What Was Kristallnacht?

The broken windows of a Jewish printing shop.

What Was Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht is also referred to as the ‘Night of the Crystal’ or the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’. The term is used to refer to the violent waves instigated against the Jews throughout Germany, parts of Sudetenland and annexed Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938. The name Kristallnacht was adopted in reference to the shattered glass from the Jewish houses, synagogues, and businesses that covered the streets of Germany in the wake of the pogrom. The waves of violence against the Jews were primarily instigated by the Nazi party officials, the Hitler youth, and members of the SA (Sturmabteilungen).

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.

Effects of Kristallnacht

The outrage of the Kristallnacht began in the late hours of November 9, 1938. Mobs belonging to the Nazi party destroyed and vandalized property which belonged to the German Jews such as hospitals, businesses, schools, synagogues and even cemeteries. German police officers and firemen were ordered not to intervene unless the destruction involved Aryan owned property. Kristallnacht resulted in the killing of over 100 German Jews. Over 30,000 Jewish men were also arrested and sent Nazi concentration camps in Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen.

On November 15, 1938, the then US president, Franklin D Roosevelt read out a statement to the media condemning the violence and anti-Semitism in Germany. He also summoned Hugh Wilson who was his Germany ambassador at the time. The US, however, refused to lift their immigration rules to allow those affected by the Kristallnacht to seek refuge in its state. This fact was perhaps because of the fear that the Nazi infiltrators would be allowed to legally settle in the US, therefore, compromising security. Regardless, the Kristallnacht served as a wake-up call to the Jews in Germany that Nazi anti-Semitism would only deepen and many Jews started planning their escape from Germany.


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