Sunday, November 9, 2014

Kristallnacht: The Night of the Broken Glass

Burning a synagogue in Seigen, Germany (Wikimedia, Public Domain)
The horrors of the holocaust were dark chapters in the history of mankind. Millions of Jews were killed. Brutally carried out by Nazis under Adolf Hitler. Dachau and Auschwitz were just some of the concentration camps where atrocities towards the Jews were committed. But in the 1930’s there were already signs of this brutality. In 1938, the Nazis instigated the so-called Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass.

The Night of the Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht in German, was violent attacks on Jewish properties. It occurred on the days of November 9 to 10, 1938 in both Germany and Austria. It was a Pogrom, a display of hatred of the Jewish community in the two countries. Jewish stores and synagogues were destroyed and vandalized under the process.

The events leading to Kristallnacht already showed the possibility of violence against the Jews. In 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power. He and his Nazi party promoted anti-Semitic ideas. They saw the Jews as diluting their superior Aryan race. Hence, they launch laws that would harass Jews in Germany. Hitler instituted the so-called Nuremberg Laws. Under these laws, Jews were removed from government service. Their citizenship revoked. And with the laws, Jewish ghettoes began to appear. Some recent Jewish immigrants were unlucky. Most of them, from Poland, were deported back to their home country and lived in poverty. Many young Jews resented the whole event.

On November 7, 1938, an attack would occur that would eventually lead to the events of Kristallnacht. On that day, in Paris, France, an embassy official named Ernst von Rath was attacked, shot, and killed by a young 16 year old Jew named Hershel Grynszpan. Grynszpan’s intention was revenge. Germany’s policy of deporting Polish Jews back to the border left Grynszpan’s family to live in misery. Grynszpan was in France as he sought refuge from the increasing violence against the Jews in Germany. And when he saw the opportunity to show his frustration and anger, he took it.

However, Grynszpan’s action did not brought change for the better. It led to further violence and brutality against the Jews in Germany and also, the newly annexed Austria. On the following night, riots broke out across Germany and Austria. Angry mobs attacked Jewish properties, houses, shops, warehouses, and businesses. Many Jews were unlucky and were killed. Many Jews were also arrested and sent to infamous concentration camps like Dachau and Buchenwald. Synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and schools did not also faced mercy from the furry.

The Nazi Party was very involved in the violence. Sources showed that Nazi officials held secret meetings and incited the people to riot and attack Jewish properties. The Gestapo and local police were also ordered not to interfere or control the violence. It became a state sponsored ruckus.

For two nights, Germany and Austria saw so much violence. After the riots of the night, the roads and streets of major cities were filled with broken glasses from the destroyed shops and businesses of the Jews. Thus, from the litters of glasses, the two nights became infamously called the Night of the Broken Glass. In the end, according to SS reports, 30,000 Jews were arrested. 815 shops owned by Jews destroyed. More than 260 synagogues, cemeteries, and schools for Jews vandalized. 91 Jews killed. 7,500 Jewish-owned business attacked. Estimated cost of damage – 25 million Reich marks. Because it came from an SS report, the figures might be higher.

Many Jews feared for their lives. Many fled to neighboring countries, like Poland and France. But many wanted to feel more safe and took the hardship and price to migrate across the Atlantic to the United States. 

Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, Hitler’s government did not compensated the Jews for the damage. On the contrary, Hitler made the Jews pay for their own miseries. He wanted the Jews to pay 1 billion Reich marks as “reparation” for the troubles they caused. In the process, 20% of wealth and properties of German Jews were confiscated. Also, new laws were instituted that further isolated the Jews. They were banned in going to school. Surviving business owned by Jews were confiscated and distributed to Aryan businessmen. Moreover, Jews were banned from going to public places like beaches and theaters. The Kristallnacht was just a small part of a bigger story of genocide committed by Nazi Germany.

See also:
Cruelty: The Instrument of Assyrian Control
St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre
Stockholm Bloodbath
Rape of the Sabine Women

Karesh, S. & M. Hurvitz. Encyclopedia of Juadaism. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2006.

Pasachoff, N. & R. Littman. A Concise History of the Jewish People. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995.

Totten, S. & P. Bartrop. Dictionary of Genocide. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Turk, E. The History of Germany. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

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