From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
The interior of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin after Kristallnacht
|Other names||Night of Broken Glass, Reichskristallnacht|
|Location||Nazi Germany and Austria|
|Date||9–10 November 1938|
The interior of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin after Kristallnacht
|Other names||Night of Broken Glass, Reichskristallnacht|
|Location||Nazi Germany and Austria|
|Date||9–10 November 1938|
Kristallnacht (German pronunciation: [kʁɪsˈtalˌnaχt]), Crystal Night. Also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, or Reichskristallnacht [ˌʁaɪçs.kʁɪsˈtalˌnaχt], Pogromnacht (help·info) [poˈgʁoːmˌnaχt], and Novemberpogrome (help·info) [noˈvɛmbɐ.poˌgʁoːmə], was a pogrom (a series of coordinated attacks) against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary and civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The attacks left the streets covered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues.
At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone), and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.
Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world. The Times wrote at the time: "No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday."
The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew in Paris, France. Kristallnacht was followed by further economic and political persecution of Jews, and is viewed by historians as part of Nazi Germany's broader racial policy, and the beginning of the Final Solution and The Holocaust.
The incident was originally referred to as die Kristallnacht (literally "crystal night"), alluding to the enormous number of glass windows broken that night, mostly from synagogues and Jewish-owned shops. The prefix Reichs- (imperial) was later added (Reichskristallnacht) as a sardonic comment on the Nazis' propensity to add this prefix to various terms and titles like Reichsführer-SS or Reichsmarschall.
In the 1920s, most German Jews were fully integrated into German society as German citizens. They served in the German army and navy and contributed to every field of German science, business and culture. Conditions for the Jews began to change after the appointment of Adolf Hitler (the leader of the Nazi group) as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 and the assumption of power by Hitler after the Reichstag fire. From its inception, Hitler's regime moved quickly to introduce anti-Jewish policies. The 500,000 Jews in Germany, who accounted for only 0.76% of the overall population, were singled out by the Nazi propaganda machine as an enemy within who were responsible for Germany's defeat in the First World War and for its subsequent economic difficulties, such as the 1920s hyperinflation and Great Depression. Beginning in 1933, the German government enacted a series of anti-Jewish laws restricting the rights of German Jews to earn a living, to enjoy full citizenship and to educate themselves, including the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which forbade Jews to work in the civil service. The subsequent 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and forbade Jews to marry non-Jewish Germans.
The result of these laws was the exclusion of Jews from German social and political life. Many sought asylum abroad; thousands did manage to leave, but as Chaim Weizmann wrote in 1936, "The world seemed to be divided into two parts—those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter." To provide help, the international Évian Conference was held on 6 July 1938 to address the issue of Jewish and Gypsy immigration to other countries. By the time the conference was held, more than 250,000 Jews had fled Germany and Austria, which had been annexed by Germany in March 1938. However, more than 300,000 German and Austrian Jews were still seeking shelter from oppression. As the number of Jews and Gypsies wanting to leave grew, the restrictions against them also grew, with many countries tightening their rules for admission.
By 1938, Germany "had entered a new radical phase in anti-Semitic activity." Some historians believe that the Nazi government had been contemplating a planned outbreak of violence against the Jews and were waiting for an appropriate provocation; there is evidence of this planning dating to 1937. The German historian Hans Mommsen in a 1997 interview claimed that a major motive for the pogrom was the desire of the Gauleiters of the NSDAP to seize Jewish property and businesses. Mommsen was quoted as saying:
The need for money by the party organization stemmed from the fact that Franz Xaver Schwarz, the party treasurer, kept the local and regional organizations of the party short of money. In the fall of 1938, the increased pressure on Jewish property nourished the party's ambition, especially since Hjalmar Schacht had been ousted as Reich minister for economics. This, however, was only one aspect of the origin of the November 1938 pogrom. The Polish government threatened to extradite all Jews who were Polish citizens, but would stay in Germany, thus creating a burden of responsibility on the German side. The immediate reaction by the Gestapo was to push the Polish Jews—16,000 persons—over the borderline, but this measure failed due to the stubbornness of the Polish customs officers. The loss of prestige as a result of this abortive operation called for some sort of compensation. Thus, the overreaction to Herschel Grynszpan's attempt against the diplomat Ernst vom Rath came into being and led to the November pogrom. The background of the pogrom was signified by a sharp cleavage of interests between the different agencies of party and state. While the Nazi party was interested in improving its financial strength on the regional and local level by taking over Jewish property, Hermann Goering, in charge of the Four-Year Plan, hoped to acquire access to foreign currency in order to pay for the import of urgently-needed raw material. Heydrich and Himmler were interested in fostering Jewish emigration".
