The "Night of Broken Glass"
The "Night of Broken Glass" On the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazi regime coordinated a wave of antisemitic violence in Nazi Germany. This nationwide riot became known as Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass." The name "Kristallnacht" is a reference to the shattered glass from store windows that littered the streets during and after the riot. Kristallnacht is also sometimes referred to as the November pogrom.
The violence was supposed to look like an unplanned outburst of popular anger against Jews. In reality, Kristallnacht was state-sponsored vandalism and arson. Nazi leaders actively coordinated it with Adolf Hitler's support. On the night of November 9, Nazi leaders ordered members of the Nazi Party’s paramilitaries (the SS, the SA, and the Hitler Youth) to attack Jewish communities.
In the hours and days that followed, organized groups of Nazis wreaked havoc on Jewish life in Nazi Germany. During the riot, local Nazis set hundreds of synagogues on fire. They vandalized thousands of Jewish-owned businesses. They desecrated Jewish cemeteries. They broke into homes, smashed furniture, and terrorized Jewish families. Following orders given by Nazi leaders, police forces and fire brigades did not intervene to stop the destruction. Policemen did not protect Jews or their property. Firemen did not put out fires in synagogues.
The rioters also attacked and beat individual Jewish people. As a result, hundreds of Jews died during Kristallnacht and its aftermath. Some died of injuries inflicted during the riots. Others were deliberately killed.
During Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime ordered the police to arrest about 30,000 German Jewish men. These men had not committed any crime. The police arrested them simply for being Jewish. They were sent to concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald. In the concentration camps, the men were humiliated and violently attacked. Some even died. The arrests shocked and terrified Jewish families and communities. In the following months, the Nazi authorities released many of these men if families could prove they had plans to leave Germany.
Kristallnacht was an important turning point for Germany’s Jews. Afterwards, many Jews concluded that there was no future for them in Nazi Germany.
November 7, 1938
The catalyst for Kristallnacht
On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan shoots Ernst vom Rath. Grynszpan is a 17-year-old Polish-German Jew living in Paris. Vom Rath is a minor German diplomat posted to the German embassy in Paris. Grynszpan apparently acts out of despair over the fate of his parents, whom the Nazi regime had expelled from Germany to Poland. The Nazis use the shooting to incite antisemitic fervor. They claim that Grynszpan shot vom Rath as part of a wider Jewish conspiracy against Germany. When vom Rath dies on November 9, Nazi leaders use this theory as a pretext for Kristallnacht.
November 9, 1938
Joseph Goebbels instigates Kristallnacht
On November 9, 1938, Nazi Party leaders from across Germany gather are gathered in Munich to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt by Adolf Hitler in 1923 to seize power in Germany. During the commemoration of the putsch, they learn that Ernst vom Rath has died of his wounds. In response, German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivers a passionate antisemitic speech. With Hitler’s permission, Goebbels calls for an attack on Germany’s Jewish communities. After the speech, Nazi officials call their home districts and communicate Goebbels’ instructions. This results in the violence known today as Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass."
November 15, 1938
President Roosevelt condemns Kristallnacht
At a press conference on November 15, 1938, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt denounces the Nazis' antisemitic attack. In an official statement, he writes, "I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization." To show the US government’s condemnation of the violence, President Roosevelt recalls the US ambassador to Germany.