The Night of Broken Glass
During one 24-hour period in German history, thousands of Jews were tortured, hurt, and/or sent away from their homes. Many Jews were killed. Jewish synagogues, or places of worship, were burned and destroyed. Other Jewish owned buildings were destroyed, and the windows were smashed. This was all the work of the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler. These nights were soon called Kristallnacht, which translates to crystal night in English. We know it as The Night of Broken Glass.
Leading Up to Kristallnacht
Before Kristallnacht, many Germans and Nazis didnít like Jews anyway. The new Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, had done many mean things to them. He hated them so much because he thought that Jews were responsible for all wars. He also wanted people to be just like him. He called people like this a "Perfect German."
The Nazis based their decision to carry out the plans for Kristallnacht on their need for more money to help the German military. They would get the money by stealing and selling the things of value from the Jewish owned buildings after breaking their windows. Also, it was the 15th anniversary of Hitlerís "Beer Hall Putsch," which was a night when Hitler tried to come to power on November 8, 1923 by interrupting a very important meeting and threatening everyone with the guns he was waving in his hands. These plans had been very poorly planned, and they failed. This had encouraged violence on the streets on these nights. Hitlerís followers wanted to help his plans succeed this time because his plans before did not succeed.
There were two incidents that mainly led up to Kristallnacht. Before Kristallnacht, the parents of a young Jew named Herschel Grynszpan, along with over 15,000 other Jews, had been sent away from Germany without warning. They were sent by train to the Polish border and then dumped there because Hitler was trying to get rid of all of the Jews. Herschel Grynszpan got very angry and shot a German Embassy Staff member in Paris.
Also, Hitlerís minister of terror, or propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, made a speech that sparked the terrible acts of Kristallnacht. His speech inspired more and more Germans to hate Jews by saying bad things about them. His speech made the Germans more and more eager to start the already planned destruction. Kristallnacht began right after his speech and lasted for about 24 hours over two days.
The plans for Kristallnacht were sent in a secret telegram by one of Hitlerís Nazi officials who helped plan the Holocaust, Reinhard Heydrich. He said that the actions should not endanger German lives or property. A synagogue should only be burned down if there werenít any non-Jewish German buildings near it that might get damaged. Jewish property should be destroyed, but people who werenít Nazi officials shouldnít steal anything from them. The police were told to arrest anybody doing that. People from other countries besides Germany and Austria, even if they were Jews, should not be hurt. He wanted the police to take all records, except things like tax records because they were not of importance to him, from synagogues and Jewish offices so that they wouldnít get damaged. He also wanted healthy male Jews that werenít too old to be held so that they could work for him.
The Destruction Begins
During this 24-hour period, the Nazis and other Germans destroyed thousands of businesses and synagogues in Germany and Austria. Nazis attacked Jews on the streets and in their homes. Ninety-one German and Austrian Jews were killed, thousands of Jews were beaten, and hundreds of Jews were badly hurt. Thousands more Jews were terrified. Some people were so scared that they decided to commit suicide. In Bavaria, the birthplace of Nazism, there were 9 murders and 10 suicides.
About 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. These were places where people that the Nazis didnít like were sent to work hard and be tortured. Some of the concentration camps used were Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen. 8,000 of the Jews came from Austria. 25,000 of the Jewish prisoners were men. The prisoners were beaten or randomly chosen to be killed. Many Nazis took part in the beatings and arrests of the Jews on the streets. Even members of the Hitler Youth Groups helped in the beating of Jews on the streets.
Approximately 7,500 Jewish businesses were damaged. Some buildings just had their windows smashed and items stolen. Almost 200 synagogues were burned or destroyed. The Germans also destroyed the Jewsí sacred Torahs, which were documents that had Jewish prayers written on them.
In Berlin, the start of the destruction was delayed until 2:00 am on November 10th to allow time for the police to find all of the Jewish shops and homes. They cut the telephone wires, heat, and electricity to them to prevent unwanted accidents like fires. Road barriers were put up so that the traffic would not go near the sites.
