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Kristallnacht
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The Night of Broken Glass
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Kristallnacht
Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business in the Potsdamer Strasse (Berlin) that was destroyed during Kristallnacht (Nov. 10, 1938).

The Damage on Kristallnacht

Starting in 1933, the Nazi government started to officially discriminate against the Jews. From 1933 through 1938 this discrimination gradually became worse. The assassination of a Nazi official in Paris on November 7, 1938 gave the German government the incident it needed to launch an even more aggressive campaign against the Jews.

On the night of 9 to 10 November, 1938, hundreds of Jews were murdered across Nazi Germany. 30,000 Jewish men were put into concentration camps and thousands of Jewish buildings and shops were destroyed. This night of extreme violence is called "the Night of Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht).

During this night and the following night, gangs of Nazi youth roamed through Jewish neighborhoods breaking windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burning synagogues and looting. In addition to the murders, a total of 101 synagogues and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. Some 26,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Official Response

Though the German Nazi government had organized the Night of Broken Glass, the official German position was that the destruction was the result of spontaneous outbursts by people upset with the assassination. On November 12, the Nazi leadership came together to discuss Kristallnacht. They decided to use the events of the previous days to make not the Nazis, but the Jews responsible for the destruction. They also decided it was time to pass new anti-Semitic laws.

This is approximately what was said at the beginning of that meeting:

"'Gentlemen! Today's meeting is of a decisive nature,' Goering announced. 'I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another.

Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the economic angle it shall have to be tackled. Because, gentlemen, I have had enough of these demonstrations! They don't harm the Jew but me, who is the final authority for coordinating the German economy. If today a Jewish shop is destroyed, if goods are thrown into the street, the insurance companies will pay for the damages; and, furthermore, consumer goods belonging to the people are destroyed. If in the future, demonstrations which are necessary occur, then, I pray, that they be directed so as not to hurt us.

Because it's insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse, then have a German insurance company make good the loss. And the goods which I need desperately, whole bales of clothing and whatnot, are being burned. And I miss them everywhere. I may as well burn the raw materials before they arrive.

I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today's meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy, and to submit them to me.'"
(interpretive transcript by Robert Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983:164-172).

At the meeting on November 12, 1938, the Nazi leadership decided not only to blame the Jews for Kristallnacht, but they also demanded that the Jews be held legally and financially responsible for all damages. The money paid by insurance companies for broken windows went not to the victims but straight to the Nazi government.

The US response

Headlines in newspapers across the world expressed shock at what had happened in Germany. Many, like The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun, thought that the events were less related to hatred of the Jews and more to an attempt by the Nazis to enrich themselves.

President Franklin Roosevelt immediately condemned the attacks on November 9 and 10. He recalled for the US ambassador to Germany for consultation and also extended the visitor’s visas of 12,000 German-Jewish refugees in the United States. At the same time he stated that the USA would not relax its strict immigration quotas for Jewish refugees. The US public was also against allowing more immigration.

The US Congress took a positive role and passed a bill to allow an extra 20,000 German Jewish refugee children into the country. There was much opposition to the bill, also from the President. President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, on the other hand, supported the bill. Because of the opposition of the President, the bill never had a chance.

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USHMM, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
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