Today 9 November 2016 is the 78th Anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Germany. On November 9 to November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht”, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews.
The most infamous Anti-Semitic Pogrom in recent history occurred on November 9, 1938. Instigated primarily by Nazi party officials and the SA (Nazi Storm Troopers), the pogrom occurred throughout Germany (including annexed Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia). The name Kristallnacht has its origin in the untold numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed during the pogrom. The term became a euphemism for this brutal pogrom and does not adequately convey the suffering it caused.
Early that evening Adolf Hitler attended a dinner party in Munich, during the course of the evening he received word of the death of Ernst Vom Rath, a German Diplomat stationed in Paris. Vom Rath was shot two days earlier by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, who was angry that his parents, together with tens of thousands of Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany (Grynszpan’s parents had lived in Germany since 1911), had been expelled from Germany without notice.
Spurred by a decision of the Polish government on the 6th of October 1938 to withdraw all passports from Polish citizens who had remained abroad for over 5 years, German authorities were forced to either accept 15,000 stateless ex-Polish Jewish citizens on their soil or to send them back to their homeland before the withdrawal came into effect.
The Germans chose to deport them and on October 28, 1938, the Gestapo rounded up the Polish Jews within Germany, put them on transports, and then dropped them off on the Polish side of the Poland-Germany border (near Posen). With little food, water, clothing, or shelter in the middle of winter, thousands of these people died. Among these Polish Jews were the parents of seventeen year old Herschel Grynszpan
Upon receiving the news, Hitler conferred in private with Joseph Goebbels, and then left the dinner party without giving his planned speech. Goebbels immediately took the floor in his stead and after announcing the death of Vom Rath, (which he of course blamed on a Pan-Jewish conspiracy), he went on to say that anti-Jewish demonstrations (pogroms) although not organized by the Nazi Party “would not be hampered.”
While Goebbels made the case for the death of Vom Rath as the catalyst for the pogrom, plans were already in place, and orders given to unleash terror on the streets:
Goebbels speech set off a firestorm of violence throughout Germany and parts of Austria. Hundreds of synagogues were vandalized, looted, and destroyed. Many were set ablaze and firemen were instructed to let the synagogues burn, and only prevent flames from spreading to nearby Aryan structures. The shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments were smashed and the wares within looted. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Mobs of SA men roamed the streets, attacking Jews and killing about 100 persons. In despair at the destruction of their homes, many Jews, including entire families, were driven to suicide.