The Zionist leadership in the British Mandate of Palestine wrote in February 1938 that according to "a very reliable private source—one which can be traced back to the highest echelons of the SS leadership" there was "an intention to carry out a genuine and dramatic pogrom in Germany on a large scale in the near future." In fact, the report of the Woodhead Commission on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State was presented to the British parliament and published on November 9, the very day of the Kristallnacht.
In August 1938 the German authorities announced that residence permits for foreigners were being cancelled and would have to be renewed. This included German-born Jews of foreign origin. Poland stated that it would not accept Jews of Polish origin after the end of October. In the so-called “Polenaktion”, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews, among them philosopher and theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and future literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, were expelled from Germany on 28 October 1938, on Hitler's orders. They were ordered to leave their homes in a single night, and were allowed only one suitcase per person to store their belongings. As the Jews were taken away, their remaining possessions were seized as booty by both the Nazi authorities and by their neighbors.
The deportees were taken from their homes to railway stations and were put on trains to the Polish border. The Polish border guards sent them back over the river into Germany. This stalemate continued for days in the pouring rain, with the Jews marching without food or shelter between the borders. Four thousand were granted entry into Poland but the remaining 8,000 were forced to stay at the border. They waited there in harsh conditions to be allowed to enter Poland. A British newspaper told its readers that hundreds "are reported to be lying about, penniless and deserted, in little villages along the frontier near where they had been driven out by the Gestapo and left." Conditions in the refugee camps "were so bad that some actually tried to escape back into Germany and were shot," recalled a British woman who was sent to help those who had been expelled.
Among those expelled was the family of Zindel and Rivka Grynszpan, Polish Jews who had emigrated to Germany in 1911 and settled in Hannover. At the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Zindel Grynszpan recounted the events of their deportation from Hannover on the night of 27 October 1938: "Then they took us in police trucks, in prisoners' lorries, about 20 men in each truck, and they took us to the railway station. The streets were full of people shouting: 'Juden raus! Auf nach Palästina!'" ("Jews out, out to Palestine!").
Their seventeen-year-old son Herschel was living in Paris with an uncle. His sister, Berta, sent him a postcard from the Polish border describing the family's expulsion: "No one told us what was up, but we realised this was going to be the end... We haven't a penny. Could you send us something?" He received the postcard on November 3. On the morning of Monday, November 7, he purchased a revolver and a box of bullets, then went to the German embassy and asked to see an embassy official. After he was taken to the office of Ernst vom Rath, Herschel shot him three times in the abdomen. Ironically, vom Rath himself was a professional diplomat with the Foreign Office who expressed known anti-Nazi sympathies, largely based on the Nazi's treatment of the Jews, and was himself under Gestapo investigation for being politically unreliable. Grynszpan made no attempt to escape the French police and freely confessed to the shooting. In his pocket, he carried a postcard to his parents with the message "May God forgive me... I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do."
The next day, Germany retaliated, barring Jewish children from German state elementary schools, indefinitely suspending Jewish cultural activities and putting a halt to the publication of Jewish newspapers and magazines, including the three national German Jewish newspapers. A newspaper in Britain described the latter move, which cut off the Jewish populace from their leader, as "intended to disrupt the Jewish community and rob it of the last frail ties which hold it together." Their rights as citizens had been stripped.
