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On November 9 to November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht”, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, also called the “Night of Broken Glass,” some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. German Jews had been subjected to repressive policies since 1933, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) became chancellor of Germany. However, prior to Kristallnacht, these Nazi policies had been primarily nonviolent. After Kristallnacht, conditions for German Jews grew increasingly worse. During World War II (1939-45), Hitler and the Nazis implemented their so-called “Final Solution” to the what they referred to as the “Jewish problem,” and carried out the systematic murder of some 6 million European Jews in what came to be known as the Holocaust.

Hitler and Anti-Semitism

Soon after Adolf Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in January 1933, he began instituting policies that isolated German Jews and subjected them to persecution. Among other things, Hitler’s Nazi Party, which espoused extreme German nationalism and anti-Semitism, commanded that all Jewish businesses be boycotted and all Jews be dismissed from civil-service posts. In May 1933, the writings of Jewish and other “un-German” authors were burned in a communal ceremony at Berlin’s Opera House. Within two years, German businesses were publicly announcing that they no longer serviced Jews. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in September 1935, decreed that only Aryans could be full German citizens. Furthermore, it became illegal for Aryans and Jews to marry or have extramarital intercourse.

Despite the repressive nature of these policies, through most of 1938, the harassment of Jews was primarily nonviolent. However, on the night of November 9, all that changed dramatically.

From Harassment to Violence

In the fall of 1938, Herschel Grynszpan (1921-45), a 17-year-old ethnically Polish Jew who had been living in France for several years, learned that the Nazis had exiled his parents to Poland from Hanover, Germany, where Herschel had been born and his family had lived for years. As retaliation, on November 7, 1938, the agitated teenager shot Ernst vom Rath (1909-38), a German diplomat in Paris. Rath died two days later from his wounds, and Hitler attended his funeral. Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, immediately seized on the assassination to rile Hitler’s supporters into an anti-Semitic frenzy.

Kristallnacht was the result of that rage. Starting in the late hours of November 9 and continuing into the next day, Nazi mobs torched or otherwise vandalized hundreds of synagogues throughout Germany and damaged, if not completely destroyed, thousands of Jewish homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and cemeteries. Nearly 100 Jews were murdered during the violence. Nazi officials ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned, although firefighters were allowed to extinguish blazes that threatened Aryan-owned property.

In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, the streets of Jewish communities were littered with broken glass from vandalized buildings, giving rise to the name Night of Broken Glass. The Nazis held the German-Jewish community responsible for the damage and imposed a collective fine of $400 million (in 1938 rates), according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Additionally, more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany–camps that were specifically constructed to hold Jews, political prisoners and other perceived enemies of the Nazi state.

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

U.S. Reaction to Kristallnacht

On November 15, 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), the American president, responded to Kristallnacht by reading a statement to the media in which he harshly denounced the rising tide of anti-Semitism and violence in Germany. He also recalled Hugh Wilson, his ambassador to Germany.

Despite Roosevelt’s condemnation of the Nazi violence, the U.S. refused to ease the immigration restrictions it then had in place, constraints that prevented masses of German Jews from seeking safety in America. One reason was anxiety over the possibility that Nazi infiltrators would be encouraged to legally settle in the U.S. A more obscured reason was the anti-Semitic views held by various upper-echelon officials in the U.S. State Department. One such administrator was Breckinridge Long (1881-1958), who was responsible for carrying out policies relating to immigration. Long took an obstructionist role in granting visas to European Jews, and maintained this policy even when America entered World War II after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

A Wake-up Call to German Jews

The violence of Kristallnacht served notice to German Jews that Nazi anti-Semitism was not a temporary predicament and would only intensify. As a result, many Jews began to plan an escape from their native land.

Arthur Spanier (1899-1944) and Albert Lewkowitz (1883-1954) were two who wanted to come to the U.S.; however, their task was not a simple one. Spanier had been the Hebraica librarian at the Prussian State Library and an instructor at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Higher Institute for Jewish Studies), both located in Berlin, Germany. After Kristallnacht, he was sent to a concentration camp, but was released upon receiving a job offer from the Cincinnati, Ohio-based Hebrew Union College. Spanier applied for an American visa, but none was forthcoming. Julian Morgenstern (1881-1976), president of the college, traveled to Washington, D.C., for an explanation. Morgenstern was told that Spanier was denied the visa because he was a librarian and, according to U.S. State Department rules, a visa could not be issued to an academic in a secondary educational position even if a major American educational institution had pledged to support him.

