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November Pogrom

The November Pogrom – otherwise known as Kristallnacht – marked the climax of organised, state sanctioned terror against Jewish people in Germany before the Second World War.

The pretext for the violence was the death of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath following the assassination attempt by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Polish-German Jew, on 7 November 1938 in Paris.

The 16-year-old Ellen Rawson experienced the events of the November Pogrom in Mannheim. Notice how she is trying to express the trauma of the violence and destruction which goes beyond words. Many survivors are only able to give a selective picture of the events in order to protect themselves from overwhelming emotions. Often noise plays an important role in conveying the true terror of the moment.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Violence against people

Jewish people were robbed, mistreated and murdered across Germany from 7 until 13 November 1938. Everybody could see this violence and destruction, as a good part of it happened in broad daylight. Many Jewish people committed suicide in despair.

Harry Bibring was 14-years-old when he lived through the November Pogrom in Vienna. The city had only come under German occupation after the “Anschluss” in March 1938. In Austria, antisemitism reached a far more radical level quicker than in the Old Reich. Not only Harry’s father, but his entire family were temporarily arrested. Why does the destruction of the shop take such prominence in Harry’s memory? What were the repercussions for his family?
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Mass arrests

The most horrifying experience mainly for Jewish men were the mass arrests. During the night of the 9 November 1938, around 30,000 were taken to concentration camps. 91 deaths were officially registered that night, but there were probably more. Hundreds died in the ensuing weeks from torture and harassment.

This photo shows Bernard Grunberg‘s father after his release from a concentration camp.  The official photography of the November Pogrom – which is dominant still today – intentionally put the emphasis on damaged property. The Third Reich tried to obscure the violence against people in order to pacify public opinion. The early release of World War I veterans like Bernard’s father from concentration camps served the same purpose.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Desecration of Jewish places of worship

In a deliberate assault on the core symbols of Jewish identity synagogues across Germany and Austria were looted, desecrated and burned by SA, Hitler Youth and ordinary citizens joining in. Many Jewish cemeteries were vandalised and defiled.

This card commemorates the Synagogue in Lingen – built in 1879 and destroyed in 1938. Synagogues were targeted as the most visible sign of Judaism within German society. The destruction of the places of worship of the Jewish community was intended to show that there was no place for Jewish people in Germany anymore.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Property looted and destroyed

Shops in Jewish ownership were looted and systematically destroyed across Germany. Apartments of Jewish Germans were plundered and ransacked.

With the destruction of their businesses Jewish Germans lost their last major source of income after the exclusion from the civil service and the professions. