The Evil That Was Kristallnacht

The evil did not begin with Kristallnacht, but Kristallnacht was a preview of even worse horrors to come for the Jews of the Third Reich and vast stretches of Europe in the days leading up to and during World War II.

Kristallnacht, called in English the Night of Broken Glass, was a pogrom against Jews throughout Germany on November 9-10, 1938, carried out by Nazi Stormtroopers and civilians. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed.

Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings over 1,000 synagogues were burned, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged. Estimates of the number of fatalities caused by the pogrom have varied, but it is known that hundreds of Jews were killed and some 30,000 Jewish men arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Reports of the pogrom in foreign news outlets sent shock waves around the world.

The attacks were carried out ostensibly in retaliation for the assassination of the Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew living in Paris, but it was later revealed that the program was carefully planned in advance and awaited only a trigger.

Kristallnacht can be thought of as “the beginning of the end.” It was followed by additional economic, political and physical persecutions of Jews. Everything had now become more brutal. It was the harbinger of the Nazis’ murderous “Final Solution” to rid Europe and perhaps beyond it of the Jews; it was the springboard for the Holocaust.

Many of the Jews of Germany and Austria who had thought perhaps that they would be able to “weather” the Nazi regime now realized that the “game was up” and they must leave. But to where? Who would be willing to accept them? The answer for most was that the possibilities of safe havens were almost nonexistent. The multitude was doomed.