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Kristallnacht ( ; literally "Crystal night") or the Night of Broken Glass was an anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany and Austriamarker on 9 to 10 November 1938. It is also known as Novemberpogrome, Reichskristallnacht, Reichspogromnacht or Pogromnacht in German.

Kristallnacht was triggered by the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew. In a coordinated attack on Jewish people and their property, 91 Jews were murdered and 25,000 to 30,000 were arrested and placed in concentration camps. 267 synagogues were destroyed and thousands of homes and businesses were ransacked. This was done by the Hitler Youth, Gestapomarker, SSmarker and SAmarker. Kristallnacht also served as a pretext and a means for the wholesale confiscation of firearms from German Jews.

While the assassination of Rath served as a pretext for the attacks, Kristallnacht was part of a broader Nazi policy of antisemitism and persecution of the Jews. Kristallnacht was followed by further economic and political persecutions and is viewed by many historians as the beginning of the Final Solution, leading towards the genocide of the Holocaust.


Early Nazi persecutions

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 began to change after the election of the Nazi party on January 30, 1933 and the assumption of power by Adolf 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 her 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 from working in the civil service. The subsequent 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and forbade Jews from marrying 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." In an attempt to provide help an international conference was held on July 6, 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 Austriamarker, 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 Zionist leadership in 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."

Expulsion of Polish Jews

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. Polandmarker stated that it would not accept Jews of Polish origin after the end of October. On October 28, 1938, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews were expelled from Germany on Hitler's orders. They were ordered to leave their homes in a single night, and were only allowed 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 authoritiesmarker 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 Polandmarker 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.

Vom Rath shooting

Herschel Grynszpan
Among the expelled was the family of Sendel and Rivka Grynszpan, Polish Jews who had emigrated to Germany in 1911 and settled in Hanovermarker. Their seventeen-year-old son, Herschel was living in Parismarker 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?"

Grynszpan received his sister's postcard on November 3. On the morning of Monday, November 7, he purchased a revolver and a box of bullets. Grynszpan then went to the German embassy, asked to see an embassy official, and was taken to the office of Ernst vom Rath. Entering vom Rath's office, Grynszpan shot him three times in the abdomen. He 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."

On November 8, Germany announced the first punitive measures in response to the shooting. Jewish newspapers and magazines were to cease publication immediately. This ban cut off Jews from their leadership, whose task was to advise and guide them, particularly about emigration. It was a measure, one British newspaper explained, "intended to disrupt the Jewish community and rob it of the last frail ties which hold it together." There were at the time three German Jewish newspapers with a national circulation, four cultural papers, several sports papers, and several dozen community bulletins, of which the one in Berlinmarker had a circulation of 40,000. It was also announced that Jewish children could no longer attend German state elementary schools, something that had been allowed where there were not sufficient Jewish elementary schools. All Jewish cultural activities were also suspended indefinitely. Their rights as citizens had been stripped.


Death of Vom Rath

Telegram sent by Reinhard Heydrich, November 9, 1938

Vom Rath died of his wounds on November 9. Word of his death reached Hitler that evening while he was at a dinner commemorating the 1923 Beer Hall Putschmarker 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 organised 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 organise a pogrom.

Some leading party officials disagreed with Goebbels’s 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." Historian Friedlander 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 November 10, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich sent an urgent secret telegram to the state policemarker and the SAmarker 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.


Kristallnacht, example of physical damage

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 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.

A burning synagogue on Kristallnacht
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 Dachaumarker, Buchenwaldmarker, and Sachsenhausenmarker. 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:

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 completely successful. 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 Carleton Greene, wrote of events in Berlin:

Jews arrested during Kristallnacht line up for roll call at Buchenwald, 1938

Disarmament of the Jews

One of the significant purposes of Kristallnacht was the explicit disarmament of the German Jews. The SA were under orders to confiscate all Jewish owned firearms. The order was issued "[a]ll Jews are to be disarmed. In the event of resistance they are to be shot immediately."

