Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – was the Nazi government’s response to the murder, on November 7th 1938, in Paris of Ernst von Rath, a diplomat in the German embassy in the city. Von Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jew and the Nazis used this as the excuse they needed in Nazi Germany to unleash a night of violence against the whole of the Jewish community within Germany. Joseph Goebbels claimed that the murder of von Rath was just a small part of a much wider conspiracy against the Nazis by international Jews. Kristallnacht started on the night of November 9th. All over Nazi Germany synagogues were targeted along with the remaining Jewish shops and stores. A recorded conversation/discussion between Reinhard Heydrich, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in the aftermath of Kristallnacht gives some idea as to what the Nazi hierarchy wanted out of the event.
Heydrich: In almost all cities synagogues are burned. New, various possibilities exist to utilise the space where the synagogues once stood. Some cities want to build parks in their place; others want to put up new buildings.
Goering: How many synagogues were actually burned?
Heydrich: Altogether there were 101 synagogues destroyed by fire, 76 synagogues demolished and 7,500 stores ruined in the Reich.
Goering: What do you mean, “destroyed by fire”?
Heydrich: Partly they are razed, and partly gutted.
Goebbels: I am of the opinion that this is our chance to dissolve the synagogues. All those not completely intact shall be razed by the Jews. The Jews shall pay for it. There in Berlin, the Jews are ready to do that. The synagogues that were burned in Berlin are being levelled by the Jews themselves. We shall build parking lots in their place or new buildings. That ought to be the criterion for the whole country, the Jews shall have to remove the damaged or burned synagogues, and shall have to provide us with ready free space.
In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, the Jewish community was required to pay for the damage. They were fined 1 billion Reichsmarks (about $400,000,000) on November 12th and they were not allowed to make any insurance claims for damage to property. 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps where many were to die. Any Jewish business that had somehow survived the violence was not allowed to re-open under Jewish management, but had to have a ‘true’ German in charge of it.
Those who had the money now realised that they had to leave the country, but in doing so they had to leave everything behind which was then taken by the Nazi government. Kristallnacht had set a very clear marker as to what the Jews who remained in Nazi Germany could expect in the future.