Today is the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of pogroms against Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria. Many see this event as the turning point when the Nazi regime’s persecution of the Jews shifted from political, economic and social to outright violence. Kristallnacht is often seen as the start of the Holocaust.
Kristallnacht is so-called in reference to the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were attacked. In addition, around 30,000 Jews were rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps, in an effort to force many of them to leave the country. Much of their property was stolen too, in order to fund the forthcoming war.
The trigger for the pogroms was ostensibly the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Polish-born German Jew Herschel Grynszpan in Paris. Grynszpan was motivated by the plight of his family back in Germany. Like many Jews, they had been forced out of their homes to return to Poland. When Poland would not admit them entry, they were caught at the border with nowhere to go.
At this point, the Nazis were trying to force out as many Jews as possible, although it was difficult for them to find anywhere else to go, as many European countries refused them entry. What Kristallnacht proved was that Germany and Austria were no longer safe for Jews and that, as well as stripping the Jewish community of their human rights, the Nazis were now showing themselves to be willing to take further action.
In the following ten months, over 115,000 Jews would emigrate. Many of those that had been arrested and taken to concentration camps were permitted to leave after three months, as long as they too promised to leave the country. The terror that had taken place was a stark warning of what was to come.
Kristallnacht was not the only key event in Germany's history to take place on 9th November and, in fact, the Germans often refer to the day as 'Schicksalstag' (fateful day). On this day in 1918, the German monarchy fell after defeat in the First World War; then, 5 years later in 1923, Adolf Hitler was arrested after his failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Also on this day in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, reuniting both city and country.
We offer a number of school history trips focusing on the Nazis and the Holocaust. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.