Lewkowitz, a philosophy professor at the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary, was granted a visa. He and Spanier traveled to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but were trapped there when the Germans invaded in May 1940. Lewkowitz’s visa was destroyed as the Germans bombarded the city. Bureaucrats at the American consulate suggested that he acquire another visa from Germany. Given the circumstances, this would be impossible. Both men soon found themselves in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Spanier lost his life there, while Lewkowitz was released in 1944 during a prisoner exchange. That year, he settled in Palestine.

A Wake-up Call to Non-Jews

Not all those who were impacted by Kristallnacht were practicing Jews. Edith Stein (1891-1942), a German philosopher and nun, was born a Jew but converted to Catholicism. In 1933, she was accepted as an initiate at the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany, and took the name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. She was joined there by her older sister Rosa, who had also become a Catholic.

After Kristallnacht, the Steins left Germany and resettled in a Carmelite convent in Echt, the Netherlands. In 1942, as the Germans began deporting Jews from the Netherlands, Edith Stein successfully applied for a visa that would allow her to move to a convent in neutral Switzerland. However, Rosa was unable to obtain a visa and Edith declined to leave the Netherlands without her.

In August 1942, the Nazis arrested both women and dispatched them to a concentration camp at Amersfoort, the Netherlands. Shortly afterward, they were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where they perished in a gas chamber. In 1987, Edith Stein was beatified as a Catholic martyr by Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).

Conditions Worsen after Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht marked a turning point toward more violent and repressive treatment of Jews by the Nazis. By the end of 1938, Jews were prohibited from schools and most public places in Germany–and conditions only worsened from there. During World War II, Hitler and the Nazis implemented their so-called “Final Solution” to what they referred to as the “Jewish problem,” and carried out the systematic murder of some 6 million European Jews (along with, by some estimates, 4 million to 6 million non-Jews) in what came to be known as the Holocaust.

As for Herschel Grynszpan, whose shooting of a German diplomat was used as an excuse by the Nazis to perpetrate the Kristallnacht violence, his fate remains a mystery. What is known is that he was incarcerated in a Paris prison and later transferred to Germany. According to some accounts, Grynzpan was eventually executed by the Nazis. However, other sources claim he survived the war and resettled in Paris, where he married and started a family under an assumed name.

Understanding Kristallnacht

This lesson complements the resources from Chapter 7 of Holocaust and Human Behavior to help students investigate what happened in Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938, and the variety of choices individuals made in response to that night’s violence and terror. By analyzing a variety of readings containing firsthand accounts of Kristallnacht, students will actively piece together a more comprehensive story of what happened and arrive at a deeper understanding of the impact these events had on individuals who participated in them, were targeted by them, or witnessed them. This lesson asks student to consider the range of human behavior often observed in times of violence and terror and begin to see the impact that the choices of perpetrators, bystanders, and upstanders have on those around them.


  • Video: "Kristallnacht": The November 1938 Pogroms
  • Reading: The Night of the Pogrom
  • Reading: Opportunism during Kristallnacht
  • Reading: A Family Responds to Kristallnacht
  • Reading: Thoroughly Reprehensible Behavior
  • Reading: A Visitor's Perspective on Kristallnacht
  • Reading: World Responses to Kristallnacht

Teaching Strategies


In this activity, students will look at multiple primary sources in order to gather information about Kristallnacht and better understand what happened.

  • First, provide students with some brief background about Kristallnacht. Do so by showing the short video "Kristallnacht": The November 1938 Pogroms.
  • Then divide the class into small groups and assign each group one of the readings listed in the Materials section of this lesson.
  • Tell students to complete the following steps when looking at their group’s assigned reading:
    • Identify basic facts about the account: Who was the author? Who was the audience (if it is stated)? What kind of document is this? When was it created or written?
    • Analyze the account: Based on the background information you gathered, what was the document’s significance or purpose? What new information does the document contribute to your understanding of this historical moment? 1

    The events of Kristallnacht also provide a window into the range of choices people and groups made during this time.

    • Ask students to continue working in their groups from the first activity to review their assigned reading and to consider the following questions about human behavior during Kristallnacht:
      • What experience did the people or groups in this reading have with the events of Kristallnacht?
      • How did they react to Kristallnacht? What choices did they make?
      • What role did they play in perpetuating or preventing injustice?
      • What factors influenced their decision making?
      • What does this source teach us about perpetrators, bystanders, victims, or upstanders?

