Kristallnacht or Crystal Night was the turning point and beginning of the Jewish Holocaust. On November 8 of 1938, a national action to terrorize the Jewish community was planned by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels. On the night of November 9 through November 10 bands of Nazis and their sympathizers destroyed synagogues and shops belonging to Jews across Germany. The term Kristallnacht was coined by Walter Funk at the November 12 Nazi meeting following the pogrom of November 8th through the 10th. This term, coined by Funk, was a measure of poetic license, and reffered to the fact that pieces of glass from th broken windows, glittered like crystal in the streets (”Kristallnacht”). The term was originally made to mock the Jews on that black November night in 1938.
Before Kristallnacht that Jewish Community did not live as equals. As the period of Kristallnacht approached, the Jewish community was getting more of their rights taken away; while the Nazi party and it’s sympathizers were being allowed to break the law with little or no penalty. In the first half of 1938, numerous laws were passed restricting Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities (”Kristallnacht”). In July of 1938, a law was passed requiring all Jews to carry identification cards. On October 28, 17,000 Jews of Polish citizenship were arrested and relocated acroos the Polish border (”Kristallnacht”). Before Kristallnacht, Jews were subject to many discriminary actions. For example, If an Aryan was arrested for J-walking, it was a one mark fine. If a Jew was arressted for the same crime, they were held for a day and fined fifty to five hundred marks. Jews were also given license plate neumbers above 350,000 so the police could easily identify them (Thalmann and Feinermann 16). On August 17th of 1938 a law called the Globke decree, required all Jewish men to change their first names to Israel and all Jewish women to Sara (Thalmann and Feinermann 24). From July to October of 1938, with increasing momentum, decree after decree further limited Jews’ chances of survival in the Reich. Jewish lawyers and doctors were barred from practice and reduced to acting as legal consultants or nurses to other Jews. The professional credentials of salesmen were revoked. Shopkeepers and artisans were to be barred from any commercial activity after January 1st 1939. Jewish tenants were kicked out, and those who owned property were forced to sell (Thalmann and Feinermann 24). Jews were forced out of their homes onto the streets, and arrested for no reason. The discriminary acts place on Jews led to many cases of Jews committing suicide because they were unable to fight back.
On the night of October 27, 1938, Zindel Grynszpan and his family were forced out of their home by German police. His store and family’s possessions were confiscated and they were forced to move over the Polish border. On the morning of November 7, 1938, Zindel’s seventeen year old son, Herschel, went to the German embassy in Paris in an atempt to kill the German Ambassador to France. Upon discovering that the Ambassador was not in the embassy, he settled for a lesser official, Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath. Rath, was critically wounded and died two days after the shooting (Kristallnacht). “Grynszpan made no effort to run away. He wanted to protest among them, who were marrooned at that moment in a village of the German-Polish border, expelled from Germany, no longer acceptable in their homeland” (The Economist Jan. 6, 1990). After the assasination of Ernst vom Rath, Anti-Jewish demonstrations began to break out across Germany. In response to these break outs of Anti-Jewish demonstrations, Goebbels, Hitler’s Chief of Propaganda, said; “it has decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized by the party, but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are not to be discouraged either” (Kristallnacht Perspective). The assassination provided Goebbels with the excuse he needed to launch a pogrom against German Jews (Kristallnacht). “To Hitler, the assassination was not the act of a desperate Jewish youth, but a conspiracy by the ‘International Jews’” (Kristallnacht Perspective). To a Nazi, the assassination was the perfect reason to start a pogrom against the Jewish population, and this is why many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust feel that the assassination was a setup. Magnus Davidsohn, reader of the principal synagogue in Berlin, paid a visit with his wife to Counsellor vom Rath’s parents. When he expressed his condolences and the sympathy distraught with grief, responded, “my dear Reverend, neither you nor any other Jew is responsible for this. I think my son was assassinated on orders. He spoke toomuch and a hired assassin killed him” (Thalmann and Feinermann 57). Whether it was a setup or not, the assassination of Ernst vom Rath led to the massacre of many inocent lives. The assassination took place just two days before the annual party ceremony commemorating the November 1923 putsch in Munch, which may have added to the Nazis reasoning to start such a massacre (Kristallnacht Perspective). For the average Nazi this was an opportunity to rise up in society, and to gain power and control over a large portion of society. The event of the Holocaust was inevitable. The assassination of Ernst vom Rath only triggered off an event that was bound to take place.
On November 8, 1938, Hitler received word of Ernst vom Rath’s assassination. It was then that the planning for Kristallnacht took place (Kristallnacht Perspective). On the night of November 9, 1938, an independent teletype message, signed “Muller, Gestapo II,” was secretly sent out from Berlin to all the police headquarters after 11:55 p.m. This message contained four instructions:
1. Action will be taken against the Jews, particularly against their synagogues, throughout Germany at the earliest possible moment. The police should co-operate with other forces of order to guard against the possibility of pillaging or other excesses.
