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Note: This topic pertains to the German Holocaust. It might not be suitable for everyone to read.


(We used this animation originally for September 11, 2001 but felt it also fits here.)

 

Kristallnacht or Crystal Night or Night of the Broken Glass is on November 9 and 10th.
 It is observed in Jewish communities worldwide, including the United States.

The origin of this observance goes back to the 1930's.  Jews living in Germany suffered greatly under Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who at the time was the chancellor of Germany.  Laws were passed which prevented Jews from observing the customs of their faith.  By 1935 the Jews had also lost their citizenship rights, and could no longer vote in parliamentary elections. In 1938 additional laws made it increasingly difficult for Jews to earn a living.  And, by 1939 all Jews living in Germany had to carry ID cards.

The living reached it's worst in the later part of 1938 when thousands of Polish Jews  (who had been living in Germany for several years) were suddenly rounded up, loaded into boxcars and sent to relocation camps on the Polish border.  The Polish government refused to allow them back into Poland.

Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-yr. old Polish Jew who was living with his uncle in Paris, learnt that his parents were among those who had been forced out of their homes and into these camps, he decided to seek revenge.  He went to the German Embassy and assassinated a German diplomat!  This incident was used by the German Nazi leaders to launch their "pogrom" or their violent, organized attack against German Jews.

So, on the night of November 9, 1938, Nazi storm troopers and members of the Nazi secret police, as well as Hitler Youth Groups went on a rampage though the Jewish neighborhoods in both Germany and Austria.  They broke into Jewish homes and businesses, smashing the windows and beating and/or killing those inside.  They pillaged and destroyed everything in their path. They also entered synagogues setting them on fire and destroyed sacred Torah scrolls.  On that night, approximately 100 Jews were killed, 7,500 businesses and about 200 synagogues were also destroyed.  (The Jewish people claimed that over 1,000 were seriously damaged.) About 25,000 Jewish men were ripped apart from their families, taken to concentration camps where many later died.

The night of November 9 & 10 became known as "Kristallnach" which is German for "Crystal Night" because of all the broken glass strewn about due to the attacks.  Ironically, it was a Nazi who came up with the name of Kristallnach.  Many scholars feel it was designed to mock the seriousness of the events, just like concentration camp victims were said to have received "Sonderbehandlung" or "special treatment" when they were gassed to death. Regardless, the name has stuck.  And this event and date has been widely acknowledged as the beginning of the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of six million Jews!

Today, Kristallnacht is observed in cities throughout Germany, as well as Jewish communities worldwide.  Many of the commemoration ceremonies are held at synagogues or at Jewish cemeteries.  They include reciting the Kaddish, an ancient Jewish prayer for the dead.  

In Germany, the Kristallnacht observances coincide with those surrounding another more recent event, the 1989 breaching of the Berlin Wall (96-mile long concrete wall built in 1961 to prevent East Germans from escaping Communist rule after World War II [1939-1945])

The Holocaust symbolizes racism and hate crimes. Therefore, many antiracist groups often choose to hold demonstrations on Kristallnacht.  Colleges and universities often invite Holocaust survivors to speak.  And, speeches at other public observances often remind the public of the connection between what happened in 1938 and the treatment that many minority groups go through today.  These demonstrations are partially noticeable in Berlin, where the neo-Nazi movement and recent attacks on immigrants and Jewish synagogues have been a sad reminder of the 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom.

There are also solemn marches in many large cities as a way to commemorate Kristallnacht.  In Berlin, more than 200,000 people march through the city on November 9, in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust; and as a form of protest against current attacks on Jews and other minority groups.

Candlelight vigils are a popular way to commemorate a lot of events (historical and current) in which lives have been lost.  Kristallnacht is often observed with a candlelight vigil, in which the light candles or torches symbolize the souls of those who lost their lives, not only on November 9, but also afterward in the Holocaust.

Special ceremonies are also held in many synagogues worldwide, especially historical ones in Wroclaw, Cracow and Auschwitz, Poland.  The Polish city of Wroclaw, formerly the German city of Breslau, was once the site of Germany's second largest Jewish congregation.  Two of it's most historic synagogues have recently been restored after all this time.

Return to our November Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

 

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