Concentration camps

The violence was officially called to a stop by Goebbels on November 11, but violence continued against the Jews in the concentration camps despite orders requesting “special treatment” to ensure that this did not happen. On November 23 the News Chronicle newspaper of London published an article on an incident at one concentration camp 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. For half an hour they were submitted to this “orgy” of violence. 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.


The interior of a Berlin synagogue after Kristallnacht
Top Nazi official Hermann Göring met with other members of the Nazi leadership on November 12 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 did not stop with the pogrom, even as their places of business were ransacked. They were also forced to pay "Judenvermögensabgabe", a collective fine of 1 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 deutchmarks 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, and this was a desirable outcome for the Nazi party. 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. As part of government policy, the Nazis seized houses, shops, and other property the emigres left behind.

Many of the destroyed remains of Jewish property plundered during Kristallnacht was dumped at a site near Brandenburgmarker, north of Berlin. This dumpsite was discovered by Yaron Svoray, an investigative journalist, in October of 2008. The site, which is 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.

Responses to Kristallnacht

From the Germans

The reaction of non-Jewish Germans to Kristallnacht was varied. 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”. Some even went as far as to help Jews, but the majority merely sat inside watching. Other non-Jewish Germans took part in the violence, as it was not just Stormtroopers rioting. Evidence of this can be established in that riots broke out on the night of November 7 and continued in some places after the pogrom was called to a halt; thus it may be surmised that these successive actions were not those of the Nazis. Also, several sources mention women and children as participating in the riots, and these were clearly not Stormtroopers but ordinary citizens. The number of German citizens involved in the riots is impossible to know, as many Stormtroopers were wearing civilian clothes and were thus indistinguishable.

Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Protestant churchman, 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 November 10, 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."Bernd Nellessen, "Die schweigende Kirche: Katholiken und Judenverfolgung," in Büttner (ed), Die Deutchschen und die Jugendverfolg im Dritten Reich, p. 265, cited in Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (Vintage, 1997). 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 November 11, 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 " heirlooms" and many other acts of vandalism.

From the global community

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 Russiamarker in the 1880s. The United Statesmarker recalled its ambassador (but did not break off diplomatic relations) while other governments severed diplomatic relations with Germany in protest. The Britishmarker 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 program 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.

Kristallnacht as a turning point

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 SSmarker 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, wholesale disarmament of the Jews through the confiscation of Jewish owned firearms, and most importantly, the move from the anti-Semitic 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 Berlinmarker 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.


The incident was originally referred to as die Kristallnacht (literally "crystal night" or the "night of the broken glass"), alluding to the enormous number of shop windows (mostly at Jewish-owned stores) that were broken that night.

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 (Himmler) or Reichsmarschall Göring. This was also done in other contexts to ridicule and criticize aspects of the Nazi dictatorship (e.g. Reichswasserleiche - "National Drowned Body" for actress Kristina Söderbaum, who frequently played tragic heroines in her husband Veit Harlan's anti-Semitic melodramas, two of whom committed suicide by drowning.)

Other names

  • Reichskristallnacht , meaning Imperial crystal night
  • Pogromnacht , meaning pogrom night
  • Reichspogromnacht , meaning Imperial pogrom night
  • Novemberpogrome, meaning November pogroms
  • Crystal Night, literal English translation
  • Night of [broken] glass, the meaning of the phrase

Modern response

[[File:Plaque on the New Synagogue.JPG|thumb|After 1945 some synagogues were restored. This one in Berlin features a plaque, reading:
This synagogue is 100 years old
and was set ablaze on 9 November
1938 by the Nazis


During the Second World War 1939-1945

it was destroyed in 1943 during a bombing raid

This façade of a house of God shall

remain forever a site of remembrance


The Jewish Community of Greater Berlin

The Directorate]]Many decades later, association with the Kristallnacht anniversary was cited as the main reason against choosing November 9 ("Schicksalstag"), the day the Berlin Wallmarker came down in 1989, as the new German national holiday; a different day was chosen (October 3, 1990, German reunification).

