“At 9:30 A.M. the bell at the main gate rang persistently. I opened the door: about 50 men stormed into the house, many of them with their coat or jacket collars turned up. At first they rushed into the dining room, which fortunately was empty, and there they began their work of destruction, which was carried out with the utmost precision. The frightened and fearful cries of the children resounded through the building.”
This was the recollection of one Yitzhak S. Herz of the night of today’s date in 1938 – 75 years ago – which has come to be known as “Kristallnacht” which mans “Night of the Broken Glass”. It was an evening wherein a massive government organized pogrom (Anti-Jewish riot) was conducted throughout Germany and parts of Austria. It was a night in which Jewish homes, businesses, and Synagogues were vandalized, and destroyed. And this meant the shattering of countless glass storefronts like the one pictured above. It was a clear and unmistakable expression of the deeply and viciously anti-Semitic nature of the Nazi regime in Germany. Herr Herz witnessed the night at the Dinslaken Orphanage in the city of Dinslaken, which is not far from Dusseldorf in western Germany. His account recalls the active participation of the local police when he attempted to go to the town hall for help:
“About ten policemen were stationed here, reason enough for a sensation-seeking mob to await the next development. This was not very long in coming; the senior police officer, Freihahn, shouted at us: “Jews do not get protection from us! Vacate the area together with your children as quickly as possible! Freihahn then drove all of us to the wet lawn of the orphanage garden. He gave us strict orders not to leave the place under any circumstances.”
As he watched, he witnessed the total destruction of the orphanage:
“Facing the back of the building, we were able to watch how everything in the house was being systematically destroyed under the supervision of the men of law and order – the police. At short intervals we could hear the crunching of glass or the hammering against wood as windows and doors were broken. Books, chairs, beds, tables, linen, chests, parts of a piano, a radiogram, and maps were thrown through apertures in the wall, which, a short while ago, had been windows or doors.”
A Synagogue is Burned
Michael Bruce, a non-Jewish English- man witnessed the destruct- ion of a Synagogue by a wild mob:
“Hurriedly we went out into the street. It was crowded with people, all hurrying towards a nearby synagogue, shouting and gesticulating angrily. We followed. As we reached the synagogue and halted, silent and angry, on the fringe of the mob, flames began to rise from one end of the building. It was the signal for a wild cheer. The crowd surged forward and greedy hands tore seats and woodwork from the building to feed the flames.
“Behind us we heard more shouts. Turning, we saw a section of the mob start off along the road towards Israel’s store where, during the day, piles of granite cubes, ostensibly for repairing the roads, had been heaped. Youths, men and women, howling deliriously, hurled the blocks through the windows and at the closed doors. In a few minutes the doors gave way and the mob, shouting and fighting, surged inside to pillage and loot.
“By now the streets were a chaos of screaming bloodthirsty people lusting for Jewish bodies. We hurried after them in time to see one of the foulest exhibitions of bestiality I have ever witnessed. The object of the mob’s hate was a hospital for sick Jewish children, many of them cripples or consumptives. In minutes the windows had been smashed and the doors forced. When we arrived, the swine were driving the wee mites out over the broken glass, bare-footed and wearing nothing but their nightshirts. The nurses, doctors, and attendants were being kicked and beaten by the mob leaders, most of whom were women.”
World Reaction: Shock. Local Reaction: Passive.
In his history of this period, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” William L. Shirer who was an eyewitness to the events of this night wrote of the reaction of the world to these events, and also the reaction of many Germans:
“World opinion was shocked and revolted by such barbarity in a nation which boasted a centuries-old Christian and humanist culture. Hitler, in turn was enraged by by world reaction and convinced himself that it merely proved the power and scope of “the world Jewish conspiracy.”
“Hitler’s sickness was contagious; the nation was catching it, as if it were a virus. Individually, as this writer can testify from personal experience, many Germans were as horrified by the Nov. 9 inferno as were Americans and Englishmen and other foreigners. But neither the leaders of the Christian churches, nor the generals, nor any other representatives of the “good” Germany spoke out ta once in open protest. They bowed to what General von Fritsch called “the inevitable” or “Germany’s destiny.”
91 Jews were killed during this night of terror, and another 30,000 were arrested and sent into concentration camps. In addition to the countless Jewish homes, schools and hospitals that were smashed and destroyed, about 7,000 businesses and 1,000 synagogues were demolished.
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer, Simon Schuster, New York, 1960.