      Conclude this lesson by leading a brief Think, Pair, Share discussion about the students’ experience of learning about Kristallnacht through multiple accounts and experiences. Focus the discussion on the following question:

      Kristallnacht: A warning from history still not heard

      November 9th marks 82 years since Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass. It signaled the start of two days of terror for the Jews of Germany and Austria. Synagogues, Jewish homes, shops, schools and institutions were ransacked, tens of thousands were arrested and lives were lost. Kristallnacht is rightly viewed as a seminal moment, the point at which Nazi persecution transformed from economic and social intimidation, into physical terror. It was a precursor to the unimaginable horrors to come.

      Sadly, the world did not comprehend the gravity of Kristallnacht.

      The devastation of Kristallnacht transcends physical ruin. At the symbolic heart of this pogrom, was the wanton destruction of more than 1,400 synagogues, which for generations had served as sanctuaries and refuges for both body and soul. The image of burning synagogues became the motif of Kristallnacht. Their destruction was not mere vandalism, it was the deliberate and unrestrained obliteration of Jewish identity.

      And yet, all too often the tragic echoes of Kristallnacht can still be heard today. In the United States, according to the FBI, attacks in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased by a staggering 38.4 percent between 2014 and 2018, the last year for which such data is available. Globally in 2019, hundreds of worshipers were killed in houses of prayer. They include the horrific Easter Sunday attacks on churches in Sri Lanka and a deadly gun attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Worshipers were also murdered last year at a synagogue in Poway, Southern California and at a Buddhist temple in Thailand.

      The lessons of Kristallnacht, the dangers of where racism and extremism can lead, are more relevant today than perhaps ever before. The survivors of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust that it ushered onwards, are dwindling. Someone who was 18 at Kristallnacht would be 100 this year. The witnesses to man’s gravest depravity will soon depart this earth. It falls to others to ensure that humanity’s darkest hour is never forgotten.

      Sadly, there is much work to be done. A poll in the United States suggested that two-thirds of millennials are unable to identify what Auschwitz is. Meanwhile, research shows that 69% of French youngsters do not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. When young people are unaware of the abyss to which racism can lead, there is no telling where it may end. Such ignorance can be the beginning of a very dangerous chapter.

      Moreover, we are living through an age of immense global uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the health, social and economic well-being of so many countries in the balance. It is precisely this type of uncertainty which is the perfect breeding ground for extremism. The extremists and the bigots are already taking advantage. They are making sure that as the coronavirus crisis intensifies, so too does fear of “the other.” Today, as in previous eras, they are placing the blame for society’s ills on those who are different. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a worrying increase in racist incidents across the world has been recorded by the World Economic Forum, human rights groups and beyond.

      Quite simply, Kristallnacht must not be confined to the pages of history. It must be a very real lesson for today. We must all make sure that this year, more than any other, Kristallnacht becomes an opportunity for meaningful reflection and education. In these turbulent times, the battle for hearts and minds is very real.

      At March of the Living, we educate people from around the world not only about the history of the Holocaust, but also about its lessons, and where prejudice, intolerance and hatred can ultimately lead.

      At a time of great confusion and anguish, these lessons hold truer than ever. On November 9, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the very night on which the forces of darkness prevailed, we ask that synagogues, educational institutions and private homes leave on a symbolic light, as a mark of our collective memory of the horrors of that night, and our shared commitment towards tolerance and respect. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe would often quote, “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

      Together, we can make a powerful statement. Let the memory of Kristallnacht be the turning point towards a brighter, more hopeful future. This would surely be the best possible tribute to those who suffered unimaginably at the hands of the Nazis. Moreover, the very future of all decent people — regardless of our beliefs or background — may depend on it.


      Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – was the Nazi government’s response to the murder, on November 7 th 1938, in Paris of Ernst von Rath, a diplomat in the German embassy in the city. Von Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jew and the Nazis used this as the excuse they needed in Nazi Germany to unleash a night of violence against the whole of the Jewish community within Germany. Joseph Goebbels claimed that the murder of von Rath was just a small part of a much wider conspiracy against the Nazis by international Jews. Kristallnacht started on the night of November 9 th . All over Nazi Germany synagogues were targeted along with the remaining Jewish shops and stores. A recorded conversation/discussion between Reinhard Heydrich, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in the aftermath of Kristallnacht gives some idea as to what the Nazi hierarchy wanted out of the event.