Avant-garde guitarist Gary Lucas's 1988 composition "Verklärte Kristallnacht", which juxtaposes the Israelimarker 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 Berlinmarker 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 Austrianmarker Jew exiled by the Nazis).

The German power metal band Masterplan's debut album, Masterplan (2003), features an anti-Nazism song entitled "Crystal Night" as the fourth track.

The popular German band BAP published a song titled Kristallnaach in their Cologne dialect, dealing with the emotions of the Kristallnacht.

In the alternative history novel 1635: The Dreeson Incident by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, the Stearns government, using the Committees of Correspondence, initiate a violent repression of anti-Semitic groups in the United States of Europe after the assassination of Grantville mayor Henry Dreeson and an attack on the Grantville synagogue by French Huguenot radicals. Stearns refers to the pogrom as "Operation Kristallnacht".

See also



Books in English

Books in German
  • Hans-Dieter Arntz "Reichskristallnacht". Der Novemberpogrom 1938 auf dem Lande - Gerichtsakten und Zeugenaussagen am Beispiel der Eifel und Voreifel, Helios-Verlag, Aachen 2008, ISBN 978-3-938208-69-4
  • ISBN Unknown. ASIN B0014NJ88M. Available at Oxford Journals (PDF)

Online resources


  1. Helmreich, William B.; Mark Rosenblum, Schimel The Jewish condition: challenges and responses—1938-2008 (2008). page 21. ISBN 1412808022
  2. Browning, Christopher R. Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  3. Manchester Guardian, May 23, 1936, cited in A.J. Sherman, Island Refuge, Britain and the Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933–1939, (London, Elek Books Ltd, 1973), p.112, also in The Evian Conference — Hitler's Green Light for Genocide by Annette Shaw
  4. Johnson, Eric. The Nazi Terror – Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans. United States: Basic Books, 1999, pg 117.
  5. Friedländer, Saul. Nazi Germany and The Jews – Volume 1 – The Years of Persecution 1933-1939. London: Phoenix, 1997, pg 270
  6. Goerg Landauer to Martin Rosenbluth, 8 February 1938 cited in Friedländer, loc.cit.
  7. "Recollections of Rosalind Herzfled," Jewish Chronicle, September 28, 1979, page 80; cited in Gilbert, Martin, The Holocaust—The Jewish Tragedy, London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, 1986.
  8. German State Archives, Potsdam, quoted in Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, Crystal night, 9-10 November 1938, pages 33, 42
  9. Nazis Planning Revenge on Jews, News Chronicle, 9 November, 1938
  10. Friedländer, op.cit., pg 268.
  11. Walter Buch to Goring, 13.2.1939, Michaelis and Schraepler, Ursachen, vol.12, p.582 as cited in Friedländer, pg 271.
  12. Graml, Anti-Semitism, p.13 cited in Friedländer, op.cit., pg 272
  13. Heydrich's secret instructions regarding the riots in November 1938 (Simon Wiesenthal Center)
  14. GermanNotes,, retrieved 11/26/2007
  15. The deportation of Regensburg Jews to Dachau concentration camp (Yad Vashem Photo Archives 57659)
  16. Raul Hilberg. The destruction of the European Jews, Third Edition, (Yale Univ. Press, 2003, c1961), Ch.3.
  17. Conot, Robert. Justice at Nuremberg New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1983, pp. 164-172.
  18. JudenVermoegersabgabe (The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
  19. Jewish emigration from Germany (USHMM)
  21. Gilbert, op. cit., pg 70
  22. Dr. Arthur Flehinger, “Flames of Fury”, Jewish Chronicle, 9 November 1979, page 27 cited in Gilbert, loc. cit.
  23. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe's House Divided, 1490-1700. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 2004, pp. 666-667.
  24. Daily Telegraph, November 12, 1938. Cited in Gilbert, Martin. Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. Harper Collins, 2006, p. 142.

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