An Eyewitness Account of Kristallnacht
October 26, 1938, Adolf Hitler broadcast a speech on the German radio which all
citizens were forced to hear. Police listened at doors of apartments and homes.
If they did not hear Hitler yell, they banged on the door and demanded from
those who opened why the radio was not on to listen to the “Führer.”
screamed that there were 50,000 Polish Jews living in Germany who were to be
deported back to Poland the next day. The GESTAPO, or secret state police,
carried out these deportations. It took several days to force all Polish born
Jews into cattle cars without food or water. Arriving at the Polish border, the
Jews were kicked out of the cattle cars and then had to sit on the ground in the
open without food or drink in the cold of November. The Polish government
refused to let the Jews in and the Polish border police enforced this order.
the Jews sat or laid on the ground starving as cold
rain came down on them.
family Grynszpan was among the victims of this atrocity. Their son Herschel was
living in Paris, France, where he was enrolled at a university. He received a
letter from his sister describing the suffering of his family. Herschel
therefore bought a gun, went to the German embassy, and
shot and killed a uniformed man whom he mistook for the German
ambassador. The dead man was Ernst vom Rath, a minor official.
was jailed by the French, as the German propaganda minister screamed on the
radio that all Jews had guns and were ready to kill all “Aryans,” i.e.
Jewish population had been 680,000. 300,000 of these had fled Germany by 1938.
The others were refused entry into any other country.
Hitler shouted that the German people would
defend themselves against the Jews.
so, on the night of November 9-10, 1938, brown shirted storm troopers smashed
the front doors of Jewish homes at 2 or 3 a.m. and beat the Jews inside. The
storm troopers were young men who proceeded to smash the furniture in each home
and throw it through the windows into the street. The cold November air entered
each Jewish home as the Nazis tossed kitchen furniture, entire couches from the
living rooms, clothes, and bedding into the streets all over Germany.
loud noises were heard outside. The Storm Troopers had left and we ran outside .
Many people were outdoors in the cold as the synagogues burned. There were 26
synagogues in Hamburg. Two were spared because they were too close to apartment
houses. The other twenty-four had been invaded during the night. The Nazis
poured gasoline on the benches and started fires, which led to huge flames
coning from the buildings. The great synagogue, which had seats for 1200 people,
burned fiercely until the roof collapsed, making a vast noise. The arsonists had
taken the Torah scrolls out of the Holy Ark and were burning them on the street.
next day, trucks full of Hitler Youth and SS drove into the streets and stopped
at all Jewish owned stores. They smashed the windows and looted the contents.
Citizens ran into the stores and stole all they could while the owners
were beaten bloody. Department stores were invaded and the furniture,
clothes, and appliances were all thrown through the windows into the street from
the highest stories, making loud noises and leading to much glass lying all over
the streets amid fur coats, radios, iceboxes, lamps, and anything else.
afternoon Hermann Göring, Hitler’s deputy, announced on the radio that all
Jewish bank accounts had been confiscated because the Jews had caused the damage
worth millions. This led to the
total ruination of the German Jews.
Already in 1935 Jews were forbidden to work in licensed professions such as
medicine, law, and dentistry. Now Jews were not allowed to be employed by any
“Aryan” nor to drive a car, ride on public transportation, or enter a public
building such as a library, post office or movie house.
had already been kicked out of all schools in 1933 and all Jewish teachers and
professors and civil servants had been dismissed without a pension. We were
utterly impoverished and destitute. Ten months later, the German army invaded
Poland and the Second World War started. We were still there.
borders were closed. Yet, we escaped and came to the USA without money, without
an education, and without a relative. How we survived and succeeded in coming to
America is another story.
Now historians call these events Kristallnacht. We call it the night we shall never forget.