One of the many Jewish owned stores that was destroyed was Israelís Department Store. In 1815, Israelís was the first Jewish owned shop in Berlin. Israelís was always advertised as the store in the center of the city. Over the years, the main shopping district had moved. All of the better stores followed the shopping district, but Israelís had stayed because the owners thought that their store was still the center of attention.
On November 9, a Nazi warned Israelís not to open the next day. They ignored him and opened up anyway. For some reason, there was a group of policemen outside of Israelís not letting anybody destroy anything. Israelís was believed to be the only Jewish owned shop in Berlin with a police guard. By 2:00 p.m. the police had mysteriously left their post. Shortly after, a group of men armed with clubs and iron bars pushed the doormen away and entered the store. Some Nazis in uniform followed them, and then the destruction began. The Nazis tried to capture as many Jewish workers as possible during the destruction. The mob wrecked display cases, threw furniture, tore down silk from stands, and ran, stomped, and jumped on clothes. They tossed typewriters and other equipment out of the windows of the offices on the top floors. When the mob left, the police reappeared, but they didnít try to arrest anyone or fix anything. All they did was keep people away from the broken glass so that they would not injure themselves. Kristallnacht was called "The Night of Broken Glass" because of all the windows that were destroyed, leaving broken glass on the streets and sidewalks.
Police forces and firefighters were ordered not to do anything to stop the terrible acts of violence. Police forces stood and watched Jews be treated cruelly. All that the fire departments were permitted to do was stop the fires from spreading to other, non-Jewish shops and homes because the Nazis just wanted to destroy Jewish buildings.
One Manís Story
One firefighter who witnessed the events in Lauphiem, Germany wrote a letter about the terrible events that he saw. He wrote that when he got to the firehouse and saw many people outside of it, he had a strange feeling. He was not allowed in the firehouse. One of his friends said to him, "Be quiet Ė the Synagogue is burning. I was beaten up already when I wanted to put out the fire." Eventually, they could take out the fire engines, but they couldnít use them. He saw Nazis dragging Jews in front of the synagogues, where they had to kneel down with their hands above their heads. The Jews were forced to watch their synagogues burn to the ground. Then, the people that destroyed it came to admire the damage they had done and watch them burn. He also wrote that everyone seemed quiet and calm. The firefighters were told to stand in shifts to make sure that the flames didnít spark and cause other fires. He began to wonder if the Nazis would spread their hate to other religions. He thought about the Catholic churches that he went to and wondered if they would be next.
After the Terror
After Kristallnacht, the wealthy Jews that had been arrested could only be released if they gave up their money, and then they had to leave Germany. Insurance payments owed to the owners of damaged or destroyed Jewish buildings were taken by the Nazis. This allowed the Nazis to make even more money from these nights. Jews had to turn over all precious metals, stocks, and bonds, and they couldnít own carrier pigeons so that they could not communicate with others. Jews werenít allowed to have driverís licenses in order to make it more difficult for them to escape. They couldnít have radios because they would be able to hear German broadcasts. They were kept off the streets from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. in the summer and from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. in the winter because they didnít want any Jews escaping. Many people say that the events of Kristallnacht started the great act of violence and hate against Jews called the Holocaust.
Many people learned a lot from the events of Kristallnacht. People of Germany and other countries had seen how strong the Nazis were and knew not to try to mess with them. Jews learned that just like in previous centuries, it was still possible for anti-Jewish feelings to lead to violence, as it had in their religionís past. It also showed them that not enough people care about the Jews to help them and stop the Nazis. Nazis had learned that even when other people might not like what they do, they wouldnít stop them. They had also learned that they should keep their plans for acts of violence a secret from the rest of the world so that it would be harder to stop.
Kristallnacht was much more than the destroying of Jewish property. It was a warning to all people of what terrible things the Nazis could do.
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