Kristallnacht 75th anniversary: an historical account by Trudy Gold

PUBLISHED: 18:00 09 November 2013

Trudy Gold is the executive director of education and Holocaust studies at the LJCC. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Trudy Gold is the executive director of education and Holocaust studies at the LJCC. Picture: Nigel Sutton.


This weekend will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against the Jewish community in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria that left 91 dead, 7,000 businesses destroyed and 300 synagogues in ruins.

Trudy Gold, executive director of education and Holocaust studies at the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC), gives an historical account of how such violence came about in a country considered civilised...

The Nazis called it Kristallnacht because of the shattering of the glass of the ruined buildings.

It was a dreadful milestone in a policy that had begun when Hitler and his henchmen took power in 1933. The Nazis were elected into power consumed by a racist policy which determined who could live in the German Reich.

The reality was that 600,000 Jews of Germany saw themselves as German patriots; to Hitler and the Nazi Party, building on spurious 19th century theories of racial purity, a Jew could never be a German.

In the diseased minds of the Nazis it was a battle for racial survival.

From taking power in 1933 the Nazis initiated a policy of social, legal and economic exclusion of Jews from German society. They were determined to rid every core of German life from what they perceived as a Jewish disease.

The arts, sciences, teaching, medicine – all had to be expunged with a view to creating Judenrein Reich, a Germany without Jews.

The Anschluss of March 1938 brought over 200,000 Austrian Jews into the Nazis orbit. They intensified their anti-Semitic policies to force as many Jews as possible out of their sphere of influence. The openly reported assaults on the Jewish community led President Roosevelt to propose a conference to discuss the plight of German and Austrian refugees.

Some 32 countries sent representatives to the Evian Conference in June 1938. The results of Evian are best described by a US newspaper man: “The time has come when governments must act, and act promptly. Most governments represented acted promptly by slamming their doors against the Jewish refugees.”

In October 1938, 17,000 Polish born Jews living in Germany were forcibly driven into no man’s land between the Polish and German border.

One such family were the Grynszpans, whose son Herschel was studying in Paris.

To bring the world’s attention to the plight of his people he entered the German Embassy in Paris on November 7th and shot an attaché, Von Rath, who died two days later.

The Nazis revenge was Kristallnacht, after which the Nazis fined the community one billion marks and sent leading Jews to Dachau.

Worldwide protests did not affect Nazi policy. However, it did lead to some of the Western governments, including the British, to admit more refugees, especially children.

These made up one of the most extraordinary groups of immigrants this country has ever known, enriching both the arts, sciences and business life. Germany’s loss was Britain’s gain.

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