Posts Tagged ‘kristallnacht’

Title: 48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Author: Mitchell G. Bard, Ph.D.
Genre: World War II, Politics

I have posted a couple of excerpts from this book over the past year or so & it is high time I recommended it to those of you who are interested in what transpired on Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass).

48 Hours of Kristallnacht is the first book to thoroughly chronicle this pivotal event by presenting a wide array of eyewitness testimony, much of it previously unpublished, & to set the event firmly in historical context. Drawing on his unprecedented access to key archives, Dr. Mitchell G. Bard presents a shocking story that centers on the words of those who, as children, were on the scene first-hand. Together, these accounts & Bard’s incisive analysis reveal what led up to the pogroms, how they transpired, & their aftermath – & why the Holocaust can be dated from these two harrowing nights.

Kristallnacht’s new Book of Lamentations. The power of Mitchell Bard’s 48 Hours of Kristallnacht derives from the start & vivid words of German Jewish children who, in a single day, saw their well-ordered world suddenly destroyed by the Nazis’ brutality & by the apathy & silence of their neighbors & classmates.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Mitchell G. Bard’s book, 48 Hours of Kristallnacht can be purchased online via Amazon in hardcover, paperback or for your Kindle.

48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust


The progressive steps to remove the Jews from German society still allowed them to remain in their homes, & most still enjoyed a certain degree of comfort. The most serious indication that Jews were no longer welcome in Germany occurred on October 27th, 1938, when about 18,000 Jews from around the Reich were arrested & transported by train to the Polish border. They were allowed to take only one suitcase with them, & all of the rest of their possessions were either looted by their neighbors or seized by the Nazis. Only 4,000 were allowed into Poland; the rest were stranded at the border.

The expulsion of the Polish Jews ultimately had an unexpected & even more devastating impact on those who remained in Germany.

Among the Jews sent to Poland was the Grynszpan family. They had been expelled from Hanover where they had lived for the previous 27 years. Their oldest son, 17-year-old Herschel, escaped the deportation because he was living in Paris, where he had been arrested & sent by cattle car at night without food or water to the Polish Border. Once they reached the frontier, the Nazi SS guards forced the Jews to run, whipping those who were not obedient or quick enough to escape the lash. Inside Poland, the Jews were housed in filthy horse stables. The starving people eventually received a shipment of bread, but not enough arrived to feed everyone.

The postcard infuriated Herschel. He decided to seek revenge for the treatment of his family.

At 8:35am on November 6th, Herschel went to a sporting & hunting goods store in Paris & bought a gun. About an hour later he calmly presented himself at the German Embassy & asked to see the ambassador, Johannes von Welczeck. The ambassador was actually heading out & overheard the request, but ignored it & continued on his way. Herschel insisted on seeing someone to whom he could deliver what he claimed was an important document. His persistence lead him to Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath.

Ironically, vom Rath was under investigation by the Gestapo because he was suspected of lacking the proper zealotry expected of a Nazi official, particularly toward the Jews. Grynszpan knew nothing about the man except that he represented the government that had deported & abused his family. When vom Rath asked to see the document he was carrying, Herschel shouted, “You are a sale boche (filthy kraut) & here, in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews, is your document!” He then fired five shots at close range; the first two penetrated the diplomat’s stomach, the rest missed. Vom Rath was wounded but still conscious. Herschel seemed surprised he wasn’t dead & remained standing calmly in the office as the scene grew chaotic. Herschel did not resist when police came & escorted him from the embassy to a nearby police station. “I did it to avenge my parents, who are living in misery in Germany,” Herschel informed the officers. He later told his interrogators, “It’s not a crime to be Jewish. I’m not a dog. I have the right to live & the Jewish people has the right to exist in this world. Everywhere I am persecuted like an animal.”

Vom Rath was rushed to the hospital after the shooting, but he succumbed to his injuries & died at 5:30pm on November 9th.

From 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust, by Mitchell G. Brad, Ph.D.

48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Night Of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust


Germany was one of Europe’s most cultured, sophisticated societies, & all German Jews considered themselves integral to that society. Though a tiny minority of the country – about 525,000 people, or less than 1 percent of the population – were among the elite of German society: prominent doctors, lawyers, professors, & industrialists. Many were assimilated & were not practicing Jews; some had even converted. In the racial ideology of Adolf Hitler, however, German Jews’ self-identification was irrelevant. For Hitler, Jews were parasites whose diseased nature made no difference; it was the impurity of Jewish blood that threatened the racial purity & superiority of the Aryan race.