      Heydrich: In almost all cities synagogues are burned. New, various possibilities exist to utilise the space where the synagogues once stood. Some cities want to build parks in their place others want to put up new buildings.

      Goering: How many synagogues were actually burned?

      Heydrich: Altogether there were 101 synagogues destroyed by fire, 76 synagogues demolished and 7,500 stores ruined in the Reich.

      Goering: What do you mean, “destroyed by fire”?

      Heydrich: Partly they are razed, and partly gutted.

      Goebbels: I am of the opinion that this is our chance to dissolve the synagogues. All those not completely intact shall be razed by the Jews. The Jews shall pay for it. There in Berlin, the Jews are ready to do that. The synagogues that were burned in Berlin are being levelled by the Jews themselves. We shall build parking lots in their place or new buildings. That ought to be the criterion for the whole country, the Jews shall have to remove the damaged or burned synagogues, and shall have to provide us with ready free space.

      In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, the Jewish community was required to pay for the damage. They were fined 1 billion Reichsmarks (about $400,000,000) on November 12 th and they were not allowed to make any insurance claims for damage to property. 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps where many were to die. Any Jewish business that had somehow survived the violence was not allowed to re-open under Jewish management, but had to have a ‘true’ German in charge of it.

      Those who had the money now realised that they had to leave the country, but in doing so they had to leave everything behind which was then taken by the Nazi government. Kristallnacht had set a very clear marker as to what the Jews who remained in Nazi Germany could expect in the future.

      Learn about Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), November 9–10, 1938 propaganda

      NARRATOR: Hitler's Reich in the 1930s - the propaganda of the Nazi regime appeals to the German ethnic community, and decides who belongs where, from childhood onwards. Those who don't fit the picture, such as the Jews, are disdained, disenfranchised, persecuted. It begins with the boycotting of Jewish businesses, and leads ever more frequently to violence.

      GEORG STEFAN TROLLER: "Things previously frowned upon by the state were suddenly permitted. Anything was allowed. We had become fair game, they could do to us whatever they wanted."

      NARRATOR: On November 7, 1938, a Polish Jew shoots a German diplomat in Paris. His family are threatened with deportation - a welcome pretext for the Nazis. The Nazi leadership gives the signal to attack, and issues orders to party followers: Synagogues and Jewish businesses are to burn. The 9th of November is the Night of the Broken Glass. In hundreds of locations, Nazis set synagogues ablaze. Symbols and testimonies of Jewish culture are destroyed.

      COCO SCHUMANN: "Suddenly there was clattering, and the window panes shattered."

      NARRATOR: SA commandos prey on Jewish people.

      SCHUMANN: "I heard screaming and looked up - people were being pushed out of the window."

      NARRATOR: Police have been ordered to not intervene. Many Germans become spectators to the violence.

      LORE MAY: "There were 500, 600 people - Germans, shouting and singing. There was a lady, I couldn't see her face. They pulled her down the street by her hair."

      NARRATOR: Most look the other way, but some come to the Jews' aid in secret.

      ERNST BEHM: "The fear was so great that we often didn't have the courage to help our Jewish fellow citizens. Many were helped, more than one might think, but all in secret."

      NARRATOR: In this one night alone over 1,400 synagogues are destroyed.

      INGE DEUTSCHKRON: "That was the turning point. That was when the Jews in Germany understood they could no longer live in peace as German Jews. That became clear after this night of violence."

      NARRATOR: More than 400 Jews are beaten, shot, or driven to suicide. The Night of the Broken Glass is a dire warning for the impending fate of the Jews in Germany.

      November 9, 1938

      Violence broke out on the night of November 9 and carried over into the morning of the November 10. All across Germany — as well as Austria and other areas occupied by the German military — Jewish homes, business, and synagogues were targeted and destroyed by mobs stirred by Goebbels' propaganda. which added that while the Nazi Party wasn't technically organizing protests against the "World Jewry" that had supposedly been behind an assassination conspiracy, they were totally cool with it if people wanted to go ahead and riot to show their allegiance to the party.

      And they absolutely did. Led by the Hitler Youth and the SA (storm troopers) — who donned civilian clothing to help promote the idea that this was just the will of the people — the not-so-spontaneous riots destroyed somewhere around 7,500 shops and businesses, burned hundreds of synagogues, and killed an unknown number of people. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says that even though it's widely considered that 91 people lost their lives that night, the death toll might be in the hundreds.)

