On the fateful night of 9 November 1938, suddenly Nazis in Germany started to plunder, vandalize and torch the Jewish synagogues, Jewish homes, schools, cemeteries, hospitals and businesses and ultimately took the life of at least one hundred innocent Jews, while the police and fire brigade stood by as onlookers. The incident came to be known in history as Kristallnacht or Crystal night or Night of Broken Glass, for the shattered glass from the store windows that littered the streets. However, the incident was not spontaneous, it was rather pre planned and only a prologue of a greater German plan of Jewish eradication.
The morning after the pogroms, around 30,000 innocent German Jewish people were arrested, simply because they were of Jewish origin and sent to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Businesses owned by Jews were not allowed to reopen, unless the management were replaced by the non-Jews. Jewish children were expelled from public schools and were barred from public playgrounds and swimming pools. Curfews were promulgated on Jews, limiting the hours of the day they could leave their homes.
Since Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the German Jews had been subjected to continuous repressive policies. In May 1933, the books written by the Jews and other non-German authors were burnt in a communal ceremony at the Opera House in Berlin and the Nuremberg Laws, passed in September 1935, decreed that only Aryans would be entitled for full German citizenship. It was also made illegal for the Aryans and Jews to marry or have extramarital intercourse. However, despite many such repressive policies, the harassment of the Jews was primarily nonviolent, prior to Kristallnacht, which changed the political situation dramatically.
It all started in the fall of 1936, when Herschel Grynszpan, a seventeen year old ethnic Polish Jew, living in France for several years, came to know that the Nazis had exiled his parents to Poland from Hanover in Germany, where he was born and his family had lived for many years. The news enraged the teenager and as retaliation, he shot Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, on 7 November 1938.
Rath died two days later and Hitler, along with Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, attended his funeral. However, that was only the beginning of a big conspiracy, as Goebbels had other things in his mind. He immediately grabbed the opportunity and banked on the incident of the assassination of an Aryan by a Jew to provoke Hitler’s supporters into an anti-Semitic frenzy and the stage was ready to prove the Night of the Broken Glass was the natural outcome of the anger of the followers of Hitler. However, as it was mentioned, it was not a spontaneous aftermath and in fact, the Nazi officials ordered the Storm Troopers (SA) and other party formations to attack the Jews and to destroy their homes, businesses and their places of worship.
Ridiculously, although the Jewish community suffered heavily due to the sudden attack, the Nazis held them responsible for the damage and imposed a heavy collective fine of one billion Reichsmarks on them. Moreover, they were ordered to clean up and were barred from collecting insurance for the damages. In addition to that, the state unilaterally confiscated all the payments owed by insurers to Jewish property holders.
The Night of the Broken Glass acted as a wake-up call to the German Jews, signaling that Nazi anti-Semitism would intensify steadily with time.