What was Kristallnacht?

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Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/dark-black-background-glass-3061610/

In 1938, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany became known as Kristallnacht, or "The Night of Broken Glass", saw the widespread destruction of Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The night of November ninth and tenth saw violence and destruction on a scale not seen since the Nazis had come to power. More than two hundred synagogues were burned, over seven thousand Jewish businesses were vandalized, and Jewish homes were ransacked. An estimated ninety-one Jews were killed in the violence, and thirty thousand were arrested and sent to concentration camps. 


The events of Kristallnacht were a tragic turning point in world history. In this article, we will look at the causes, key events, and significance of Kristallnacht. 

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Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/star-of-david-emblem-jewish-bible-4703731/


There were a number of factors that led to the outbreak of violence on Kristallnacht. One immediate cause was the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat, by Herschel Grynszpan, a seventeen-year-old Polish Jew, in Paris on November seventh. 


Grynszpan's motive for the assassination is not completely clear, but it is believed that he was acting in response to the forced deportation of his family from Germany to Poland several weeks earlier. This deportation was part of a larger Nazi policy called the Polenaktion, which saw the mass expulsion of Jews of Polish citizenship from Germany. 


The Polenaktion and other anti-Jewish policies had been met with increasing opposition from the German public, and the assassination of vom Rath provided an opportunity for the Nazi leadership to turn this public opinion against the Jews. 


In the days leading up to Kristallnacht, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gave a series of speeches in which he incited violence against Jews. On November eighth, Goebbels delivered a speech at a rally in Munich commemorating the anniversary of Hitler's failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. In his speech, Goebbels called for Germans to take action against those who were "plotting" against the country. 


The following day, vom Rath was buried in Berlin with full military honors. At the funeral, Hitler delivered a eulogy in which he spoke of the "sacrifice" that vom Rath had made for the German people. Hitler's speech was broadcast on radio, and it is believed that his words helped to spark the violence of Kristallnacht. 

Key events

The night of November ninth is typically considered to be the beginning of Kristallnacht, although violence had begun in some cities earlier in the day. The attacks began around dusk and continued through the night into the early morning hours of November tenth. 


Mobs of Nazi supporters roamed through Jewish neighborhoods, destroying homes and businesses and attacking Jews on the street. In addition to synagogues, Jewish-owned department stores were major targets of vandalism. The windows of these stores were smashed, and the contents were looted. 


One of the most notable attacks took place in the city of Nuremberg, where a synagogue was burned to the ground. The fire quickly spread to adjoining homes, and several Jewish-owned businesses were also destroyed. 


In Berlin, more than seventy synagogues were set ablaze or otherwise vandalized. One of these synagogues was the oldest in Germany, having been built in 1672. The Nazis also attacked the Jewish cemetery in Berlin, destroying hundreds of gravestones. 


The violence continued into November tenth, although on a less widespread scale. In some cities, such as Hamburg and Bremen, Jews were forced to clean up the debris from Kristallnacht. In other cities, such as Frankfurt and Dresden, Jews were forced to watch as their synagogues were destroyed. 


Following the riot, the German government issued a statement blaming "the Jews" for their own persecution and imposed a one billion Reichsmark (some 400 million US dollars at 1938 rates) fine on Germany's Jewish community. The Reich government took away all insurance payouts to Jews, who had their business and houses plundered or burned down, leaving them personally responsible for the costs of any repairs.


The German government claimed that only 91 people were killed during these events, but it is believed that the true death toll was much higher. In addition to those who were killed, tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. 


Following Heydrich's directions, the SS and Gestapo arrested up to 30,000 Jewish men, and they were transferred from local jails to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and other concentration camps.


Following the events of Kristallnacht, many Jews decided to leave Germany. In the months and years that followed, hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated from Germany, most of them going to the United States, Palestine, or other countries. 


By the end of 1938, other restrictions were placed on Jews in Germany, including a ban on Jewish ownership of businesses, a limit on the number of Jews who could attend universities, and a requirement that Jews wear a yellow Star of David badge when in public.


The events of Kristallnacht marked a major turning point in Nazi policy towards the Jews. Prior to Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime had focused on forcing Jews to emigrate from Germany through a series of increasingly restrictive laws and regulations. 


However, after the violence of Kristallnacht, it became clear that the Nazis' ultimate goal was not simply to expel Jews from Germany, but to exterminate them entirely. The following year would see the beginning of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews would be systematically murdered by the Nazi regime. 


Kristallnacht also had a significant impact on Jewish resistance to the Nazi regime. Prior to Kristallnacht, many German Jews had still hoped that they could weather the storm and ride out the Nazi regime. 


However, after witnessing the violence of Kristallnacht, many German Jews realized that there was no future for them in Germany. This realization led to a significant increase in Jewish resistance and activism, both inside and outside of Germany. 


Kristallnacht was a watershed moment in Nazi history, and its effects are still felt today. The events of that night served as a prelude to the Holocaust, and they continue to serve as a reminder of the horrors that can be unleashed when hatred and bigotry are allowed to run unchecked.