      What happened immediately after the night that would become known as Kristallnacht — a reference to the broken windows of homes, businesses, and places of worship — would make it clear that this wasn't just a one-time thing. Around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to the concentration camps, which had already been set up to house those who were deemed to be enemies of the state.

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      Background to Kristallnacht

      When Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany in 1933, his leadership made laws which oppressed German Jews. Hitler's policies isolated and persecuted Jews. For instance, businesses belonging to Jews were boycotted. Besides, Jews were expelled from all civil servant posts. In May 1933, writings from Jews and all non-German authors were charred in a function at Opera House in Berlin. Two years later the rules became more oppressive when Jews were no longer served German businesses. Before the occurrence of the Kristallnacht, the policies were nonviolent. However, on the night of the Kristallnacht, there was a drastic change in the events as the policies became violent.

      Kristallnacht, according to the German officials, occurred as a result of public outrages against the murder of Ernst Vom Roth. Vom Roth, a German embassy officer based in Paris, was shot by Herschel Gryznspan, a teenage Polish Jew, of 17 years of age. Before the assassination of Ernst Vom Roth, thousands of Polish Jews living in Germany had been driven out from Reich, among them Grynzspan’s parents.The agitated youth shot Vom Roth as retaliation for the expulsion of his parents from a land where they had been living for years. Vom Roth died two days later from gun wounds after being shot. Adolf Hitler, the German chancellor, attended his funeral.

      How the World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

      Remembering Kristallnacht 75 years after Nazi rampage.

      Nov. 9, 2013— -- In the days surrounding Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazis committed the worst pogrom Germany had seen since the Middle Ages. To mark the incident's 75th anniversary, an exhibition in Berlin gathers previously unknown reports by foreign diplomats, revealing how the shocking events prompted little more than hollow condemnation.

      Consul-General Robert Townsend Smallbones had already seen much of the world. He had been in Angola, Norway and Croatia, and he had spent eight years in Germany with the British diplomatic corps. Despite the Nazi dictatorship, the 54-year-old held Germans in high esteem. They were "habitually kind to animals, to children, to the aged and infirm. They seemed to me to have no cruelty in their makeup," Smallbones wrote in a report to the British Foreign Office.

      Given his impression of the Germans, the representative of the British Empire was all the more astonished by what he experienced in early November 1938. In Paris, Herschel Grünspan, a 17-year-old Jewish refugee from the northern German city of Hanover, had shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in an act of protest against Hitler's policies regarding the Jews. At first, the Nazis only hunted down Jews in the Hesse region of Germany, surrounding Frankfurt. But, after Rath's death on Nov. 9, the pogroms spread throughout the German Reich, where synagogues were burned, Jewish shop windows were smashed and thousands were taken to concentration camps and mistreated.

      Smallbones reported from Frankfurt that Jews had been taken to a large building and forced to kneel and place their heads on the ground. After some of them had vomited, Smallbones writes, the "guards removed the vomit by taking the culprit by the scruff of the neck and wiping it away with his face and hair." According to Smallbones' account, after a few hours, the victims were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where many were tortured and a few beaten to death. The prisoners were even forced to urinate into each other's mouths. This was one of the details Smallbones learned from a golfing partner, a German Jew, after the latter's release from Buchenwald.

      "I flattered myself that I understood the German character," the consul-general wrote, but added that he had not expected this "outbreak of sadistic cruelty."

      The pogroms in November 1938 lasted several days, although history books often refer to the event merely as one "Night of the Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) because Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels announced on the radio on Nov. 10 that the excesses had ended. Experts estimate that up to 1,500 people died in the days surrounding Nov. 9. It was the worst pogrom in Germany since the Middle Ages.

      Gathering Contemporary Diplomatic Accounts

      This week marks the 75th anniversary of what Leipzig-based historian Dan Diner has called the "catastrophe before the catastrophe." This prompted the German Foreign Ministry to take the unusual step of asking 48 countries that had diplomatic missions in Germany in 1938 to search their archives for reports on the November pogrom.

      For months, the Foreign Ministry has been receiving copies of historical documents previously unknown to experts. Beginning next Monday, the Foreign Ministry and the Berlin Centrum Judaicum will display a selection of the documents at the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse, in an exhibition titled "From the Inside to the Outside: The 1938 November Pogroms in Diplomatic Reports from Germany."

