Kristallnacht! Night of Broken Glass

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"Night of Crystal"  -  "Night of Broken Glass"

What does the word "Kristallnacht" mean?

"Kristallnacht" is a German word that consists of two parts: "Kristall" translates to "crystal" and refers to the look of broken glass and "Nacht" means "night." The accepted English translation is the "Night of Broken Glass."


The most infamous Anti-Semitic Pogrom in recent history occurred on November 9, 1938.  Instigated primarily by Nazi party officials and the SA (Nazi Storm Troopers), the pogrom occurred throughout Germany (including annexed Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia). The name Kristallnacht has its origin in the untold numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed during the pogrom. The term became a euphemism for this brutal pogrom and does not adequately convey the suffering it caused.

Ernst Vom Rath

Early that evening Adolf Hitler attended a dinner party in Munich, during the course of the evening he received word of the death of Ernst Vom Rath, a German Diplomat stationed in Paris. Vom Rath was shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, who was angry that his parents, together with tens of thousands of Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany (Grynszpan's parents had lived in Germany since 1911), had been expelled from Germany without notice.

Spurred by a decision of the Polish government on the 6th of October 1938 to withdraw all passports from Polish citizens who had remained abroad for over 5 years, German authorities were forced to either accept 15,000 stateless ex-Polish Jewish citizens on their soil or to send them back to their homeland before the withdrawal came into effect.

The Germans chose to deport them and on October 28, 1938, the Gestapo rounded up the Polish Jews within Germany, put them on transports, and then dropped them off on the Polish side of the Poland-Germany border (near Posen). With little food, water, clothing, or shelter in the middle of winter, thousands of these people died.  Among these Polish Jews were the parents of seventeen year old Herschel Grynszpan

Herschel Grynszpan

Upon receiving the news, Hitler conferred in private with Joseph Goebbels, and then left the dinner party without giving his planned speech. Goebbels immediately took the floor in his stead and after announcing the death of Vom Rath, (which he of course blamed on a Pan-Jewish conspiracy), he went on to say that anti-Jewish demonstrations (pogroms) although not organized by the Nazi Party "would not be hampered." 

While Goebbels made the case for the death of Vom Rath as the catalyst for the pogrom, plans were already in place, and orders given to unleash terror on the streets:



sent at 1:20AM, November 8, 1938


That only such measures were to be taken that would not endanger German lives or property (e.g. the burning of synagogues was only to be carried out if there was no danger of fire spreading to the surrounding district).  Businesses and residences of Jews may be damaged but not looted. Particular care is to be paid in business sections and surrounding streets. Non-Jewish businesses are to be protected from damage under all circumstances. Police are to seize all archives from synagogues and offices of community organizations, this refers to material of historical significance.

Archives are to be handed over to the SS. (Because the synagogues were to be burned to the ground, the Nazis wanted the records of the Jews.) As soon as possible, officials are to arrest as many Jews especially wealthy ones - in all districts as can be accommodated in existing cells. For the time being, only healthy male Jews of not too advanced age are to be arrested. 


Signed by Reinhard Heydrich,
SS Gruppenfürer

Read the full article here:

The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

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