In the sequence of events and catastrophes that befell the Jewish People over the 12 years of National Socialism in Germany, the events of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) have a special place. Kristallnacht is etched on our memory as the turning point in the Holocaust of European Jewry. The name was given to these events due to the windows of the synagogues that were smashed in the Berlin streets.
On November 7, 1938, Herschel Feibel Grynszpan, a German Jewish student of Polish ethnicity, waled over to the German embassy in Paris and shot and killed first secretary Ernst Eduard vom Rath. Grynszpan explained that his act was an attempt to draw the world’s public opinion to the deportation of his parents together with some 17,000 Jews of Polish descent, sending them outside the borders of Germany. This one-man protest against the world’s silence regarding the fate of German Jewry at the time served as the rationale for Kirstallnacht.
Two days later, on the evening of November 9, 1938, SS and SA units attacked Jewish centers throughout Germany. The allegedly spontaneous attack, which was pre-planned by Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, led to the burning and destruction of hundreds of synagogues, Jewish businesses and property throughout Germany and Austria in the next two days. During Kristallnacht, 91 Jews were murdered and some 20,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps throughout the Reich.
The Kristallnacht pogrom was not only a violent outburst of anti-Semitic sentiments but also a turning point, which set a new peak for the capacity of the Nazi regime to enlist the law, regulations, and governmental institutions for its ideological needs. Until Kristallnacht the steps taken by the Nazi regime were characterized by a gradual policy of “trial and error” while continually checking public reaction. This policy was based on negating civil rights in a legislative framework, such as the Nuremburg Laws (September 1935). On Kristallnacht the restrictions were lifted for the first time, and a connection was made between the governing regime and legal system and physical violence.
This pattern of institutionalized and public violence, which allegedly originated from the bottom and was grounded in a semblance of law and order, would from now on become the core of Nazi policy toward the Jews, whose most extreme manifestation can be seen in an attempt to annihilate the entire European Jewry three years later.
In a society, in which persecution of the Jews was grounded in the law and order system, several questions emerge regarding the role of the man in the street, one who was not an active partner in persecution, but whose indifference to the suffering of the other and absence of any protest, gave the Nazi regime the freedom of action it so needed.
Several days after Kristallnacht, Herman Göring, Hitler’s deputy and one of the chief figures in the Nazi regime at the time, said: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany now.”
The events of Kristallnacht constitute the focal point of the Massuah’s educational program, a program that seeks to examine the event from three perspectives: that of German Jewry, that of all Germany’s citizens, and that of the Nazi party apparatus.
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