What was Kristallnacht?

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Kristallnacht (German for "Crystal Night") was the night of November 9–10, 1938, during which Nazis attacked Jewish people and property. The night is also referred to as Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome. The Crystal Night or Night of the Broken Glass gets its name from the litter of broken glass left in the streets after the destruction caused by the anti-Semitic pogroms that led to the death of approximately a hundred Jews. During the night, Jewish stores, homes, and schools were terrorized and robbed; nearly 1,000 synagogues were burned. In the immediate wake, nearly 30,000 (if not more) Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Anti-Semitism had been rampant in Germany since the rise of Adolf Hitler (1933), who frequently lambasted Jews as the reason for Germany's defeat in the First World War (1914–1918) and the subsequent economic collapse. Hitler's propaganda made Jews easy scapegoats for all of Germany's administrative and economic problems, and this dehumanization was key to the German populace's acceptance of—and participation in—the anti-Jewish pogroms, including Kristallnacht.

The immediate catalyst for Kristallnacht was the shooting of Ernst vom Rath (a German diplomat) in Paris on November 7, 1938, by the student Herschel Grynszpan (a Polish Jew). When news of this reached Munich, where the Nazis were celebrating the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, Joseph Goebbels (the Nazi minister of propaganda) created a public frenzy with calls of revenge and easily organized Nazi storm troopers into "protesters" who demonstrated all over the country. Heinrich Muller (a Gestapo chief) on November 9th informed the German police that acts of violence against German Jews were soon to take place—and that the police were not to attempt to stop them; instead they were to aid the hate crimes and arrest victims.

While the Nazi Party had always been both covertly and overtly anti-Jewish, Kristallnacht symbolised a break from a policy of mostly hate speech and non-violent anti-Semitism. The night marked the transition to full-scale state-sponsored violence. The latter would come to dominate Hitler's Germany.

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Kristallnacht was a seminal moment in Nazi Germany's war against its Jewish population. It provided the pretext for a sweeping range of anti-Semitic laws that drove Jews out of the German economy. It was a pivotal step in the nation's progression from merely discriminating against Jews to expelling them from society to expelling them from the nation to the ultimate Final Solution.

Kristallnacht purportedly was a spontaneous reaction to the assassination of a minor German government official by a Jewish expatriate in Paris in November 1938, a reaction to the Nazis expelling thousands of Jews of Polish descent across the border into Poland. On the nights of November 9th and 10th, mobs of angry German citizens roamed the streets throughout the nation, breaking the windows of Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and synagogues—hence the name Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass.

The Germans eventually blamed the Jews for Kristallnacht and enacted a series of laws that basically rid Jews from the German economy as well as levied billions of marks worth of fines and penalties for the death of the German official and to pay back insurance companies for payouts.

Kristallnacht is considered by some as the beginning of the Holocaust because it marked the turning point in Nazi Germany's dealings with its Jewish population. No longer would Jews be tolerated in the nation; their dealings went from mere harassment to violence, and when the German population didn't object to the pogrom, the Nazis knew they could enact their Final Solution without much pushback.

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