Kristallnacht – otherwise known as The Night of Broken Glass or The November Pogrom – took place on the night of 9th November 1938. The Nazis claimed that pogrom was a retaliation for the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on 7th November by German-born Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan. The reality was much more sinister. In fact, the Nazis had been planning this type of action for some time, but were waiting for the right opportunity.
The 9th of November was already an important date in the Nazi calendar. It marked the anniversary of the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, and had become a date to honour ‘martyrs’ of the Party and celebrate Nazism and its now far-reaching impact.
After the traditional ceremony, members of the Party would often seek out the nearest beer hall and drink into the early hours – therefore, when the call came to seek vengeance on the Jews for vom Rath’s death, many SA men were already drunk and more aggressive. Attacks on Jewish shops, buildings and synagogues were widespread throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria. SA men and non-Jewish civilians also broke into many Jewish people’s homes, terrorising families, looting and smashing up furniture. The night gets its name from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the attacks.
At least 91 Jews were killed during the course of the night; another 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, although many were released within six weeks. Over 1,000 synagogues were set alight and over 7,000 Jewish shops were heavily damaged or destroyed. To add insult to injury, in the aftermath of the pogrom German Jews were ordered to pay one billion Marks in reparations for vom Rath’s assassination and 20% of all Jewish property was seized by the state. Furthermore, six million Marks’ worth of insurance payments for property damage would not be paid to the Jewish community, but instead to the government, cited as paying for ‘damages to the German Nation’. Kristallnacht marked a turning point for many of Germany’s Jews. In the months following the pogrom, more than 115,000 Jews fled the Reich, settling in other European countries, the US, Palestine or Shanghai. The international response to the pogrom was also scathing; countries such as the UK and the US reported on the pogrom widely, condemning Nazi Germany for its horrendous actions towards its Jewish citizens.