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Kristallnacht: The Beginning of the Holocaust

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What is the Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht: The Beginning of the Holocaust

Kristallnacht was the first extreme act of violence against the Jews and signaled the beginning of the end for the Jews of Nazi Europe. “On the night of November 9-10, 1938, this harassment into terrorism and violence, with an orchestrated attack throughout Germany on Jewish business, synagogues, home and people. The attack was called Kristallnacht. After Kristallnacht persecution of Jews moved beyond segregation and discrimination to imprisonment and death.”

During the rose of Nazi Germany, Jews had experienced three progressive stages: first, the benefits of Jews emancipation faded; second, the ghetto and the yellow star; and third, annihilation. Signs reading “Jews Not Welcome” had appeared in many German cities (incidentally, these signs were taken down in the late summer in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin). By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited from participation in parliamentary elections. In July, 1938, a law was passed requiring all Jews to carry identification cards. On August 17, 1938, the government required that a new middle name be added to Jewish identify cards and legal papers ? males were to add the name “Israel” and females the name “Sara”. Kristallnacht means the “night of broken glass”- in reference to the glass from vandalized Jewish buildings littering the streets through out Germany. Kristallnacht was a planned national pogrom that happened on the night of November 9-10, 1938.

The cause of Kristallnacht was that Hershl Grynszpan, a student and Jew, assassinated a German official Ernst vom Rath in Paris on November 7, 1938. Hershl Grynszpan, a 17-year-old, killed German official because he read a letter from his father telling him what had happened to his family. On October 28, 17,000 Polish Jews were arrested and relocated across the Polish border. Grynszpan’s family was one of them.

One of the Nazis’ goals in 1938 was to terrorize Germany’s Jews and drive them from the country. The assassination gave reason to use violence against Jews. As a response to the assassination, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, activated SA and loyal party members to burn all synagogues in Germany. The order came from Heydrich Muller, “Demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in all parts of the Reich in the course of the coming night, November 9/10, 1938. Only such measures are to be taken as do not endanger German lives or property (i.e., synagogues are to be burned down only where there is no danger of fire in neighboring buildings). Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police is instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest looters. In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage.”

When Jewish people slept, Nazi troopers made them get out from their houses. Then, Nazi troopers smashed everything. On that night, over seven thousand businesses were destroyed, nearly one hundred Jews were murdered and thousands more were cruelly mistreated, beaten and tortured. Police allowed these demonstrations against the Jews in November 9/10, 1938. The most common targets of the mobs were Jewish synagogues and religious objects inside. Fire companies, however, stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the building burn. The mobs burned over 300 synagogues to the ground. This is from a retired fireman, who remembered “Kristallnacht” in Laupheim, Germany, “The alarm went off between 5-5:30 A.M., and as usual, I jumped on my bicycle towards the firehouse. I had a strange feeling when I got there and saw many people standing in front of it. I was not allowed to go into the fire house to take the engines out, or even to open the doors. One of my friends, who lived next to the Synagogue, whispered to me, “Be quiet ? the Synagogue is burning, I was beaten up already when I wanted to put out the fire.” Eventually we were allowed to take the fire engines out, but only very slowly. We were ordered not to use any water till the whole synagogue was burned down. Many of us did not like to do that, but we had to be careful not to voice our opinions, because “the enemy is listening.”

After that night, the police were allowed to get as many Jews as they could, especially healthy male Jews. “As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts ? especially the rich ? as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps. Special care is to be taken that the Jews arrested in accordance with these instructions are not ill-treated….”

The Nazis arrested over 30,000 Jews. Walter S., survivor of that night, said, “We looked behind the curtains to see what was going on in the street. We saw the Nazis smashing windows, and we could see how they broke into the doors and smashing everything.”

Until 1935, most of Germany’s Jews wanted to stay although the Nazis forced Jews to emigrate from Germany; even the Gestapo helps Jew to immigrate illegally. But from 1935 and especially after Kristallnacht, almost all Jews wanted to escape to anywhere at any price. In May 1939, the British cut the number of Jews allowed into Palestine. For many Jewish refugees, that strict quota became a death sentence. The German Government fined the Jewish community one billion marks for indemnity (for the death of official) and 250 million marks for the riots and cleans up costs following the Kristallnacht. After November 9-10, the Jews were finally and totally evicted from German economic life.

Kristallnacht showed the Nazis were prepared to use extrme violence against the Jews. After Kristallnacht the German Government established a curfew to keep Jews off the streets between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. in the summer and 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. in the winter. On November 15, 1938, Jews were banned from schools. And in December, Jews were denied access to most public places. January 21, 1939, Hitler told the Czech Foreign Minister, “We are going to destroy the Jews… The day of reckoning has come.”Ghettoization came with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Those who remained in the ghetto after the deportation often feel guilty that they are living while so many others perished. Zelig Kalmanovich(1881-1944) spoke, “All are guilty, or perhaps more truly, all are innocent and holy.”

Fifty years after Kristallnacht, a survivor, Sigmund Tobias said, “Yet the Nazis had brazenly destroyed the most awesome objects of our faith. I will never forget how horror struck this six-year-old at the realization that there was no safety for us anywhere.”Although I already knew what the Holocaust was, I didn’t know about the exact background of the Holocaust. After I studied about Kristallnacht, I perfectly understand how and why the Holocaust started.