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Kristallnacht (krĭsˌtäl-näkht) [Ger.,=night of crystal], in German history, the night of Nov. 9, 1938, a night of violence against Jews and of destruction of the businesses and other property belonging to them. The name is a reference to the broken glass that resulted from the destruction. Using the pretext of the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, Goebbels urged Storm Troopers to stage violent reprisals. A night of rampages by Storm Troopers, the SS, and the Hitler Youth resulted in 91 Jewish dead, hundreds injured, and 7,500 businesses and 177 synagogues gutted.
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Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, Night of Broken Glass)

Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: November 9-10
Where Celebrated: Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, and by Jewish communities all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Antiracism Demonstrations, Candlelight Vigils, Marches, Synagogue Ceremonies


European Jews, particularly those living in Germany, suffered greatly during the 1930s. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the chancellor of Germany, started passing laws early in the decade that prevented Jews from observing the customs of their faith, and by 1935 they had lost their citizenship rights and could no longer vote in parliamentary elections. Laws passed in 1938 made it increasingly difficult for them to earn a living, and by 1939 all Jews living in Germany had to carry identification cards. But the situation reached crisis proportions later in 1938, when thousands of Polish Jews who had been living in Germany for many years were rounded up, loaded into boxcars, and sent to "relocation camps" on the Polish border because the Polish government refused to allow them back into their homeland.

When Herschel Grynszpan, a seventeen-year-old Polish Jew living with his uncle in Paris at the time, found out that his parents were among those who had been forced to leave their homes, he decided to seek revenge. He went to the German embassy and assassinated a German diplomat-an act that Germany's Nazi leaders used as an excuse to launch a "pogrom" or violent, organized attack against German Jews. On the night of November 9, 1938, Nazi storm troopers and members of the Nazi secret police and Hitler Youth groups went on a rampage through Kristallnacht

Jewish neighborhoods in Germany, Austria, and other areas controlled by the Nazis. They broke into Jewish homes and businesses, smashing the windows, beating or murdering the inhabitants, and destroying whatever they found inside. They even entered synagogues and destroyed sacred Torah scrolls, setting the buildings themselves on fire. All told, nearly 100 Jews were killed that night, 7,500 Jewish businesses were ruined, and about 200 synagogues were destroyed- although Jewish groups claim that more than 1,000 were seriously damaged. About 25,000 Jewish men were torn from their homes and families and later sent to concentration camps, where many of them died.

The night of November 9-10 became known as "Kristallnacht," which is German for "Crystal Night," because of the broken glass strewn in the streets in the wake of the attacks. It was actually a Nazi who came up with the name, which some scholars believe was designed to mock the seriousness of the event in the same way that the concentration camp victims were said to receive Sonderbehandlung or "special treatment" when they were gassed to death. In any case, the name stuck, and this event is widely acknowledged as the beginning of the Holocaust, which would eventually claim the lives of six million Jews.

Kristallnacht commemorates a significant historical event. Peoples throughout the world commemorate such significant events in their histories through holidays and festivals. Often, these are events that are important for an entire nation and become widely observed. The marking of such anniversaries serves not only to honor the values represented by the person or event commemorated, but also to strengthen and reinforce communal bonds of national, cultural, or ethnic identity. Victorious, joyful, and traumatic events are remembered through historic holidays. The commemorative expression reflects the original event through festive celebration or solemn ritual.

Today, Kristallnacht is commemorated in cities throughout Germany as well as by Jewish communities all over the world. Many of the commemoration ceremonies are held at synagogues or Jewish cemeteries and involve the recitation of the Kaddish, an ancient Jewish prayer for the dead. In Germany, Kristallnacht observations coincide with those surrounding another, more recent, event: the 1989 breaching of the Berlin Wall, the ninety-six-mile-long concrete wall built in 1961 to prevent East Germans from escaping Communist rule after World War II (1939-45).


