Nuremberg, Germany · September 10, 1935

On this date in 1935 the Nazis convened their annual party con­gress in Nurem­berg completely fixated on the charis­matic savior-figure Adolf Hitler, Ger­many’s chan­cellor since January 1933. The 1935 “Rally of Free­dom” (Reichs­partei­tag der Frei­heit) touted Hitler’s wildly popu­lar rein­tegra­tion of the Saar region—formerly a League of Nations man­date—into Ger­many and the par­tial lifting of the hated Versail­les Treaty of 1919 that con­strained Ger­many’s room to maneu­ver mili­tarily. But the real news was made by Reichs­tag mem­bers whose strings, in Hitler’s hands, drew them to Nurem­berg. On Septem­ber 15 the pup­pet parlia­ment passed the Nurem­berg Laws (Nürn­berger Gesetze). Previous laws had allowed some Jews to escape from the Nazis’ dis­crimi­na­tion aimed at them. But with pas­sage of the Nurem­berg Laws, there was no more wiggle room. A Ger­man Jew was clas­si­fied as Jude based on the per­son’s de­scent from three or four Jewish grand­parents, a Mischling (cross­breed) if de­scended from one or two. Evading dis­crimi­na­tion by con­verting to Chris­tianity was now ren­dered im­pos­sible. Thus, one Nurem­berg law for­bade mar­riage or extra­mari­tal rela­tions between Jews and “nationals of Ger­man or kind­red blood,” and the employ­ment of “Ger­man” females under forty-five in Jewish house­holds. A second law stripped German citizen­ship from persons not con­sidered of Ger­man blood and intro­duced a new distinc­tion between “Reich citizens” (Reichs­bürger) and “Reich nationals” (Staats­an­ge­hö­rige). The effect of these laws led straight to Kristall­nacht (“Night of Bro­ken Glass”), when care­fully orches­trated anti-Jewish vio­lence “erupted” through­out the Reich. Starting on Novem­ber 9, 1938, and for the next 48 hours, Nazi rioters burned or damaged nearly every syna­gogue in Ger­many and ran­sacked and smashed the win­dows of more than 7,500 busi­nesses, com­mu­ni­ty centers, and homes. An estimated 400 Jews were killed and 20,000 to 30,000 Jews between the ages of 16 and 60 were impri­soned or taken away to Ger­man con­cen­tration camps in the Novem­ber pogrom. Over 115,000 more fled their home­lands in Germany and Aus­tria. Heaping in­sult on in­jury, the Nazi govern­ment demanded that Jews sweep up the mess and pay six million Reichs­marks ($1.44 million) to the Ger­man govern­ment to cover the cost of insurance claims for property damage.

Kristallnacht, November 9–10, 1938: Violent Turning Point in Nazi Germany’s Assault on Jews

Berlin storefront after KristallnachtBerlin’s Fasenenstrasse Synagogue after Kristallnacht

Left: Example of damage directed at Jewish busi­nesses during Kristall­nacht (literally “crystal night”), alluding to the enor­mous num­ber of glass win­dows broken through­out the night, mostly in syn­a­gogues and Jewish-owned shops. With Kristall­nacht the Nazis achieved three of their goals: confis­ca­tion of Jewish pro­perty by local branches of the Nazi Party to help finance the mili­tary build­up to war; increased separa­tion, margin­al­iza­tion, and iso­la­tion of Ger­man Jews (in certain neigh­bor­hoods Jews were required to sell their homes at huge losses and move to other neigh­bor­hoods); and most impor­tantly, the move from the anti-Semitic policy of discrimi­nation to one of ethnic cleansing, which con­tinued in the Third Reich and con­quered terri­tories until the end of World War II.

Right: Interior of Berlin’s Fasenenstrasse Synagogue, con­structed between 1910 and 1912 in the af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hood of Char­lotten­burg off Kur­fürsten­damm, after it was set on fire during Kristall­nacht on the morning of Novem­ber 10, 1938 (perhaps not ironi­cally, Martin Luther’s birth­day). In Berlin 9 out of 17 syn­a­gogues were torched; in Vienna, the Aus­trian capital, 95. In all, over 1,000 syn­a­gogues were van­dalized or destroyed.

Small Hessen synagogue burns on KristallnachtResidents of Ober Ram­stadt watch synagogue burn

Left: Not even the smallest towns in Germany escaped the Nazis’ anti-Jewish pogrom. In this photo, a small syn­a­gogue in Ober Ram­stadt (Hessen, Germany), roughly 18 miles south of Frank­furt am Main, burns on Kristallnacht.

Right: As the Ober Ramstadt synagogue burned, local resi­dents watched fire­fighters instead save a near­by house. In some Ger­man cities, such as Cologne, police handed out axes and other tools of destruc­tion to trouble­makers in the mob, sup­plying them with a list of names and ad­dresses of Jewish pro­per­ties for them to destroy. The mobs cut fire hoses when fire­fighters directed water onto Jewish properties.

Munich’s Herzog Rudolfstrasse synagogue after KristallnachtGerman Jews await deportation to Nazi concentration camp

Left: Munich’s Herzog Rudolfstrasse synagogue off Maxi­mil­lian­strasse. By mid­night, Novem­ber 9, 1938, attacks on Jewish busi­nesses, homes, and syn­a­gogues were occurring all over Ger­many and Aus­tria. Mobs roamed the streets shouting, “Beat the Jews to death!” In Munich, the first syn­a­gogues started burning at mid­night. In Berlin, Kristall­nacht was delayed till 2 a.m. on Novem­ber 10 so that the police would have time to pre­pare. They iden­ti­fied Jewish pro­per­ties that would be destroyed and set up road­blocks to keep traffic away from those areas. Police were in­structed not to inter­fere with the rioters.

Right: As the looting and destruction wound down on Novem­ber 10, 1938, the arrests began. Jewish men of all ages were rounded up and marched through the streets as some of their Ger­man neigh­bors hurled insults at them. In this photo­graph, Jews arrested after Kristall­nacht await depor­ta­tion to Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp north of Munich. Others were sent to Buchen­wald and Sachsen­hausen. The treat­ment of camp inmates was brutal, but most were released within three months on the con­dition they leave Germany.

Kristallnacht, November 9–10, 1938: Holocaust Start Date