2. Any important archives housed in synagogues should be removed to safety immediately.
3. Preparations should be made to arrest between 20,000 and 30.000 Jews throughout the Reich, preference being given to the wealthier Jews. Further instructions will follow during the course of the night.
4. In carrying out these instructions any Jews found in possession of arms will be dealt with extremely severely. The regular and reserve troops of the SS may be called upon at any time during the assignment. But overall direction of the operation shall be the responsibility of the police (Thalmann and Feinermann 59).
These attacks on Jews were intended to take place at night so they could be under cover in darkness. Some took place after three in the morning (Kristallnacht Perspective). Additional instructions were given out. For example, business establishments and homes of Jews were to be destroyed, but not looted; and no measures should be taken that would jeoprodize German likfe or property (Kristallnacht Perspective). Ont eh nights of November 9th and 10th, gangs of Nazi youth roamed through Jewish neighborhoods breaking windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burning, synagogues and looting (Kristallnacht). A wave of ferocity was unleashed by the Nazis. Streets were littered with burning beds and furniture. Jewish citizens were thrown out of windows of high buildings, and then beaten. “Women as well as men and boys were beaten, knifed, and shot. Pets were hurled out of upper-story windows alongside their owners. Jews were plunged into ice cold rivers. When they tried to claw their way out, German boys were encouraged to throw bricks at them, onlookers were ordered to spit at them, and partyt members kicked them in the face. A number of victims drowned” (Kristallnacht Perspective). Jewish temples were blown up, the graves were violated, and tombstones uprooted. Corpses were left unburied at the cemeteries because the grave diggers an cemetery attendants had been arrested (Thalmann and Feinermann 68-69). Athough the destruction of the Jews property was severe, not much was stolen. This was because the people sent out to do the destruction had schedules to follow, and not much time for personal profit (Thalmann and Feinermann 67-68). “Jews were imprisoned for assault when they tried to defend themselves, and for arson when their shops burned down” (Kristallnacht Perspective). As the Jewish people were arrested out of their homes, they were lined up and marched in parades. They were forced to reciet passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampt, Der Stuermer, and other antisemitic writings (Night of the Broken Glass). These people they arrested were first taken to a theatre, where some were forced to sit in the dark while others were beaten under blinding spot lights on stage (Thalmann and Feinermann 71). Unchecked mobs hurled paving stones through Jewish shop windows, form which they snatched up any object they could use. Churches were torn apart and burnt down (Thalmann and Feinermann 63-64). As the Jewish owned stores, churches, and homes were being burnt down, firemen and police stood near by only to prevent destruction form spreading onto German owned property (Kristallnacht Perspective). All Jews were deprived of communication, public life, and radio (Thalmann and Feinermann 56-57). Men from the ages of sixteen to sixty were arrested and taken to concentration camps. Men such as lawyers and doctors were especially subject to this type of behavior (Thalmann and Feinermann 70). While allthis was going on Goebbels told foreign reporters, “not a Jew ahs had a hair disturbed” (Kristallnacht Perspective). The Jewish communtiy was shocked and terrified. They knew something was bound to happen, but nothing could have prepared them for this event.
Three days after Kristallnacht, on November 12th, Goering called a meeting of the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage done during the night, and place responsibility for it. “The intent of this meeting was two-fold: to make Jews responsible for Kristallnacht and to use the events of the preceding days as a rationale for promulgation a series of antisemitic laws which would, in effect, remove Jews from the German economy”(”Kristallnacht”). The Nazis planned to blame the Jews and punish them for the destruction that took place on Kristallnacht. This was their reason to go forth with the remainder of the holocaust. “Germany didn’t produce enough plate glass to repair the damages. The result was twofold: the need to import glass form Belgium and the outrage of indemnifying the Jewish community to pay for the damages. So the broken glass come to assume yet another outrageous dimension in the wake of the event”(”Kristallnacht”). Nazis now had the power and the ability to launch a massive strike on Jews all over. The event of Kristallnacht put Jews all over in fear that the German army had the power to do what ever they want.
Kristallnacht paved way of a holocaust against Jews. The assassination of Ernst vom Rath was thought to be a set up by the Nazis. Jewish survivors today believe this without a question in their minds (Wallheim). The lastest research show that on that one night: 111 Jews were murdered, 20,000 Jews were rounded up, more than 1,000 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses and an unknown number of Jewish homes were also destroyed (”Shattered”). In the holocaust that Kristallnacht launched six million Jews were killed along with nine to ten million others (”Shattered”). A survivor named Ernest Heppner reflects on Kristallnacht by saying, “?as an eyewitness I was very emotionally involved in this event and its consequences. Like everyone else here in the United States, for some 50 years I called those horrible days and nights Kristallnacht. I changed my mind reluctantly when, during my research, I discovered Goering’s intent to use this designation to ridicule this event”(”Kristallnacht”).