Kristallnacht—The Night of Broken Glass
On the night of November 9, 1938, Nazi Storm Troopers and German citizens launched a massive, government-coordinated attack on Jews throughout Germany. The mobs burned synagogues, destroyed businesses, ransacked Jewish homes, and brutalized the Jewish people. Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass illustrated the radical nature of Nazi policies toward the Jews. From this time forth Jews had no rights in the Third Reich, and those who did not escape, became victims of the Nazi Holocaust.
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Causes of Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht was a pentup result of Nazi antisemitic policies, but Hitler and Goering had to wait for the right opportunity to strike at the Jewish people without causing ill-sentiment among the citizenry. On October 27, 1938, over 17,000 Jews of Polish ancestry who lived in Germany were deported back to Poland. Once the Jews reached the German-Polish border, the Polish government denied them entry. These Jews, who were German citizens, ended up in no-man’s land with few possessions and no food. One family, the Grynszpans, were stuck in this situation and appealed to their son in Paris. Herschel Grynszpan received a devastating letter from his sister explaining the family’s circumstances and begging for help. Herschel responded irrationally, and on November 6, 1938 he went to the German embassy in Paris where he shot and killed Ernst vom Rath, the Secretary of Legation. Herschel proclaimed he killed vom Rath in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews.
When the message of Ernst vom Rath’s death reached Hitler and his advisors, Goebbels saw this incident as a chance to incite the German people against the Jews. Hitler and Goebbels agreed to coordinate a plan for the SA storm troopers, also known as brown shirts, to enact vengeance on the Jews for this crime. Instructions were given to the German police and fire departments to not interfere with the demonstrations. So, on the night of November 9, 1938 the storm troopers and German citizens burned and destroyed Jewish synagogues, businesses, and homes. While synagogues burned, fire fighters stood by and watched, only intervening if “Aryan” buildings were put in jeopardy. Kristallnacht changed the face of Nazis policy towards the Jewish population and illustrated to the world the true nature of Nazi ideology. While the Nazis blamed Herschel Grynszpan for inciting the night of violence, the true cause of Kristallnacht was the hate and prejudice of the Nazi regime.