarding the events of November 9th and 10th, 1938
American Experience: America and the Holocaust – a fantastic (as always) look at the American response to Kristallnacht and the Holocaust as a whole
Background and Overview of Kristallnacht – resources and other links from the Jewish Virtual Library
Archival Footage of Synagogue Burning – shot by a fireman who was watching the synagogue burn but on hand to ensure the fire did not spread to any non-Jewish property