Eighty-one years ago today, the Nazi Party took a steep turn from anti-Semitic rhetoric to violent attempts to completely eradicate the Jewish people.
The events that took place on Nov. 9, 1938, are a harrowing reminder of the evil that descended on the Jewish population.
Just like any horrific event in history, it is worth revisiting no matter how uncomfortable it may make us feel so that we can be reminded of its implications and continue to strive to be better.
Assassination of Ernst vom Rath
The massacre occurred two days after a 17-year-old Jewish man of Polish descent assassinated embassy official Ernst vom Rath.
According to the United Stated Holocaust Memorial Museum, Herschel Grynszpan shot the German official after the teenager learned that his parents and thousands of other Jewish people of Polish citizenship had been expelled from Germany.
When Grynszpan’s parents attempted to return to their homeland, they were denied entry and stranded in a refugee camp near the Poland-Germany border.
Outraged by his parents’ displacement, the teen, who was living in Paris at the time, went to the German embassy on Nov. 7 and shot the official who was assigned to assist him, Ernst vom Roth.
Vom Roth’s death two days later sparked a sinister reaction.
The Night of Broken Glass
Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels suggested to Nazi Party leadership that Grynszpan had conspired with “World Jewry” to kill vom Rath and said, “the Führer has decided that … demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”
Many regional leaders of the Nazi Party took Goebbels’ words as a command and began violently attacking Jewish communities across Nazi-run Europe on Nov. 9.
Party members dressed in civilian clothes to make it seem as if the attack were spontaneous — the result of public outrage.
Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed.
Marga Randall, just a child at the time, remembers being awakened around 10 p.m. that night, looking out the window of her family’s home and seeing a mob of people marching toward her house.
As she recounted in an interview, the people were “carrying a flame in one hand and a brick in the other.”
Afterward, the streets were littered with broken glass, which inspired the name for the night’s events: “Kristallnacht” or “The Night of Broken Glass.”
Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Nazi Security Police, directed regional party leaders to ensure that non-Jewish lives and property were not harmed in the riots.
Heydrich also ordered synagogue archives to be turned in to the Security Service before the places of worship were vandalized.
Hundreds of synagogues were destroyed that night and as they burned, firefighters were only allowed to intervene if the flames encroached on nearby structures.
Marianne Salinger was only a teenager when the riots took place in Berlin, but she remembers the destruction of a local synagogue well.
“I climb through the window to see inside and it was horrible,” she said in an interview with The Atlantic.
“It was a sight I will never forget. Everything was burned. The Torah scrolls were just thrown into the building — they were half burned. The altar was burned.”
Police officials were also told to arrest as many Jewish people as their jails could hold, especially young, healthy men, according to the USHMM. Nearly 30,000 Jewish males were arrested.
It is estimated that over 7,500 Jewish owned businesses were looted that night, with much of the destruction occurring in Berlin and Vienna.
German officials claimed that only 91 Jewish lives were lost during Kristallnacht, but modern scholars believe hundreds perished.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt condemned Nazi Germany’s attacks and recalled the U.S. ambassador in Germany until after World War II ended.
“I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization,” Roosevelt wrote.
Kristallnacht is widely regarded as the first time the Nazi regime incarcerated Jewish people based solely on their ethnicity.
Only weeks after the riots, the state passed dozens of anti-Jewish laws to further dehumanize the Jewish community, only further adding to the persecution.
It was a turning point in the Nazi Party’s anti-Jewish beliefs that ultimately led to the Holocaust.
We must remember the events that led up to such a horrific time period in the world’s history so we can prevent it from happening again.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.