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 became known as Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass." It was named for the shattered glass from store windows that littered the streets after the violence.
The violence was supposed to look like an unplanned outburst of anger against Jews. In fact, Nazi leaders actively coordinated it with Adolf Hitler's support. On the night of November 9, they 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. They burned hundreds of synagogues. They vandalized thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, shattering the glass in storefronts. They damaged Jewish cemeteries and homes. Nazi leaders told the police and fire brigades to ignore the attacks. Police forces did not protect Jews or their property. Fire brigades did not put out fires in synagogues. Hundreds of Jews died during Kristallnacht and its aftermath.
The next morning, 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 such concentration camps as Dachau and Buchenwald. The arrests shocked and terrified Jewish families and communities. The Nazi authorities released many of these men if families could prove they had plans to leave Germany. Other men died in these camps.
The Night of Broken Glass 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
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 did not act alone, but was 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
Nazi Party leaders from across Germany gather in Munich to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch. The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed attempt by Adolf Hitler in 1923 to seize power in Germany. During the event, they learn 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
Americans condemn Kristallnacht
American newspaper headlines condemn the violence of Kristallnacht. At a press conference on November 15, 1938, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt denounces the antisemitic attack. In an official statement, he writes, "I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization." The president recalls the US ambassador to Germany.