The official prosecution of the Jew began in April 1933, when the Nazis initiated a boycott of Jewish businesses throughout Germany. Signs & graffiti warned Germans not to buy from the Jews. This boycott was followed by the enactment of a law barring Jews from civil service jobs, including positions as teachers in schools & universities. Two years later, German Jews were stripped of their citizenship & barred from marrying Aryans. Because some of the new laws were announced at a Nazi rally at Nuremberg, they became known as the Nuremberg Laws. These were just some of the 400 separate pieces of legislation that were adopted between the time Hitler came to power & World War II began that prevented the Jews from working, going to school, or otherwise taking part in German society. These decrees robbed them of their possessions & demonized their religion. Many Jews believed the discriminatory measures would cease after the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, & they would have to accept life as a second-class citizens, & most were prepared to do so.

The situation actually improved briefly as Hitler focused on putting Germany’s best foot forward in advance of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Before, during, & for a short time afterward, the Nazis displayed their nationalistic spirit in a way that reinforced the positive image of Germans. Shortly thereafter, however, the situation for Jews began to deteriorate further. They were prevented from staying in hotels; going to restaurants, theaters, or shops; or even sitting on park benches designated for Aryans. By the middle of 1938, most Jewish businesses had been taken over by the Germans.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, & 183,000 more Jews became subject to the Nazis’ discriminatory policies. Still, many Jews simply could not conceive of anything permanently altering their status, let alone conceive of the dimensions of Hitler’s ultimate plan. It was this disbelief, even as the persecution against them went from bad to worse, that lead so many to stay in their homes rather than flee. By the time those who remained realized what Hitler intended – & the willingness of their fellow Germans to go along – it was too late to escape.

The world also had a different image of Germany than the Jews who lived inside the country. On September 29th, 1938, France & Britain had negotiated an agreement recognizing Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced after the Munich Agreement that it would lead to “peace for our time.”

From 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust, by Mitchell G. Brad, Ph.D.

48 Hours of Kristallnacht
Night Of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust

Imagine you are nine years old, sleeping soundly in your warm bed. Before going to sleep you went through the normal bedtime ritual of brushing your teeth & washing your hands & face. Your mother came in to read a story. When you wake up, you’ll eat breakfast & then go to school like you do every other day.

You’re suddenly awakened by loud banging coming from the front door. You’re not fully awake yet, but then you hear the door crash to the ground & people running in. As you bolt upright, your mother rushes in & grabs you by the hand. She leads you downstairs to the living room where you see your father shouting at a group of men who are all dressed in brown shirts & carrying axes & knives & broom handles.

One of the men hits your father with the end of a knife across the forehead, & he begins to bleed. “Daddy!” you shout, & rush to his side.

The other men begin to smash the tables & chairs & rip the upholstery of the couch. The hoodlums break the windows facing the street & begin to pull the family’s books from the shelves & throw them out the window. You can hear the sound of dishes breaking in the kitchen as another intruder pulls everything from the cabinets & throws it on the ground.

The man who hit your father says, “You’re under arrest. Come with me!” “Why are you taking him? He hasn’t done anything wrong,” you cry as you rush over & cling to his leg.

Now the man comes toward you & grabs you by the arm & roughly throws you to the ground. Before you can move, you see your father being pulled out the door & pushed down the stairs; he trips & rolls to the bottom. The other men follow, pausing only to throw a glass lamp onto the floor where it shatters.

Your mother rushes out the door & down the steps, shouting after then men dragging away your father, “Where are you taking him?” You reach her side in time to hear the response, “Check with the Gestapo.”

Your mother begins to cry, & she bends down to hug you. Over her shoulder you can see smoke rising from the synagogue burning down the street. The store windows of the Jewish businesses nearby are all broken, & people are walking out of the stores with clothes, jewelry, & groceries. People are shouting & laughing amid the sound of glass shattering.

It is a night you will never forget. Later, people will call it Kristallnacht.

On November 9th & 10th, 1938, rampaging mobs throughout Germany & the newly acquired territories of Austria & the Sudetenland freely attacked Jews in the street, in their homes, & at their places of worship. At least 96 Jews were killed (Read & Fisher say the number at least 236, including 43 women & 13 children) & hundreds more injured, more than 1,300 synagogues were burned (& possibly as many as 2,000), almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed, & countless cemeteries & schools were vandalized. No estimates were available, but untold amounts of precious commodities, such as artworks, were lost as hooligans destroyed whatever they saw without regard for its value.

A total of 30,000 Jews were arrested & sent to concentration camps on those days. At least 4,600 Viennese Jews were sent to Dachau. About 2,500 Jews were arrested in Hamburg & transported to Oranienburg. Another 2,621 Jews from Frankfurt were sent to Buchenwald. The average period of imprisonment was four to six weeks for older men & longer for some of the younger Jews. More than 5,000 people died in Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, & Dachau in the aftermath of the pogroms. Tens of thousands more German & Austrian Jews would die in the camps during the war.

