By Barry Greene ~
To understand the events leading up to Kristallnacht, Germany’s “Night of Broken Glass,” you have to understand the events that preceded it. In the 1920s, most German Jews, who were citizens of Germany, were fully integrated into German society. Many had served and were serving in the German army and navy and were deeply involved in every facet of German society, especially business, science, and culture. Most Jews lived productive and prosperous lives in Germany.
Conditions for the Jews changed shortly after the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor on January 30, 1933. After taking power, Hitler moved quickly to introduce anti-Jewish policies. The 500,000 Jews living in Germany, accounting for less than 1 percent of the entire German population, were singled out for blame for Germany’s defeat in World War I. They also were held responsible for the economic disasters that occurred in the 1920s, for example, hyperinflation and the Great Depression.
Eventually, Hitler’s policies and laws denied Jews the right to make a living, to enjoy the privileges of full German citizenship, and to gain an education. On April 7, 1933, Germany enacted the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, prohibiting Jews from working in the civil service. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship and forbade Jews to marry non-Jewish Germans.
As a result of these laws, Jews were excluded from all political participation and from social life, including the theater, dances, movies, and outdoor festivities. Many Jews understood what was coming and sought asylum abroad. Hundreds of thousands emigrated. To the Jews, the world was divided into two parts: the places where Jews could not live due to anti-Semitism, and places like Japan, China, and the Philippines, where they were welcomed.
More than 250,000 Jews fled Germany and Austria, which had been annexed by Germany in March 1938. As the number of Jews wanting to leave increased, the restrictions against them also increased, and many countries intensified their laws for admitting immigrants. By 1938, Germany had entered a radical phase in anti-Semitic activity, including forcing 12,000 Polish-born Jews living in Germany to leave their homes in a single night. They were allowed only one suitcase per person for carrying their belongings. The Nazi authorities seized the rest of their property.
Terror and Violence
All came to a head on November 9, 1938. Throughout Germany, thousands of Jews were subject to terror and violence by the Nazis and their sympathizers. Over 1,000 Jewish synagogues and over 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. Approximately 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps. In Berlin, where 140,000 Jews resided, children from Jewish orphanages were thrown out onto the streets. Jewish men were beaten and killed. Jewish apartments, along with Jewish-owned shops, were set on fire. It is said that 177 apartment blocks or houses were destroyed by arson and other means.
Moreover, Jews themselves were blamed for the destruction of the property and were fined one billion marks. Insurance money, totaling six million marks collected by Jewish merchants, was forcibly confiscated and turned over to state coffers. The name Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” comes from all of the glass windowpanes that littered the streets of Germany after the destruction.
With the November pogrom, persecution of an ethnic or religious group was condoned by local and state authorities, and radical violence reached the point of murder. The violence further paved the road to Auschwitz, where 1.1 million people were exterminated, 90 percent of whom were Jews.
Note: The Pew Research Center reports that approximately 6.5 million Jews (both religious and non-religious) currently reside in the United States, which is only marginally more than the Jewish population who died at the hands of the Nazis. For more information on the Holocaust, please visit the US Holocaust Museum website at ushmm.org or plan a trip to the museum in Washington, DC.
About the author: Barry Greene is a resident of Sun City Carolina Lakes. He is a member and past vice-president of the SCCL Shalom Club. This article was originally published in Living @ SCCL magazine, and is republished here with permission from Barry. Thank you, Barry, for sharing this article with our readers.