      Despite the often-truncated form of the reports and the detached language of the diplomats, these are impressive documents with historical value. They attest to the fate of the Jewish orphanage in Esslingen, near Stuttgart, where a mob of Nazi sympathizers drove children out into the streets of Jews who were forced to march in rows of two through Kehl, in southwestern Germany, and shout "We are traitors to Germany" and of terrified people hiding in forests near Berlin.

      What is also noteworthy about the documents is what they do not contain. In this respect, they point to the failure of the international community and its far-reaching consequences. The diplomats almost unanimously condemned the murders and acts of violence and destructions. The British described the pogrom as "Medieval barbarism," the Brazilians called it a "disgusting spectacle," and French diplomats wrote that the "scope of brutality" was only "exceeded by the massacres of the Armenians," referring to the Turkish genocide of 1915-1916.

      Nevertheless, no country broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin or imposed sanctions, and only Washington recalled its ambassador. Most of all, however, the borders of almost all countries remained largely closed for the roughly 400,000 Jewish Germans.

      Many diplomatic missions were already in contact with victims because men from the SS and the SA, Nazi Party officials and members of the Hitler Youth were also harassing foreign Jews who lived in Germany. In early November, more than 1,000 Jews fleeing from the Nazis took refuge at the Polish consulate in Leipzig. In an account of the fate of the Sperling family, the local consul wrote that they had been practically beaten to death, and that "many valuable objects" had been stolen from their apartment, "including a radio, a check for 3,600 Reichsmarks, 3,400 Reichsmarks in cash and other valuable things." The thugs had apparently undressed the wife and tried "to rape her."

      German Jews also sought protection in foreign consulates, especially those of the Americans. "Jews from all sections of Germany thronged into the office until it was overflowing with humanity, begging for an immediate visa or some kind of letter in regard to immigration, which might influence the police not to arrest or molest them," reported Samuel W. Honaker, the US consul-general in Stuttgart.

      Searching for Reasons

      Most of the diplomats were well informed about the scope of the atrocities through the accounts they had heard from desperate people describing their experiences. Besides, the smashed windows and ransacked premises of Jewish businesses were clearly visible.

      At that point, at least according to a Finnish envoy, Hitler was less interested in murdering Jews in Germany than in driving them out. "The position of the German state toward the Jews is so well known that there is no point in writing much about it," he wrote in a report to his government. "Harsher and harsher steps are being taken against them, with the goal of getting them out of the German Reich in one way or another."

      But the diplomats were puzzled over why the Nazis were acting so violently, especially given the resulting damage to their international reputation. France's representatives believed that it had to do with a power struggle within the Nazi leadership. The Swiss envoy assumed that it was Hitler's way of demonstrating his power. British diplomat Smallbones suspected that the outbreak of violence had been triggered by "that sexual perversity … very present in Germany."

      But, as historians discovered after World War II, Hitler was merely taking advantage of an opportunity. He was in Munich on the afternoon of Nov. 9, when the news arrived of the death of Rath, the diplomat. It was the same day on which the top party leadership met each year to commemorate Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. After consulting with Hitler, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels goaded on the other officials in the meeting until, as he wrote in his diary, they "immediately rushed to the telephones." They gave their instructions to the Nazi foot soldiers, who were already itching to harm Jews. The excesses began that night.

      1,406 Destroyed Synagogues

      Many synagogues in the Württemberg, Baden and Hohenzollern regions were "set

      on fire by well-disciplined and apparently well-equipped young men in civilian clothes," reported US Consul-General Honaker, noting that the process was "practically the same" in all cities. "The doors of the synagogues were forced open. Certain sections of the building and furnishing were drenched with petrol and set on fire. Bibles, prayer books and other sacred things were thrown into the flames," he wrote. A total of 1,406 synagogues were burned down.

      Then they began smashing shop windows. The shops were easy to identify, especially in Berlin. A few months earlier, Nazis had forced Jewish shop owners in the capital city to write their names in white paint and large letters on the shop windows.

      The second wave came during the course of the next day, as the Hungarian chargé d'affaires reported from the German capital: "In the afternoon, after school, 14- to 18-year-old teenagers, mostly members of the Hitler Youth, were unleashed on the shops. They forced their way into the businesses, where they turned things upside down, destroyed all furniture and everything made of glass, jumbled all the merchandise and then, while cheering for Hitler, left the scene to search for other places to ransack. In the city's eastern districts, the local populace also looted the devastated shops."

