|Back to Lexicon Entries List
"Crystal Night" or "Night of the Broken Glass" pogrom conducted throughout Germany and Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938. It was officially presented as a spontaneous outburst provoked by the assassination of the third secretary of the German embassy in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by a seventeen-year-old Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan. The name Kristallnacht refers to the broken shop windows of Jewish stores. The riots came as the culmination of assaults made upon the Jews in Germany and Austria. The catalytic development was the deportation of about 17,000 Polish Jews who were driven into a no-man's-land between the two countries on October 28, 1938. The greatest number of the deportees were left stranded near the border town of Zbaszyn. Herschel Grynszpan's parents were in this group, and news of their plight drove the desperate youth to his act of revenge. Following his shooting of vom Rath on November 7, sporadic anti-Jewish rioting started on November 8. On the afternoon of November 9, vom Rath died. The same evening, Joseph Goebbels harangued the "old fighters" of the party who had gathered in Munich at their annual commemoration of Hitler's abortive putsch of November 8 and 9, 1923. That night, instructions were conveyed to all parts of the country. In accordance with the orders, the crowds were encouraged by the SA to participate in the atmosphere of outrage. Mass frenzy broke out: synagogues were destroyed and burned, shop windows of Jewish-owned stores were shattered, the shattered glass covering the sidewalks, and the demolished stores were looted. Jewish homes were assaulted, and in many places Jews were physically attacked. About 30,000 Jews - especially those who were influential and wealthy - were arrested, often with the help of previously prepared lists, and were thrown into concentration camps, where they were treated with great cruelty by the SS. This was the first time that riots against the Jews of Germany had been organised on such an extensive scale, accompanied by mass detention. The pogrom was followed by administrative and legal orders issued with a fourfold object: to complete the process of "Aryanization" to the benefit of the government's disrupted revenues; to expedite the Jews' emigration; to isolate the Jews completely from the general population; and to abolish the still quasi- autonomous organisation of the Reichsvertretung (the National Representation of the Jews in Germany) and other official Jewish institutions. A fine of one billion Reichsmarks imposed on the Jewish community under the pretext of reparation for the murder of vom Rath, the insurance payments for the damages were confiscated by the state and Jewish store owners were made liable for the repairs. "Aryanization" was to be implemented. On Heydrich's suggestion, it was decided to co-ordinate the Jews' emigration through a Central Office for Jewish Emigration to be established in Germany along the lines of the one developed by Adolf Eichmann in Austria. Jewish children were removed from public schools. The sharp reaction to the Kristallnacht outrage that was expressed by the Western press and public did not affect the Nazis. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled the United States ambassador, Hugh Wilson, as a protest and declared his deep shock. Public pressure did, however, force most of the western European governments to admit some refugees, especially children. Goring, who had persuaded Hitler to put him in charge, now handled the Reich's Jewish policy together with Himmler, and Goebbels's aspirations to play a decisive part were thus thwarted. The methods of the SS and of the SD under Heydrich became policy. While this conclusion about the result of the outbreak is generally accepted, historians differ in their opinions about its cause. Some hold that Goebbels exploited circumstances by improvisation, and others maintain that the assault was premeditated; probably both methods were involved. In any case, Kristallnacht was a turning point. It was the Nazis' first experience of large-scale anti-Jewish violence, and opened the way to the complete eradication of the Jews' position in Germany.
Back to top