Annual Holocaust Remembrance Essay Contest
2nd Place Winner
12th Grade, Comparative Religion Class
Teacher: Holly Loranger
Chapel Hill High School
The Racism and Lasting Effects of Kristallnacht
The hatred and racism of the Nazis is some of the most well-documented hatred and racism in history. They undermined the race, culture and religion of many millions of people, created laws to keep these people from being a part of society, and eventually exterminated six million of these people. These people are the Jews. Anti-Semitism had always been present in German society, but it was exponentially intensified after world war one and the defeat and humiliation of Germany. With Adolf Hitler’s publication of Mein Kampf, and his subsequent rise to power at the head of the Nazi party, Anti-Semitism became the law, the expectation, and the right of the German citizens. The Nazis modified the German constitution to aid their racist ideals, and soon, a systematic destruction of the Jewish way of life began. First, Jews were merely treated as second-class citizens. This may have seemed horrible at the time, but was nothing compared to the atrocities the Jewish people would face later at the hands of Hitler’s regime. Eventually, the grand goal of the government became the answer to the “Jewish Question.” Hitler soon found his answer, and millions of Jews were taken from their homes and made to march many, many miles in the dark and cold to labor camps, and eventually to concentration camps, or killing camps, where they were government sanctioned systematic slaughter took place. Out of all of these atrocities created by and acted upon by the German government under Nazi rule, many were at first secretive and disguised as other things, such as economic stimulus and more rights for the real German citizens. However, there came a night when the government abandoned all its pretenses and openly engaged in activities that proved their racism and evil intentions. This night is called Kristallnacht, or “the might of broken glass.”
On the night of November 9, 1938, the Nazis began to attack Jewish businesses and the Jewish community as a whole. These attacks were part of government sanctioned pogroms, or anti-Jewish riots. Many people were killed, and many buildings destroyed. The German citizens finally gave into their induced hatred for “world Jewry” and began to attack Jewish-owned stores, homes, synagogues, meeting places, and community centers. Many of these structures were destroyed, and the name “the night of broken glass” came from the sight of the many glass windows that were shattered in the wake of the violent hatred that spread unchecked that night. The alleged reason for this destruction and slaughter was the assassination of one Ernst vom Rath, a German ambassador and diplomat, by an angry Jewish teenager named Hershel Grynszpan whose family had recently been humiliated and insulted by their expulsion from the Reich along with 17,000 others. This was the noted excuse, but the real reason had been brewing for much longer, and after this night, the Nazis had complete control over “finding an answer to the Jewish Question.”
The synagogues destroyed during Kristallnacht were very dear to the Jewish community. They served as community centers, religious centers, and a relative haven from the German hatred until they were destroyed during and before Kristallnacht. Although many synagogues had been destroyed before Kristallnacht, the racist destruction came to a head on that day. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi man in charge of propaganda, delivered orders for Nazis to attack, destroy and arrest Jewish communities and community members. The pogroms often chose synagogues as a first target, many were looted, and all religious objects were destroyed and usually burned, with firemen standing by to protect “true German” property. Altogether, rioters destroyed, burned, and devastated many synagogues, which were subsequently demolished by the government. Sources differ on the number of synagogues destroyed, but it was well over 100, and probably closer to 300.
Also closely targeted were Jewish businesses. These businesses had been boycotted earlier, and were by no means thriving, but citizens and Nazi officials saw these stores as a reminder of Jewish wealth and a threat to “true” German society. These stores were heavily looted, many were completely destroyed and burned, and around 7,500 businesses were damaged in the name of the Nazi regime. Kristallnacht represented the final change in possession of Jewish businesses from Jewish hands to Nazi hands. This systematic turnover had been occurring throughout the 1930s, and after Kristallnacht, no more Jewish businesses remained. Further atrocities were committed when the Nazi regime forced the beaten Jews to pay for that which had destroyed them, the pogroms. Additionally, all insurance money was taken, Jewish owners had to repair their stores at their own cost, and the community at large was given what came to be called an “atonement fee,” a large sum of money to be payable to the government.
After Kristallnacht, many Jews realized that the situation was no longer safe, and many sought to flee to other nations although more than 115,000 Jews were able to leave, that was only a fraction of the number of Jews who lined up daily to request passports and visas. The annual immigration quota for the German-Austrian region for the United States was for the first time, reached, and some Jews went as far as China to escape the hatred and racism of the Nazis. Contrary to popular belief, in the beginning, the Nazi party welcomed Jewish emigration and even put pressure on Jews to emigrate. However, the Jews that were able to leave after Kristallnacht had little to no means to financially support themselves in their new countries, and many countries refused to accept so many poverty-stricken people. However, soon after Kristallnacht, the war and the Nazi party closed the borders of Germany, and the Jews who had not been fortunate enough to leave Germany were forced into concentration and killing camps.
Kristallnacht was undoubtedly the turning point of Nazi racism. After this fateful night and its system of anti-Jewish riots, racism against Jews exploded without bounds, and the Nazi party finally began to pursue their destructive and genocidal campaign. Although the news of such awful deeds shocked the western world, nothing substantial was done to help the German Jews. This is relatively similar to the situation today in parts of Africa. Human rights crimes continue unchecked. It is almost as if the world did not learn from Kristallnacht. Mankind needs to remember the past.
Austin, Ben S. “Kristallnacht.” February 1996. Middle Tennessee State University. 27 Jan. 2009 <http://frank.mtsu.edu/~baustin/knacht.html>
“Kristallnacht: The November 1938 Pogroms.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 27 Jan. 2009 <http://www.ushmm.org>
“People and Events: Kristallnacht.” America and the Holocaust. Public Broadcasting Service. 27 Jan. 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX99.html>