Kristallnacht: Night of the broken glass

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In Hitler’s manifesto of 1920 he had promised to expel Polish-born Jews living in Germany. Beginning in August 1938 the Nazis rounded up 60,000 Jews and expelled them over the Polish border.

The son of one of the expelled families was studying in Paris. On 7 November 1938 he went to the German Embassy and shot a diplomat, Ernst Von Rath. Back in Germany, the Nazi leadership used this as an excuse to begin a national press campaign against the Jews. On 8 November Nazi thugs attacked Jews, smashed up Jewish-owned buildings and daubed the Star of David on them.

On 9 November the diplomat died. That afternoon Joseph Goebbels gave a speech attacking the Jews and calling for an organised pogrom, or attack against the Jews. The SA were used to organise further attacks against Jews and their shops, homes and synagogues. The night became known as 'Kristallnacht' or 'The night of the broken glass' due to the number of windows broken during the attacks.

The police were instructed not to intervene to stop the attacks. The fire brigade were called out to protect non-Jewish businesses and homes, but not to put out the fires in Jewish-owned buildings.

During the night of 9 November, 91 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured. Many hundreds of Jewish males over the age of 14 were taken away to prisons or concentration camps. Over the days, weeks and months that followed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to concentration camps.

More and more laws were enacted that effectively banished Jews from most areas of public life. Hard-line antisemitism was now being followed through into ruthless legislation, expelling Jews from Germany’s social and political life.

Germany was now an extremely dangerous place for Jews to live in and many sought to leave the country by any means possible. Reacting to public opinion, some countries allowed limited immigration of Jews, but in the main a tight quota system was enforced.