The Night of Broken Glass

The burning of the synagogue in Ober Ramstadt during Kristallnacht. Photograph from the Trudy Isenberg Collection, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

On November 9, 1938, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced a government-sanctioned reprisal against the Jews. Synagogues were ravaged and then burned. Jewish shop windows were broken. Jews were beaten, raped, arrested, and murdered. Throughout Germany and Austria, the pogrom known as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") rampaged.

The Damage

Police and firefighters stood by as synagogues burned and Jews were beaten, only taking action to prevent the spread of fire to non-Jew owned property and to stop looters - upon SS officer Reinhard Heydrich's orders.

The pogrom spanned the night of November 9 to 10. During this night 191 synagogues were set on fire.

The damage to shop windows was estimated at $4 million U.S. dollars. Ninety-one Jews were murdered while 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to camps such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald.

Why Did the Nazis Sanction the Pogrom?

By 1938, the Nazi's had been in power for five years and were hard at work trying to rid Germany of its Jews, attempting to make Germany "Judenfrei" (Jew free). Approximately 50,000 of the Jews living within Germany in 1938 were Polish Jews. The Nazis wanted to force the Polish Jews to move back to Poland, but Poland did not want these Jews either.

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 Hershl Grynszpan. At the time of the transports, Hershl was in France studying. On November 7, 1938, Hershl shot Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary in the German embassy in Paris. Two days later, vom Rath died. The day vom Rath died, Goebbels announced the need for retaliation.

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."

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Kristallnacht." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2020, August 26). Kristallnacht. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Kristallnacht." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 31, 2023).