The Jewish Federation of Northeastern Pennsylvania joins Jews around the world in commemorating Kristallnacht.
We are privileged to present the edited recollections of that night by Mr. David Weichselbaum of Queens, N.Y. a family friend of Dassy Ganz, assistant to the executive director of the Jewish Federation.
Kristallnacht, (German: “Crystal Night”), also called Night of Broken Glass or November Pogroms, the night of November 9–10, 1938, when German Nazis attacked Jewish persons and property. The violence continued during the day of November 10, and in some places acts of violence continued for several more days.
The pretext for the pogroms was the shooting in Paris on November 7 of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Polish-Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan. News of Rath’s death on November 9 reached Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany, where he was celebrating the anniversary of the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. There, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, after conferring with Hitler, harangued a gathering of old storm troopers, urging violent reprisals staged to appear as “spontaneous demonstrations.” Telephone orders from Munich triggered pogroms throughout Germany, which then included Austria.
Just before midnight on November 9, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them that “in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” Rather, the police were to arrest the victims. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent “Aryan” properties.
In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or otherwise damaged. Rioters ransacked and looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses, killed at least 91 Jews, and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbors. Some 30,000 Jewish males aged 16 to 60 were arrested.
After the pogrom ended, it was given an oddly poetic name: Kristallnacht—meaning “crystal night” or “night of broken glass.” This name symbolized the final shattering of Jewish existence in Germany. After Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime made Jewish survival in Germany impossible.