Ernst vom Rath died of his wounds on 9 November. Word of his death reached Hitler that evening while he was at a dinner commemorating the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch with several key members of the Nazi party. After intense discussions, Hitler left the assembly abruptly without giving his usual address. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels delivered the speech instead, in which he commented that "the Führer has decided that... demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered." Chief party judge Walter Buch later stated that the message was clear; with these words Goebbels had commanded the party leaders to organize a pogrom.
Some leading party officials disagreed with Goebbels actions, fearing the diplomatic crisis it would provoke. Heinrich Himmler wrote "I suppose that it is Goebbels's megalomania...and stupidity which are responsible for starting this operation now, in a particularly difficult diplomatic situation." The Israeli historian Saul Friedländer believes that Goebbels had personal reasons for wanting to bring about Kristallnacht. Goebbels had recently suffered humiliation for the ineffectiveness of his propaganda campaign during the Sudeten crisis, and was in some disgrace over an affair with the Czech actress Lída Baarová. Goebbels thus needed a chance to prove himself in the eyes of Hitler.
At 1:20am on 10 November 1938, Reinhard Heydrich sent an urgent secret telegram to the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and the Sturmabteilung (SA) containing instructions regarding the riots. This included guidelines for the protection of foreigners and non-Jewish businesses and property. Police were instructed not to interfere with the riots unless the guidelines were violated. Police were also instructed to seize Jewish archives from synagogues and community offices, and to arrest and detain "healthy male Jews, who are not too old," for eventual transfer to concentration camps.
The timing of the riots varied from unit to unit. The Gauleiters started at about 10:30pm, only two hours after news of vom Rath's death reached Germany. They were followed by the SA at 11pm, and the SS at around 1:20am. Most were wearing civilian clothes and were armed with sledgehammers and axes, and soon went to work on the destruction of Jewish property. The orders given to these men were very specific, however: no measures endangering non-Jewish German life or property were to be taken (synagogues too close to non-Jewish property were smashed rather than burned); Jewish businesses or dwellings could be destroyed but not looted; foreigners (even Jewish foreigners) were not to be the subjects of violence; and synagogue archives were to be transferred to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The men were also ordered to arrest as many Jews as the local jails would hold, the preferred targets being healthy young men.
The SA shattered the storefronts of about 7500 Jewish stores and businesses, hence the appellation Kristallnacht (Crystal Night). Jewish homes were ransacked all throughout Germany. Although violence against Jews had not been explicitly condoned by the authorities, there were cases of Jews being beaten or assaulted.
This pogrom damaged, and in many cases destroyed, about 200 synagogues (constituting nearly all Germany had), many Jewish cemeteries, more than 7,000 Jewish shops, and 29 department stores. Some Jews were beaten to death while others were forced to watch. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps; primarily Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. The treatment of prisoners in the camps was brutal, but most were released during the following three months on condition that they leave Germany.
The number of German Jews killed is uncertain. The number killed in the two-day riot is most often cited as 91. In addition, it is thought that there were hundreds of suicides. Counting deaths in the concentration camps, around 2,000-2,500 deaths were directly or indirectly attributable to the Kristallnacht pogrom. A few non-Jewish Germans, mistaken for Jews, were also killed.
The synagogues, some centuries old, were also victims of considerable violence and vandalism, with the tactics the Stormtroops practiced on these and other sacred sites described as "approaching the ghoulish" by the United States Consul in Leipzig. Tombstones were uprooted and graves violated. Fires were lit, and prayer books, scrolls, artwork and philosophy texts were thrown upon them, and precious buildings were either burned or smashed until unrecognisable. Eric Lucas recalls the destruction of the synagogue that a tiny Jewish community had constructed in a small village only twelve years earlier:
It did not take long before the first heavy grey stones came tumbling down, and the children of the village amused themselves as they flung stones into the many coloured windows. When the first rays of a cold and pale November sun penetrated the heavy dark clouds, the little synagogue was but a heap of stone, broken glass and smashed-up woodwork.' 
After this, the Jewish community was fined 1 billion reichsmarks. In addition, it cost 4 million marks to repair the windows.