The Germans initially referred to the 48 hours of mayhem as the “Jew Action.” No one is sure when it originated, but the term “Crystal Night” or Kristallnacht (or, less commonly, Reichskristallnacht) eventually came to be the term associated with the pogroms of November 9-10, 1938, because of the widespread destruction of windows that left shattered glass throughout the streets. Many Jews & scholars; however, find the term offensive & object to its use. As Walter Pehle wrote, “It is clear that the term Crystal Night serves to foster a vicious minimalizing of its memory, a discounting of grave reality; such cynical appelations function to reinterpret manslaughter & murder, arson & robbery, plunder, & massive property damage, transforming these into a glistening event marked by a sparkle & gleam.

On the 40th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Helmut Schmidt, the former West German chancellor, spoke in the synagogue in Cologne about the significance of those 48 hours:

The German night, whose observance after the passage of forty years has brought us together today, remains a cause of bitterness & shame. In those places where the houses of God stood in flames, where a signal from those in power set off a train of destruction & robbery, of humiliation, abduction & incarceration – there was an end to peace, to justice, to humanity. The night of November 9th, 1938 marked one of the stages along the path leading down to hell.

From 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction / Dawn of the Holocaust, by Mitchell G. Brad, Ph.D.

As the 1930s wore on & Nazi Germany grew ever stronger, Britain & France continued to rearm, but they were still loath to threaten force against Hitler. This encouraged Hitler to become increasingly aggressive in the territorial demands he made from Germany‘s neighbors.

Throughout 1937, the Germans fomented trouble in Austria through their Nazi cells. Matters came to a head in January 1938. Hearing of an assassination plot against him, Chancellor Schuschnigg ordered his police to raid a house used by a Nazi cell. They found plans for a Nazi revolt, which would provide the excuse for German forces to enter Austria to prevent Germans fighting Germans.

Outrageous Demands

Horrified by this, Schuschnigg went to Germany to complain in person to Hitler. He was forced to listen to a lecture on the treatment of the Austrian Nazis. Hitler then demanded that all Austrian Nazis be released from jail & that the head of the Austrian Nazis be made interior minister & another Nazi sympathizer defense minister.

Furthermore, Austria’s economy was to be absorbed by that of Germany. The Austrian chancellor refused to give in to these demands & organized a referendum of the Austrian people over whether they wanted to maintain their independence or accept Anschluss with Germany.

Fearful that the vote would go the wrong way, Hitler ordered his troops into Austria on March 12th, the eve of the referendum. The Austrian Nazis had done their work well. The German soldiers were greeted by cheering crowds & there was no attempt to oppose them. The following day Schuschnigg resigned, was arrested, & spent until the end of the war in concentration camps. Anschluss had been achieved with Austria now little more than a province of Greater Germany.

Britain & France made diplomatic protests over the annexation of Austria, but that was all. Neither was prepared for war &, in any event, there appeared to be little protest by the Austrian people themselves.

The Sudeten Germans

The British & French soon had to face another crisis provoked by Hitler. During 1937, Hitler had also set sights on Czechoslovakia, a new state created by the Treaty of Versailles, & had drawn up plans for a surprise attack on it. The annexation of Austria meant that the Czechs were now surrounded on three sides by Germany.

Hitler made his first move almost as soon as Austria had been secured. The Sudetenland, the westernmost part of Czechoslovakia, had a sizeable German population, & Hitler instructed its leader, Konrad Henlein, to campaign for greater autonomy. He also began to threaten Czechoslovakia, which mobilized its armed forces & called on its ally, France, for support. The French turned to the British & prime minister Neville Chamberlain went to Prague to try to persuade Czechoslovakia’s president, Eduard Benes, to agree to Henlein’s demands. The Germans, meanwhile, concentrated troops on the Czech border. Hitler told his generals that he would take military action if the matter had not been resolved by October 1938.

The Brink of War

Hitler continued his saber-rattling & this resulted in an uprising by the Germans in the Sudetenland in mid-September, which the Czech army quickly crushed. Fearful that Hitler would now invade, the British prime minister, with French support, decided that he should meet Hitler in person to defuse the situation. In the meantime, both Britain & France carried out a partial mobilization.

Chamberlain felt strongly that Sudetenland was not worth the horrors of another European war. Through the Munich Agreement of September 1929, the German parts of Sudetenland were exchanged for a declaration by Hitler that he had no further territorial ambitions. The agreement was signed by Britain, France, Italy & Germany, but the Czechs had no say in the matter. On October 1st, German troops marched into Sudetenland, while Chamberlain returned in triumph to Britain, declaring that he had secured peace. The British & French expressed wholesale relief that war had been averted, but Hitler was frustrated that he had been denied the opportunity to deal with the Czechoslovakian problem.

While Hitler planned his next moves on the European stage, attention in Germany & outside it turned to a new dramatic phase in the persecution of Jews. The night of November 9/10, 1938, which became known as Kristallnacht, saw the most widespread & concerted outbreak of violence yet directed against Germany’s Jews.

From World War II: The Definitive Visual History, by Richard Holmes