Antiracism Demonstrations

Because the Holocaust stands as a symbol for racism and hate crimes, many antiracist organizations choose to hold demonstrations on Kristallnacht. Colleges and universities often invite Holocaust survivors to give lectures, and speakers at other public venues remind people of the connection between what happened in 1938 and the treatment that many minority groups are receiving today.

These demonstrations are particularly 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.

Candlelight Vigils

Candlelight vigils are a popular way to commemorate any historic event in which lives have been lost. Kristallnacht is often observed with the lighting of torches or candles, their flames symbolizing the souls of those who lost their lives not only on November 9, 1938, but afterward in the Holocaust.


Solemn marches, especially in large cities, are another way in which Jews and others commemorate Kristallnacht. In Berlin, the capital of Germany, more than 200,000 people marched through the city on November 9, 2000, both in memory of the event's Jewish victims and as a form of protest against more recent attacks on Jews and other minority groups.

Synagogue Ceremonies

Special ceremonies in honor of the victims of Kristallnacht are held in the historic synagogues at Wroclaw, Cracow, and Auschwitz, Poland, as well as in synagogues throughout the world. The Polish city of Wroclaw, which used to be the German city of Breslau was at one time the site of Germany's second largest Jewish congregation and two of its most historic synagogues, which have recently been restored.


Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Stevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Crim, Keith R. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Kristallnacht


Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota

The History Place
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)

November 9-10
A 17-year-old Jew named Herschel Grynszpan assassinated the third secretary at the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938, to avenge the expulsion of his parents and 15,000 other Polish Jews to German concentration camps. His act gave the German Nazis the excuse they had been looking for to conduct a pogrom, or "organized massacre." Crystal Night, or Night of the Broken Glass, gets its name from the shattered glass that littered the streets two nights later, when the windows of Jewish-owned shops and homes were systematically smashed throughout Leipzig and other German and Austrian cities in a frenzy of destruction that resulted in the arrest and deportation of about 30,000 Jews.
Crystal Night marked the beginning of the Nazis' plan to rob the Jews of their possessions and to force them out of their homes and neighborhoods. Although the so-called "Final Solution" (to kill all European Jews) had not been publicly suggested at this point, the Nazis' actions on this night left little doubt as to what the fate of German Jews would be if war broke out. Today Jews everywhere observe the anniversary of this infamous event by holding special memorial services.
In Germany, Kristallnacht coincides with the anniversary of another famous, if very recent, event: the breaching of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The coincidence of the two observances is seen by many as symbolic of the conflicts of German history.
Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance
Multimedia Learning Center Online
9760 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
800-900-9036 or 310-553-9036; fax: 310-553-4521
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. S.W.
Washington, DC 20024
AnnivHol-2000, p. 188
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 202
HolSymbols-2009, p. 453
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


destruction of Jews’ property anticipated later atrocities (November 9–10, 1938). [Ger. Hist.: Hitler, 689–694]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Is this a "broken kristallnacht" (crystal night) or is the night actually nights during which Israel destroyed the Gaza Strip and shattered glass everywhere, even in children's nurseries?
After Crystal Night in November 1938 and the month-long detention of her father at Dachau, the family knew they had to get out.
The beautifully sunny days meant clear crystal night skies and a rapid fall in temperatures.
Kristallnacht, literally translatable as 'crystal night', was the night when Nazi thugs, led by the SA, went on an anti-Jewish rampage that lasted twenty-four hours.
Europe was a drawing board on which to work out their grand designs and this is an investigation into the records by these thinkers, tracing the period from the Crystal Night Pogrom of 1938 to holocaust of the Jewish population.
Meanwhile, our friends down in Waterford's RePublik collective present Job Jobse at Crystal Night Club in John Street.
One peak near Stockholm is called Crystal Night, a reference to Nazi Germany's co-ordinated attack on Jews which was the precursor to the Holocaust.
I went in search of the Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights - that extraordinary phenomenon of electrical storms which create an aerial ballet of green, red and blue flashes in the crystal night sky.