Events in only recently annexed Austria were no less horrendous. Of the entire Kristallnacht only the pogrom in Vienna was completed. Most of Vienna's 94 synagogues and prayer-houses were partially or totally destroyed. People were subjected to all manner of humiliations, including being forced to scrub the pavements whilst being tormented by their fellow Austrians, some of whom had been their friends and neighbours.
Official figures released after the event by Reinhard Heydrich stated that 191 Synagogues were destroyed, with 76 completely demolished; 100,000 Jews were arrested; three foreigners were arrested; 174 people were arrested for looting Jewish shops; and 815 Jewish businesses were destroyed.
The Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Greene, wrote of events in Berlin:
Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the "fun".
The violence was officially called to a stop by Goebbels on 11 November, but violence continued against the Jews in the concentration camps despite orders requesting "special treatment" to ensure that this did not happen. On 23 November the News Chronicle of London published an article on an incident which took place at the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. Sixty-two Jews suffered punishment so severe that the police, "unable to bear their cries, turned their backs". They were beaten until they fell and, when they fell, they were further beaten. At the end of it, "twelve of the sixty-two were dead, their skulls smashed. The others were all unconscious. The eyes of some had been knocked out, their faces flattened and shapeless". The 30,000 Jewish men who had been imprisoned during Kristallnacht were released over the next three months but, by then, over 2,000 had died.
Hermann Göring met with other members of the Nazi leadership on 12 November to plan the next steps after the riot, setting the stage for formal government action. In the transcript of the meeting, Göring said,
'I have received a letter written on the Führer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another... I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today's meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy, and to submit them to me.' 
The persecution and economic damage done to German Jews continued after the pogrom, even as their places of business were ransacked. They were forced to pay "Judenvermögensabgabe", a collective fine of one billion marks for the murder of vom Rath (equal to roughly $US 5.5 billion in today’s currency), which was levied by the compulsory acquisition of 20% of all Jewish property by the state. Six million Reichsmarks of insurance payments for property damage due to the Jewish community were to be paid to the government instead as "damages to the German Nation".
The number of emigrating Jews surged, as those who were able left the country. In the ten months following Kristallnacht, more than 115,000 Jews emigrated from the Reich. The majority went to other European countries, the US and Palestine, and at least 14,000 made it to Shanghai, China. As part of government policy, the Nazis seized houses, shops, and other property the émigrés left behind.
Many of the destroyed remains of Jewish property plundered during Kristallnacht were dumped at a site near Brandenburg, north of Berlin. In October 2008, this dumpsite was discovered by Yaron Svoray, an investigative journalist. The site, the size of four American football fields, contains an extensive array of personal and ceremonial items looted during the riots against Jewish property and places of worship on the night of 9 November 1938. It is believed the goods were brought by rail to the outskirts of the village and dumped on designated land. Among the items found were glass bottles engraved with the Star of David, mezuzot, painted window sills, and the armrests of chairs found in synagogues, in addition to an ornamental swastika.
The reaction of non-Jewish Germans to Kristallnacht was varied. Many spectators gathered on the scenes, most of them in silence. The local fire departments confined themselves to prevent the flames spreading to neighbouring buildings. In Berlin, the police officer Wilhelm Krützfeld barred SA troopers from setting the New Synagogue on fire and received only a rebuke. The British historian Martin Gilbert believes that "many non-Jews resented the round up", his opinion being supported by German witness Dr. Arthur Flehinger who recalls seeing "people crying while watching from behind their curtains". The extent of the damage was so great that many Germans are said to have expressed their disapproval of it, and to have described it as senseless.
Martin Sasse, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia and leading member of the German Christians movement, published a compendium of Martin Luther's writings shortly after the Kristallnacht; Sasse "applauded the burning of the synagogues" and the coincidence of the day, writing in the introduction, "On 10 November 1938, on Luther's birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany." The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words "of the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews." Diarmaid MacCulloch argued that Luther's 1543 pamphlet On the Jews and Their Lies was a "blueprint" for the Kristallnacht.
