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    Introduction: Kristallnacht

    Introduction: What was Kristallnacht?

    Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) was a series of violent state-sponsored pogroms authorized by Adolf Hitler, which took place throughout Germany and Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938. The Germans claimed that the pogrom was a spontaneous public uprising in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath. A Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan shot and killed Vom Rath, a German diplomat, in Paris, France. Grynszpan was angry that he and his family were to be deported from Germany to Poland. In reality, Nazi officials orchestrated much of the violence or encouraged local populations to commit violence against Jews. Throughout the night of November 9 and into the dawn of November 10, hundreds of German and Austrian synagogues were burned, thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were destroyed, at least 91 Jews were murdered, and many more were seriously injured. Over 20,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where they were further beaten and terrorized.[1]

    Two views of the Kristallnacht pogroms:

    An American diplomat summarized Kristallnacht in a report: “Jewish buildings were smashed and contents demolished or looted . . . Jewish shop windows were systematically and wantonly smashed . . . the debacle was executed by SS men and Stormtroopers not in uniform, each group having been provided with hammers, axes, crowbars and incendiary bombs . . . No attempts were made whatsoever to quench the fires . . . There is much evidence of physical violence, including several deaths.”[2]

    On the other hand, the German press presented the violence as “a vivid demonstration of the degree to which the anger of the German people has reached, without Jews suffering any physical harm as a result.”[3]

    Jews being forced to walk with the star of David during the Kristallnacht in Nazi-Germany on the night of 9-10 November, 1938. See page for author [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
    Unknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    The aftermath and punishment of perpetrators

    After Kristallnacht, the Jewish community was ordered to pay a collective fine of one billion Marks. Insurance payments for the damages to Jewish shops, homes, and property were paid to the Nazi government, not to the policyholders. The 20,000 Jewish men who had been arrested were slowly released in the weeks following. They were terrorized in the concentration camps, most of them under the condition that they and their families would leave Germany as soon as possible. None of the German perpetrators were arrested or tried for the crimes of murder, assault, arson, or property damage. Only two perpetrators were punished for the rape of Jewish women. Even these two convictions did not actually focus on the Jewish victims, but suggested that the perpetrators committed a crime purely by having sex with Jewish women, a crime of Rassenschande (racial defilement).


    [1] For four excellent accounts about the Kristallnacht pogrom see Alan E. Steinweis, Kristallnacht 1938 (Belknap Press, 2009); Rita Thalmann and Emmanuel Feinermann, Crystal Night (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1974); Anthony Read and David Fisher, Kristallnacht: The Nazi Night of Terror (Random House, 1993); and Martin Gilbert, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (HarperCollins, 2006).

    [2] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, (4)(4.3)(c)(i)(8) at https://hdot.org. For an account of Kristallnacht and Irving’s version of it see also Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (Basic Books, 2001), pp. 52-65.

    [3] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (4)(4.3)(c)(i)(10).