What happened during Kristallnacht?


Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass, was a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria on the night of November 9-10, 1938. This violent pogrom marked a turning point in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Over the course of those two days, Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues, and schools were vandalized, looted, and destroyed. Countless Jewish individuals were also physically assaulted and arrested. In this article, we will delve into the details of the events leading up to Kristallnacht, the events that unfolded during those fateful nights, and the consequences that followed.

The Context: Rising Anti-Semitism

In order to understand the full significance of Kristallnacht, it is important to examine the prevailing social and political climate in Germany leading up to the event. Anti-Semitism had been deeply ingrained in German society for centuries, but it reached new heights during the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party scapegoated Jews, blaming them for Germany’s economic and social problems. They promoted a hateful ideology that sought to exclude Jews from German society and ultimately eradicate them.

Throughout the 1930s, the Nazi regime implemented numerous anti-Jewish policies, gradually stripping Jews of their rights and subjecting them to increasing discrimination and persecution. These policies included the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which deprived Jews of German citizenship and prohibited marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Jews were also systematically excluded from various professions, educational institutions, and public spaces.

Preparation for the Pogrom

Leading up to Kristallnacht, the Nazi propaganda machine intensified its efforts to demonize and dehumanize Jews. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, orchestrated a campaign of hatred, spreading false narratives that blamed Jews for the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris. This event became the pretext for the violent outburst that would follow.

On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a young Polish-Jewish refugee living in France, shot and killed Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat. The Nazi leadership seized on this opportunity to incite public anger against Jews and mobilize their supporters for a large-scale assault.

The November 1938 Pogrom (“Kristallnacht”)| Key Historical Concepts in Holocaust Education

The Night Unfolds

On the evening of November 9, following vom Rath’s funeral in Germany, Nazi paramilitary forces, known as the SA or Brownshirts, and other Nazi party members took to the streets. They systematically targeted Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and synagogues, using sledgehammers and other tools to smash windows and destroy property. Firefighters were instructed to let synagogues burn unless the flames threatened neighboring buildings.

The violence quickly spread throughout Germany and Austria, with mobs attacking Jews in the streets, beating them and subjecting them to public humiliation. Many Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The authorities turned a blind eye to the chaos, and the police even facilitated the violence by arresting Jewish individuals rather than their attackers.

The Destruction of Synagogues

One of the most devastating aspects of Kristallnacht was the deliberate targeting and destruction of synagogues. Over 1,000 synagogues were set ablaze or otherwise destroyed during the pogrom. These attacks not only symbolized the assault on Jewish religious institutions but also served as the physical manifestation of the Nazis’ determination to eradicate Judaism from German society.

The Plundering of Jewish-Owned Businesses

Alongside the destruction of synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses became prime targets during Kristallnacht. Mobs looted stores, smashing windows and stealing merchandise. The looting was not random; it was a deliberate attempt to economically cripple Jewish individuals and undermine their livelihoods. The stolen goods were often sold at auction or distributed to non-Jewish Germans at discounted prices.

The Aftermath and International Response

The aftermath of Kristallnacht was devastating for the Jewish community in Germany and Austria. Jewish individuals were left traumatized, their lives shattered, and their economic prospects destroyed. In the immediate aftermath, the Nazi regime imposed a collective fine of one billion Reichsmarks on the Jewish community as a supposed compensation for the damage caused during the pogrom. This further impoverished an already marginalized group.

Internationally, the response to Kristallnacht was mixed. While some countries condemned the violence and expressed sympathy for the victims, others remained silent or downplayed the severity of the events. The United States, for example, recalled its ambassador to Germany in protest, but it did not significantly change its restrictive immigration policies, which could have provided a safe haven for Jewish refugees.


1. What led to the escalation of anti-Semitic violence during Kristallnacht?

The escalation of anti-Semitic violence during Kristallnacht was primarily driven by the Nazi regime’s relentless propaganda campaign, which demonized Jews and scapegoated them for Germany’s problems. The assassination of a German diplomat by a Jewish refugee provided the pretext for widespread attacks on the Jewish community.

2. How did Kristallnacht impact the Jewish community in Germany and Austria?

Kristallnacht had a devastating impact on the Jewish community in Germany and Austria. Jewish individuals faced physical violence, humiliation, and arrest. Their homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed, leaving them traumatized and economically devastated.

3. What was the international response to Kristallnacht?

The international response to Kristallnacht varied. While some countries condemned the violence and expressed sympathy for the victims, others remained silent or downplayed the severity of the events. The response was not sufficient to provide substantial assistance or refuge for Jewish refugees.

4. How did Kristallnacht contribute to the escalation of the Holocaust?

Kristallnacht marked a significant turning point in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. The violence and destruction unleashed during this pogrom foreshadowed the systematic extermination of Jews that would follow. The event demonstrated the extent to which the Nazi regime was willing to go to persecute and eliminate Jews from German society.

5. Did any non-Jewish Germans help or protect their Jewish neighbors during Kristallnacht?

While the majority of non-Jewish Germans did not actively intervene to protect their Jewish neighbors during Kristallnacht, there were some instances of individual Germans risking their own safety to offer assistance or shelter to Jewish individuals. However, such acts of resistance were relatively rare in the face of widespread violence and intimidation.

6. How did Kristallnacht impact the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish policies?

Kristallnacht marked a significant intensification of the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish policies. The violence and destruction served as a prelude to more systematic measures, such as the establishment of ghettos and the implementation of the “Final Solution” – the plan to annihilate European Jewry.


Kristallnacht was a horrific display of anti-Semitic violence and destruction that foreshadowed the atrocities of the Holocaust. The coordinated attacks on Jewish individuals, their homes, businesses, and synagogues left an indelible mark on history. The night of November 9-10, 1938, serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of unchecked hatred and the dangers of allowing discrimination and prejudice to go unchecked.

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