      As instructed, the perpetrators were not wearing party uniforms. Goebbels wanted the public to believe that the pogrom was a reflection of "the justified and understandable outrage of the German people" over the death of Rath, the diplomat -- and that the police were powerless.

      But none of the diplomats believed this version of the events, especially, as a Brazilian embassy counselor scoffed, in a country with the "most powerful, tightly organized, perfectly equipped and most brutal police force in the world, in the best possible position to promptly suppress any turmoil within the population."

      The 'Unimaginable' on the Way to Reality

      The uniformity of the approach in hundreds of cities and villages was enough to expose this lie. But most of all, the majority of Germans did not behave the way the regime had expected.

      Although there was some looting, many diplomats, like Finnish representative Aarne Wuorimaa, reported on "withering criticism" from members of the public. According to Wuorimaa, "As a German, I am ashamed" was a "remark that was heard very frequently." However, the reports generally do not delve into whether the critics fundamentally rejected the disenfranchisement of the Jews in general or just the Nazis' brutal methods.

      US Consul-General Honaker estimated that about 20 percent of Germans supported the pogrom. There is a surprising parallel between this number and the result of a poll that American officials took in 1945, after the Holocaust, in their zone of occupation. At the time, one-fifth of all respondents still "agreed with Hitler over the treatment of the Jews." In other words, they admitted to being murderous anti-Semites.

      For many of the later perpetrators of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht marked a turning point. Suddenly everything seemed possible, writes historian Raphael Gross, alluding to the emerging mood. The Nazis felt "like pioneers who had just successfully entered new territory," Gross says.

      In the ensuing weeks, the regime enacted a large number of measures designed to harass and expropriate the Jews. Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend ordinary schools, and Jewish adults were barred from running craft businesses or entering universities. In a cruel irony, the victims were forced to pay a huge "atonement tax" of one billion Reichsmarks. "I wouldn't want to be a Jew in Germany," said Hermann Göring, one of the leading members of the Nazi party.

      Unfortunately for the German Jews, many international observers failed to notice how radically the Nazis now felt about their victims. If they hadn't, perhaps some exile countries, such as the United States or Brazil, might have relaxed their rigid immigration requirements, which became a key obstacle to Jews trying to emigrate.

      Even the diplomats from Hitler's closest ally, Italy, were still writing in November 1938 that it was "unimaginable" that the Jews in Germany "will all be lined up against the wall one day or condemned to commit suicide, or that they will be locked up in giant concentration camps."

      Nevertheless, this "unimaginable" thing -- the systematic murder of European Jews -- would begin roughly three years later.

      Key Dates

      November 7, 1938
      The catalyst for Kristallnacht
      Herschel Grynszpan shoots Ernst vom Rath. Grynszpan is a 17-year-old Polish-German Jew living in Paris. Vom Rath is a minor German diplomat posted to the German embassy in Paris. Grynszpan apparently acts out of despair over the fate of his parents, whom the Nazi regime had expelled from Germany to Poland. The Nazis use the shooting to incite antisemitic fervor. They claim that Grynszpan did not act alone, but was part of a wider Jewish conspiracy against Germany. When vom Rath dies on November 9, Nazi leaders use this theory as a pretext for Kristallnacht .

      November 9, 1938
      Joseph Goebbels instigates Kristallnacht
      Nazi Party leaders from across Germany gather in Munich to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch. The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt by Adolf Hitler in 1923 to seize power in Germany. During the event, they learn vom Rath has died of his wounds. In response, German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivers a passionate antisemitic speech. With Hitler’s permission, Goebbels calls for an attack on Germany’s Jewish communities. After the speech, Nazi officials call their home districts and communicate Goebbels’ instructions. This results in the violence known today as Kristallnacht , or the "Night of Broken Glass."

      November 15, 1938
      Americans condemn Kristallnacht
      American newspaper headlines condemn the violence of Kristallnacht . At a press conference on November 15, 1938, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt denounces the antisemitic attack. In an official statement, he writes, "I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization." The president recalls the US ambassador to Germany.


  1. Sketes

    In it something is. Now all is clear, many thanks for the information.

  2. Gehard

    Funny information

  3. Tekazahn

    It should tell you you have been misled.

  4. Abdul- Rashid

    hmm ... I was expecting MUCH MORE pictures after reading the description))) although that's enough)

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