An Eyewitness Account of Kristallnacht

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Kristall Nacht

On 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.”

Hitler 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.

So the Jews sat or laid on the ground starving as cold rain came down on them.

The 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.

Grynszpan 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. Christians.

The Jewish population had been 680,000. 300,000 of these had fled Germany by 1938. The others were refused entry into any other country.

Now Hitler shouted that the German people would  defend themselves against the Jews.  

And 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.

Suddenly 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.

The 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.

That 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.

We 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.

The 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.

Shalom u’vracha .

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Gender, Sex, & Status (2019).

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