Previously, in Part 2 of this blog, we discovered the impact of those who did the right thing no matter the cost. Now, it is important to look at the events of Kristallnacht, which occurred because not enough people did the right thing…
Kristallnacht… the Night of Broken Glass
There were many events that took place leading up to and during the Holocaust that specifically targeted the Jewish people; many plans to remove the Jews through deportations, death camps, and other atrocities. Yet, among those that took place pre-1939, Kristallnacht—the Night of Broken Glass—was one of the first to not use ‘laws’ to implement and disguise hatred and antisemitism.
Prior to Kristallnacht there were ‘laws’ that:
- Defined who was Jewish
- Took away German citizenship from Jews
- Made it illegal for a Jew to fly a German flag
- Disallowed a Jew marrying an Aryan
- Required Jews to register their property
- Forced Jews to emigrate
- Marked Jewish passports | At the request of ‘neutral Switzerland,’ Germans mark Jewish passports with ‘J’ because the Swiss do not want Jewish emigrates
To top off these and other laws, concentration camps were built, preparing, as it were, for the many atrocities to come.
These laws and these camps, were, in many ways, inciting incidents that would lead to the Holocaust, but it was the atrocities of Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, that truly paved the way.
Kristallnacht was a shock for many. Jews, who had in many cases lived, worked, and even been friends with their Aryan neighbors for decades, suddenly found themselves being attacked by neighbors, friends, and strangers alike.
In Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland—an area of Czechoslovakia—the effects of Kristallnacht were felt…
- Approximately 200 synagogues were DESTROYED
- Around 7,500 Jewish shops and homes were LOOTED
- 91 Jews were MURDERED
- 30,000 male Jews were among the first to be SENT TO CONCENTRATION CAMPS (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen); not all survived
Some considered it to be justified reactions to the assassination of German foreign official, Ernst vom Rath, who had been shot two days prior to Kristallnacht by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew who was distraught over the deportation of his family from Germany. However, this ‘justification’ was only a smokescreen to cover the atrocities and to prepare for the ‘laws’ to be passed days later. Laws which would force Jews to transfer their businesses into Aryan hands, and to remove Jewish students from schools—stealing nearly all ability to provide for their families, to purchase or bribe their way out, or even to receive an education.
Kristallnacht would allow all this and more. But in spite of Kristallnacht largely appearing retaliatory for the murdered German official, even unplanned… it was far more political and planned in nature than people then knew…
Many Nazi officials and Gestapo worked to pave the way for the riots. Inciting people against the Jews and ordering police and firefighters to do nothing as…
- The Word of God—the Torah—was often burned or thrown into piles of manure
- Once thriving businesses became little more than rubble
- Nazi indoctrinated children engaged in attacks
- Brothers, fathers, sons, uncles, grandfathers… were torn often violently from their family; of those who returned, often their own family and neighbors could not recognize them
- Jews were murdered
- A line of separation was put into the hearts of many between Aryan and Jew
These are just a few of the results of the events of Kristallnacht. And while a small number of people helped or warned them… most did not.
Yet, if the murder, separating of families, looting, destruction, and other atrocities were not enough, about one month later, on December 12, 1938, another blow was given. The Jewish people were fined and expected to pay for all of the destruction they themselves had faced…
Nazi officials claimed that they were to blame for the riots, and a fine of one billion reichsmarks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) was imposed!
Kristallnacht Changed Things
The events of Kristallnacht brought about a great deal of damage, suffering, death, and fear in itself. It both changed everything and changed nothing.
Prior to that point many Jews thought that everything would be alright. That yes, some restrictions had been imposed, and there was a rise in hatred, but that it would all blow over. After all, Jews were generally patriotic citizens of their countries. Some were leaders. Many had businesses and made important contributions to their communities. Jews and Christians, Jews and Aryans, they were often friends!
This was obviously an illusion in many ways. Yet, while there were those who saw the restrictions and changing opinions and knew trouble was brewing… that, if possible, they had to leave… few wanted to believe it. For decades, even for centuries, they had created a place of belonging and prosperity…
But, as we discovered in Part 1, that did not last. There was the desire to blame someone. To shove everything onto the shoulders of someone else and then, essentially, come together on a ‘righteous’ cause…
All of this was in place before Kristallnacht. Several concentration camps had already been built. Propaganda from political, Nazi, and even news and entertainment sectors was rampant. There were laws and restrictions. All of this had been there, Kristallnacht ‘merely’ opened the eyes of those who were still trying to keep them shut… Kristallnacht ‘merely’ allowed hatred and fear to bubble over.
After the events of Kristallnacht, there was a new boldness in the Nazi and pro-Nazi sectors that allowed a platform for additional ‘laws’ against the Jewish people.
Jews could not be doctors. Jews could not go to school. Jews had to hand over their businesses. Jews were to be put in ghettos. Jews had to wear armbands or the Jewish star. Jews were to be killed…
Without the event we know as Kristallnacht, something else would have had to happen to transition out of treating Jews as second-class citizens—or non-citizens—to a people who were a threat, were less-than-human, and against whom it was considered ‘acceptable’ to use any means.
Even with all of this… knowing all of this… The reasons it began; the shift from democracy to a dictatorship; from general acceptance of Jewish citizens and communities to out and out indifference and even hatred—see Part 1—the change was beyond swift!
The gap between WWI and WWII was only 21 years. And in that time, there was this rapid change… which really, did not even take the full 21 years. Kristallnacht in 1938, for instance, only took place about 20 years after the end of WWI. And it was 1935—17 years after WWI—before restrictions against the Jews were put into law…
And going from those early restrictions against the Jewish people in late 1935 to Kristallnacht, which began in 1938 on November 9th, lasting through November 10th… it was barely over three years!
The swiftness of change in how people perceived the Jewish population—among others—amazes to this day. When we look at the events, it took less than two decades to lose democracy, gain a dictatorship, and from there, create a Holocaust.
This is not to say that there could not have been underlying issues before then that simply had been ignored or avoided. It is not even to say that people did not resist—because while most did not, some did resist, no matter the potential or ultimate cost. However, it does remind us how quickly things can change. Just as a nation can be born in a day when God steps in… things can change in an instant when we do or do not act in accordance with God’s ways.
God is our future and our hope. In Him there is light. No fear.
We need to trust Him. To remember that even in the darkest hour, His goodness remains. That with Him we are well able to overcome!
Come along with us as we finish our journey in Part 4 of A History of Overcoming…