The Night of Broken Glass that began the Nazi reign of terror.
Reprinted with permission from The Holocaust Encyclopedia (Yale University Press).
The unprecedented pogrom of November 9-10, 1938 in Germany has passed into history as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). Violent attacks on Jews and Judaism throughout the Reich and in the recently annexed Sudetenland began on November 8 and continued until November 11 in Hannover and the free city of Danzig, which had not then been incorporated into the Reich. There followed associated operations: arrests, detention in concentration camps, and a wave of so-called aryanization orders, which completely eliminated Jews from German economic life.
The November pogrom, carried out with the help of the most up-to-date communications technology, was the most modern pogrom in the history of anti-Jewish persecution and an overture to the step-by-step extirpation of the Jewish people in Europe.
Jews Leaving Germany
After Hitler's seizure of power, even as Germans were being divided into "Aryans" and "non-Aryans," the number of Jews steadily decreased through emigration to neighboring countries or overseas. This movement was promoted by the Central Office tor Jewish Emigration established by Reinhard Heydrich in 1938.
In 1925 there were 564,378 Jews in Germany; in May 1939 the number had fallen to 213,390. The flood of emigration after the November pogrom was one of the largest ever, and by the time emigration was halted in October 1941, only 164,000 Jews were left within the Third Reich, including Austria.
The illusion that the legal repression enacted in the civil service law of April 1, 1933, which excluded non-Aryans from public service, would be temporary was laid to rest in September 1935 by the Nuremberg Laws--the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor. The Reich Citizenship Law heralded the political compartmentalization of Jewish and Aryan Germans.
The complementary ordinances to the Reich Citizenship Law, dated November 14-28, 1935, sought to define who was a Jew; it also created a basis for measures limiting the scope of Jewish occupations and the opportunities for young Jews to get an education. Following the March 1938 annexation (Anschluss) of Austria, which brought 200,000 Austrian Jews under German domination, exclusion of Jews from the economy began first through the removal of Jewish manufacturers and business chiefs and their replacement by "commissars" in charge of "aryanization," the expropriation of Jewish businesses.
Within a short time, from January to October 1938, the Nazis aryanized 340 middle-sized and small industrial enterprises, 370 wholesale firms, and 22 private banks owned by Jews. The November pogrom was the peak of a series of events intended to expel the Jews from economic life and to force a hurried emigration.
A sequence of normative legislation in 1938 heralded economic despoliation. Under the Law Concerning the Legal Position of the Jewish Religious Community (March 28, 1938), the state subsidy for the Jewish community was withdrawn. Under the decree of April 22, 1938 against "continuing concealment of Jewish business activity," Jews were obliged to declare their assets--an indication that their possessions might be seized.
The Fourth Decree (July 25, 1938) under the Reich Citizenship Law deprived Jewish doctors, as of September 30, of their practices among Jewish patients. An edict by the police president of Breslau dated July 21 ordered that shops and businesses belonging to Jews should bear a notice: "Jewish Firm." Air Ministry political-economic guidelines of October 14, 1938 were accompanied by a recommendation, summed up by Hermann Goring (then head of the ministry): "The Jewish question must now be grasped in every way possible, for they [Jews] must be removed from the economy."
Goring also said that he was in favor of the creation of Jewish ghettos in German towns. His words gave notice of a general anti-Jewish offensive in the coming weeks. The most favorable opportunity for unleashing the attack was afforded by the fatal wounding of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on November 7th 1938 in Paris by the 16-year-old Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan.