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The Night of Broken Glass or, literally, The Night of Crystal

In short: On November 9-10, 1938, Nazis “torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews” (Source). 

 Kristallnacht is probably one of the most-well remembered Nazi anti-Jewish events. To put it simply, it was disgusting. It was simply an excuse to get rid of the Jews and push forward their Nuremberg Laws. Sort of like, oh I don’t know, The Reichstag Fire.

But let’s continue.

Prior to this, while Hitler’s anti-Semitic views had been well-known, they had mostly been nonviolent. And even the camps that had already opened their doors had mostly political prisoners, not Jews. This marked the turning point.


According to Nazi officials, this outbreak was a “spontaneous outburst of public sentiment in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath” (Source). An embassy official who had been stationed in Paris, vom Rath had been shot by a Polish Jew on the night of the 7th. This was in response to the news that thousands of Polish Jews living in German territory were being kicked out of their country. Many of these Jews were “initially denied entry into their native Poland” and Herschel Grynszpan, living illegally in Paris at the time, decided to seek revenge for his parents, who were among the displaced Jewish Poles (Source).

Vom Rath died two days later, on November 9, the 15th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch. Falling on such an important National Socialist date, gave Nazi leaders all the pretext they needed to “launch a night of anti-Semitic excesses” (Source).

[Below: Onlookers at a smashed Jewish shop]



It’s no surprise that propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, was behind Kristallnacht, encouraging his minions to carry on, so long as their destruction did not appear too coordinated. He told them that Hitler wanted everything to appear spontaneous. Even then, after his speech, he gathered regional Party leaders and issued instructions.

Hours later, Reinhard Heydrich sent out an urgent telegram with his own directives: Only harm Polish Jews and their property. Also, be sure to gather all records from synagogues before vandalizing the synagogues themselves. (After all, the Nazis wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.)

In all, Nazi Party officials, SA, and Hitler Youth rioters destroyed 267 synagogues, many of them burning throughout the night with firefighters only on scene to be sure the fires didn’t spread to other buildings. Additionally, they shattered the windows of some 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, after looting their wares, of course. Even Jewish cemeteries could not escape destruction. In fact, they became quite the target.

In Berlin and Vienna, mobs of SA men mobbed the streets. They beat and humiliated any Jews they came across and attacked Jews in their homes. Although there were no directions given about killing, the SA went ahead a killed approximately 100 Jews. 

In the aftermath, “a high number of rapes and of suicides” were reported (Source). Heydrich instructed that SA and the Gestapo arrest up to 300,000 Jewish males and send them to Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen (or the other opened camps). 

On November 12, the German government immediately pronounced that the Jews themselves were responsible for all the damage. Not only were they fined one billion Reichsmark ($400,000,000 US dollars in ‘38), but they also had their insurance payouts confiscated, meaning they had to pay out of pocket for any repairs and items stolen.

In short, leaders such as Hermann Göring “decided to use the opportunity to introduce measures to eliminate Jews and perceived Jewish influence from the German economic sphere” (Source). This included more laws, like the ones discussed earlier, meant to prevent Jews from associating with Germans and depriving them of making a living or keeping their properties.

[Below: Synagogues burning]



Up Next: 

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

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The Nuremberg Laws & Beyond

“Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned, too.” ~ Heinrich Heine






On September 15, 1935, during an annual party rally, the Nazis announced the laws that “institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology” (Source). These laws would, essentially, deprive Jews of most political rights. It also set out to define a “Jew”: Someone with three or four Jewish grandparents, regardless of wether they practiced Judaism, Christianity, or no religion at all.

These laws also forbade Jews from marrying Germans. Additionally, Jews could not employ German females under 45 in their households. The Nuremberg Laws were just the “precursor to other more degrading decrees” (Source). They may have been a “precursor” of more to come, but they certainly were not the beginning.

The slow build-up to these precursor laws began two years earlier, barely three months after Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, it was a mere week after the Enabling Act was passed that, on April 1, Nazis would make their first boycott: Jewish owned shops.

Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave a speech in Berlin, urging Germans to boycott the shops in response to “atrocity propaganda” spread by “international Jewry” (Source). Nazi stormtroopers blocked Jewish businesses (even those of doctors and lawyers). “The star of David was painted in yellow and black across thousands of doors and windows” (Source). Acts of violence against Jews and their businesses occurred, but few Germans actually listened to Goebbels’s “warning.”

By April 7, The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, forcing “all non-Aryans to retire from the legal profession and civil service” (Source). Before long, they were forced to retire from other professions as well.

[Below: Boycott of Jewish-owned businesses.]



On May 10, 1933, university students gathered in Berlin and 33 other university towns to burn some 25,000 books containing “unGerman” ideas, “presaging an ear of state censorship and control of culture” (Source). In Berline alone, some 40,000 students took part. Books by Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jack London, Karl Marx, Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, H.G. Wells, and many others went “up in flames as they [gave] the Nazi salutes” (Source). Students also marched in torchlight parades and took part in rituals lead out by Nazi officials, professors, and university leaders.

Goebbels gave a speech concerning this, as well: “And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November (Democratic) Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise . . . ” (Source).

In July of 1933, Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and those who had recently immigrated were deported. “Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews” (Source).

On July 14, 1933, The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, calling “for the compulsory sterilisation of people with a range of hereditary, physical, and mental illnesses.” Likewise, it “was also used to force the incarceration in prison or Nazi concentration camps of ‘social misfits’ such as the chronically unemployed, prostitutes, beggars, alcoholics, homeless vagrants, and Romani people” (Source).

In 1935, assaults, vandalism, and boycotts against Jews spread across the country after nearly a year of being curbed. The violence was again moderated during the 1936 Olympic Games to prevent international criticism. But persecution stepped up again in 1937 and 1938. Jews were required to register their property. Germans also took steps to Aryanize Jewish shops by dismissing all Jews and replacing them with Germans.

October 18: The Law for the Protection of the Heredity Health of German Peoples was passed, requiring all “prospective marring partners to obtain from the public health authorities a certificate of fitness to marry. Such certificates are refused to those suffering from ‘hereditary illnesses’ and contagious diseases and those attempting to marry in violation of the Nuremberg Laws” (Source).

November 14: The Nuremberg Laws were extended to other inferior races.

[Below: German university students burn books.]



Up Next:

The Ethiopia Campaign

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