The November Progrom, Kristallnact or the night of broken glass took place on November 9-10, 1938. This was a violent anti Jewish demonstration that took place across Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic).
Nazis justified these riots as the reaction to the assassination of the German official Ernst vom Rath. He was killed 2 days prior by Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teenager in Poland who was distraught because his family were deported from Germany. He had been living in France for several years and learned that the Nazis exiled his parents to Poland from Hanover, Germany. Herschel was born in Hanover and lived there for years. In retaliation, Herschel shot vom Rath, who was a German diplomat stationed in Paris.
The news of vom Rath’s death reached Nazi party leaders later that day while they were at a dinner in Munich. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebells gave an inflammatory speech, urging the assembled crowd to take to the streets. The message was that the German Jews would have to pay for vom Rath’s death.
Later that night, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Security Service, sent a series of orders to all State Police offices. Busienss establishments and homes of Jews could be destroyed but not looted. German life and property were to remain safe. The officers were to arrest as many Jews, especially the wealthy ones, as local jails could hold.
The next day Gobbels announced,”We shed not a tear for them.” As he commented on the destruction of synagogues, he said,”They stood in the way long enough. We can use the space made free more useful than Jewish fortresses.”
Starting in the late hours of November 9, 1938, there were violent mobs that were sparked by anti Semitic exhortations from Nazi officers. They destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burned and desecrated Jewish artifacts that were in their way.
Police officers and fire fighters did nothing to prevent this horrific destruction. They were permitted to help Aryan owned property. Approximately 7,500 Jewish owned businesses, homes, cemetaries, hospitals, and schools were destroyed. 91 Jews were murdered during this riot.
30.000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany. Most of them were released and forced to emigrate but hundreds were murdered or committed suicide at Buchenwald, Dachau or Sachsenhausen.
Karl Rosenthal, a victim of Kristallnact, was taken to Sachsenhausen, located north of Berlin. HE and other Jewish prisoners were met with 38 hours of pure torture by Nazi officers.
“SS men armed with batons and whips attacked us. Amid wild shouts and curses, they beat us mercilessly, on the back, on the legs, on the head and face.”
“We no longer believed that anyone could exist here who would want to provide us with a little joy. For a few moments we hear, in the hell of the concentration camp, the voice of humanity.”
“They preferred a quick death to slow Nazi torture,” wrote Rosenthal.
In Berlin, 140,000 Jews still resided, Nazi officers desecrated 12 synagogues and set fire to them. Children from the Jewish orphanages were thrown on the streets. 1.200 men were sent to Oranienburg-Schenhausen concentration camp under “protective custody.”
Right after Kristallnact was over, Nazi officers immediately claimed that the Jews were to blame for the riots and fined the Jewish German community 1 billion Riechsmarks ($400 Million at 1938 rates).
The Nazis called the event Kristallnact (Crystal night or The Night of Broken Glass) referring to thousands of shattered windows that littered the streets after they were destroyed. This name does not talk about the lives that were lost or the Jewish men that lost their freedom.
Kristallnact was a turning point in the Third Reich. This marked the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violence and anti Jewish measures that followed. Before Kristallnact, the Nazi policies have been non violent. This marked the start of the Shoah.
Because of this event, Jews were prohibited from schools and most public places in Germany. Conditions only worsened from there. That was the beginning of the Shoah.