In an article released for publication on the evening of 11 November, Goebbels ascribed the events of Kristallnacht to the "healthy instincts" of the German people. He went on to explain: "The German people are anti-Semitic. It has no desire to have its rights restricted or to be provoked in the future by parasites of the Jewish race."
Eyewitness accounts show the general response. Reports of the destruction are the main focus of the article.
They ripped up the belongings, the books, knocked over furniture, shouted obscenities,
The scholarly response in that article is very much the same:
Houses of worship burned down, vandalized, in every community in the country where people either participate or watch,
There are reports of people destroying family heirlooms and committing many other acts of vandalism.
The Kristallnacht pogrom sparked international outrage. It discredited pro-Nazi movements in Europe and North America, leading to eventual decline of their support. Many newspapers condemned Kristallnacht, with some comparing it to the murderous pogroms incited by Imperial Russia in the 1880s. The United States recalled its ambassador (but did not break off diplomatic relations) while other governments severed diplomatic relations with Germany in protest. The British government approved the Kindertransport program for refugee children.
As such, Kristallnacht also marked a turning point in relations between Nazi Germany and the rest of the world. The brutality of the pogrom, and the Nazi government's deliberate policy of encouraging the violence once it had begun, laid bare the repressive nature and widespread anti-Semitism entrenched in Germany, and turned world opinion sharply against the Nazi regime, with some politicians even calling for war. The only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht was held on December 6, 1938. William Cooper, an Aboriginal Australian, led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League on a march through Melbourne to the German Consulate to deliver a petition which condemned the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany.” German officials refused to take the document.
Kristallnacht changed the nature of persecution from economic, political, and social to the physical with beatings, incarceration, and murder; the event is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. In the words of historian Max Rein in 1988, "Kristallnacht came...and everything was changed."
While November 1938 predated overt articulation of "the Final Solution", it nonetheless foreshadowed the genocide to come. Around the time of Kristallnacht, the SS newspaper "Das Schwarze Korps" called for a "destruction by swords and flames." At a conference on the day after the pogrom, Hermann Göring said: "The Jewish problem will reach its solution if, in any time soon, we will be drawn into war beyond our border—then it is obvious that we will have to manage a final account with the Jews."
Specifically, the Nazis managed to achieve in Kristallnacht all the theoretical targets they set for themselves: confiscation of Jewish belongings to provide finances for the military buildup to war, separation and isolation of the Jews, and most importantly, the move from the antisemitic policy of discrimination to one of physical damage, which began that night and continued until the end of World War II.
The event nonetheless showed the public attitude was not solidly behind the perpetrators. Many Germans at the time found the pogroms troubling, as they equated them with the days of the SA street rule and lawlessness. The British Embassy at Berlin and British Consular offices throughout Germany received many protests and expressions of disquiet from members of the German public about the anti-Jewish actions of the time.
Many decades later, association with the Kristallnacht anniversary was cited as the main reason against choosing 9 November ("Schicksalstag"), the day the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, as the new German national holiday; a different day was chosen (3 October 1990, German reunification).
Avant-garde guitarist Gary Lucas's 1988 composition "Verklärte Kristallnacht", which juxtaposes the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikvah", with phrases from "Deutschland Über Alles" amid wild electronic shrieks and noise, is intended to be a sonic representation of the horrors of Kristallnacht. It was premiered at the 1988 Berlin Jazz Festival and received rave reviews. (The title is a reference to Arnold Schoenberg's 1899 work "Verklärte Nacht" that presaged his pioneering work on atonal music; Schoenberg was an Austrian Jew exiled by the Nazis). Kristallnacht was also the inspiration for the 1993 album Kristallnacht by avant-garde composer John Zorn.
The German power metal band Masterplan's debut album, Masterplan (2003), features an anti-Nazism song entitled "Crystal Night" as the fourth track. The German band BAP published a song titled Kristallnaach in their Cologne dialect, dealing with the emotions of the Kristallnacht.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Kristallnacht|