Today in History: "Kristallnacht Came and Everything Was Changed"

Today in History: "Kristallnacht Came and Everything Was Changed"

by M.C. Millman 

On the fateful night of November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht began, marking a shift in Nazi Germany's persecution from antisemitic legislation and rhetoric to acts of physical violence, incarceration, and murdering of Jews.

Often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust, the violent antisemitic demonstrations of Kristallnacht occurred that night across Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. According to the Nazis, the riots were a justified reaction to the assassination of a Nazi German Diplomat in Paris. A 17-year-old Jewish male shot the diplomat after his family was deported from Germany. 

The German government retaliated by banning Jewish children from schools, stopping the publication of Jewish magazines and newspapers, and confiscating weapons from Jews. 

The New York Times reported, "Berlin Police Head Announces 'Disarming' of Jews". The article explained that Berlin's Police President, Count Wolf Heinrich von Helldorf, disarmed the entire Jewish population, confiscating weapons. Any Jews still found possessing weapons without valid licenses were threatened with the severest punishment.

As said by historian Max Rein in 1988, "Kristallnacht came...and everything was changed."

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website, over the next 48 hours, there were violent mobs, synagogues were destroyed, and Jewish religious artifacts were burnt and desecrated. The German authorities did not intervene. Ninety-one Jews were murdered, and 267 synagogues, along with many Jewish cemeteries and over 7,500 Jewish businesses, were damaged or destroyed. 

The name Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) originated from the glass shards that were shattered from the windows of Jewish businesses. Rioters looted Jewish stores and ransacked Jewish homes throughout Germany.

During the pogroms, the Nazis rounded up over 30,000 Jewish males and brought them to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was the first time Nazi officials made immense arrests of Jews simply because they were Jews, without any other cause. 

Nazi officials immediately blamed the Jews for the riots and fined the German Jewish community an "atonement tax" of 1 billion reichsmarks, the equivalent of $400 million at 1938 rates. That amount is equivalent to 7 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. The Nazis enacted many anti-Jewish laws and edicts shortly after. 

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote about the aftermath of Kristallnacht, recording that more than 115,000 Jews emigrated from the Reich within the following ten months. However, German refugees faced much greater difficulty leaving because Nazi policies stripped the Jews of their wealth, and most countries would not accept large numbers of poor immigrants. 

Kristallnacht caused international outrage, marking a turning point between Germany and the rest of the world. Some governments protested by cutting off diplomatic relations with Germany, while the U.S. recalled its ambassador but did not break off diplomatic relations. At this point, the British government also approved the Kinderstranport for refugee children. 

None of the outrages affected the murderous intent of the Nazis, whom we can never forgive and whose atrocities we will never forget. 


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