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Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, took place on November 9-10. It was an organized, government-sponsored attack on Jewish buildings, 267 synagogues, 7,000 Jewish own shops, and people throughout the country. 91 Jews died and 30,000 were arrested.


Of this event, Lucy Dawidowicz wrote, "Hitler himself never uttered a word publicly on vom Rath's assassination or on the events of the Kristallnacht (night of glass). Yet those events could not have occurred without his approval...Goebbels called the signals, which were picked up by party and SA leaders all over Germany" (pg. 100). She describes an assembled mob that set fire to synagogues in addition to destroying the businesses and homes of local Jews. That night Hitler had dinner with his subordinates, including Goebbels.

What did ordinary Germans do? Daniel Jonah Goldhagen writes that "SA men were greeted by many willing locals who availed themselves of the opportunity to join the assault on the Jews" (pg. 100). He argues that they participated without encouragement, joining in on the brutality and that any criticism of the action involved fears of revenge or the loss of general property. He also points out that the day after Kristallnacht, nearly 100,000 Germans (Nazis and ordinary citizens) attended an anti-Jewish rally in which Julius Streicher --the publisher of the hate-filled Der Sturmer paper-- spoke. They could have stayed away, but they came.

While the government attempted to argue that they were not involved in the riots, and it ended up fining the Jewish community millions of marks to pay for the damage, historical evidence shows that it was a carefully planned attack.

Alfons Heck, a former member of the Hitler Youth, explained in a later documentary that after Kristallnacht no one in Germany could pretend that they did not know what was happening, that they were unaware of the brutal treatment of Jews. It was a very public display of how the German government viewed the Jewish population and their property.

Here are some specific questions you may want to think about as you peruse the Kristallnacht exhibit:

    • Why has Kristallnacht been seen as a turning point in the Holocaust?

    • Alfons Heck, a former Hitler Youth member, maintained that after Kristallnacht no one could pretend that they did not know what was happening to the Jews. What did he mean?

    • What was the message of Kristallnacht to the Jewish community of Germany?

    • What questions does this raise for you about the Holocaust?

    • Do the artifacts in this exhibit support the intentionalist, functionalist, or Goldhagen interpretations of the Holocaust?


Now, move on to learn about Joseph's army experience and then investigate the artifacts about Kristallnacht, which range from videos to photographs to Nazi orders.



Video Length: 1:15

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do you think November 9, 1938 was given the name "The Night of Broken Glass?"

  • Why was Kristallnacht considered a turning point in the Nazi persecution of Jews? What changed in the form of persecution?



November 10, 1938 1:20 a.m.

Urgent! For immediate attention of Chief or his deputy!

Re: Measures against Jews tonight...





Guiding Questions:

  • How does this primary source demonstrate that Kristallnacht was a state-sponsored organized attack?

  • Who/what did the police seek to protect on this night?

  • Which Jews were singled out for arrest? Why do you think that was?

  • Does this artifact support the intentionalist, functionalist, or Goldhagen interpretations of the Holocaust?



November 10, 1938

At the beginning of November 1938, there were still 9,000 Jewish shops remaining in the German Reich; more than 7,000 of them were destroyed on November 9 and 10.

Guiding Questions:

  • Describe the image with detail. What do you see?

  • How does this represent the main meaning of Kristallnacht?

  • Does this artifact support the intentionalist, functionalist, or Goldhagen interpretations of the Holocaust?

American Consul's Description of the Persecution


Letter to Hugh R. Wilson, American Embassy, Berlin

To the anguish of mind to which the Jews of this consular district have been subjected for some time, and which suddenly became accentuated on the morning and afternoon of the tenth of November, were added the horror of midnight arrests, of hurried departures in a half-dressed state from their homes in the company of police officers, of the wailing of wives and children suddenly left behind, of imprisonment in crowded cells, and the panic of fellow prisoners.

Guiding Questions:

  • What does this official government letter tell us about what the American government knew about the persecution of Jews?

  • Copy one sentence of the letter that you find emotionally powerful into your notes. Why do you find it powerful?

  • Does this artifact support the intentionalist, functionalist, or Goldhagen interpretations of the Holocaust?

Description of the Riot at Dinslaken


Y.S. Herz

At 9:30 A.M. the bell at the main gate rang persistently. I opened the door: about 50 men stormed into the house, many of them with their coat- or jacket-collars turned up. At first they rushed into the dining room, which fortunately was empty, and there they began their work of destruction...

Guiding Questions:

  • What was the job of this document's author? Why did that job increase his responsibility and stress?

  • According to Herz, what was the role of the German police on this night?

  • Does this artifact support the intentionalist, functionalist, or Goldhagen interpretations of the Holocaust?






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