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Kristallnacht - Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass, was a massive national Pogrom. planned and conducted by the German Nazi regime against the Jews throughout Germany and Austria. Beginning November 9, 1938, within a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. This event came to be called Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") owing to the shattered store windowpanes that carpeted German streets. The violence was carried out by the S.A. (Sturm Abteilung - Storm troopers) the SS (Schutzstaffel) and party branches. It was followed by a massive wave of arrests of Jews, interned in concentration camps, and a series of regulations that humiliated, robbed and isolated the Jews. 

The pretext for this violence was the November 7 shooting of a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teenager living in Paris. His  parents, together with 17,000 other Polish Jews, had been recently expelled from the Reich. Though portrayed as spontaneous outbursts of popular outrage, these pogroms were calculated and planned acts carried out by the SA, SS, and local Nazi party organizations. Since 1933, the Nazis had enacted a series of race laws designed to expel German Jews from German society.  A boycott of Jewish businesses was initiated in April 1933. The first laws against the Jews were enacted  April 7, 1933, in The Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, which banned Jews from the service. Jews were progressively pushed out of German society, deprived of academic positions and lost their property. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, deprived Jews of German citizenship and forbade marriage or sexual contact between Jews and non-Jews. A person with 1-2 Jewish grandparents was classified as of "mixed race," while those with 3-4 Jewish grandparents were classified as Jews.

The Zionist leadership had suspected as early as February of 1938 that the Nazis planned a large scale action against German Jews. Progressively more discriminatory legislation against Jews had caused about half the Jews of Germany to emigrate. At the same time, German confidence in the indifference of foreign governments to their acts increased. On March 13, 1938, the Nazis had annexed Austria to Germany in the Anschluss. No foreign government did or said anything. 

In the summer of 1938, the Evian les Bains conference had made it plain to the world that no country would accept Jewish refugees. In September of 1938, Germany had concluded the Munich agreement with Great Britain, which allowed it to dismember Czechoslovakia. The regime grew in confidence with each step.

The Germans chose to illustrate and emphasize the fact that no country would accept Jewish refugees with the expulsion of the Polish  Jews. These got to the border with Poland and were sent back, and then they were expelled again.  Jews who had gotten to the Czech frontier were admitted but then expelled to Hungary. In the end it would make little difference, as the Nazis were to overrun all of central and eastern Europe.

Grynszpan was distraught when his parents apprised him of their situation. He bought a revolver and shot vom Rath, vowing revenge, on November 7.

The Nazis began their retaliation on November 8, with a series of decrees that stopped the publication of Jewish newspapers and expelled Jews from schools. The Jewish community had been deprived of reasonably livelihood, education and means of communication. It was increasingly helpless.

On November 9, Vom Rath died of his wounds. Riots broke out in the evening and in the early morning of November 10, which was also the birthday of the anti-Semite Martin Luther, a fact noted by anti-Semitic propaganda. The riots were evidently staggered so that they would perhaps appear to be more "natural" The Gauleiters (district leaders) lead their local members in rioting, beginning at about 10 PM. The SA and SS began their riots after 1 AM on November 10. The disorders continued until November 11, when Reichspropagandaminister Josef Goebbels called a halt. Gangs of SA, SS and party faithful smashed store windows, trashed synagogues and beat and killed Jews. About 200 synagogues were burned or destroyed.

Kristallnacht gutten Jewish shop

The thugs killed at least 91 Jews and injured many others. Some non-Jewish Germans were evidently killed by mistake.  Jews were arrested on a massive scale and transported to Nazi concentration camps. About 30,000 Jews were sent to Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen, where hundreds died within weeks of arrival. Probably about 2,000 Jews died either the victims of murder, of poor conditions or through suicide. Most of the prisoners were released within a few months after they agreed to emigrate and agreed to transfer their property to "Aryans." The confiscation of Jewish property was evidently a primary goal of the pogrom, as orders had been given to prevent looting and looters were arrested. In addition to confiscation of prisoners' property, Jews were forced to pay for damages through a special fine of 1 billion Reichsmarks.  Insurance payments of about 6 million RM were confiscated by the state. Pensions of Jewish pensioners were cut. Jews were forced to turn over precious metals to the state. The greed of the Nazis for money, a characteristic they attributed to Jews, knew no bounds.

Kristallacht burned synagogue at Ramstadt
Burned synagogue at Ramstadt (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Additional motives for the pogroms of Kristallnacht were evidently a desire to please SA hoodlums and Nazis in various branches who had, on some previous occasions, rioted against Jews in a less organized way, while at the same time channeling their anti-Semitism to largely prevent senseless destruction of property that did not benefit the state.

Kristallnacht  signaled the fateful transfer of responsibility for "solving" the "Jewish Question" to the SS. Many believe that Kristallnacht was really the beginning of the Holocaust, but in meetings held just after the riots, the "solution" envisioned by Nazi officials was emigration of Jews and confiscation of their property.

Reactions of Germans ranged from favorable approval to ineffective disdain. Reactions of foreign governments were limited to pro-forma diplomatic protests and withdrawal of ambassadors. No country reversed the its refusal to accept immigrants that had been announced at Evian les Bains. In May 1939, the liner Saint Louis sailed from Bremen with its load of Jewish immigrants who were unable to find a safe haven. Later that year, the British Mandate for Palestine officially slammed the doors of Palestine shut to Jewish immigration with the White Paper.


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: Anti-Semitism Holocaust Pogrom

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


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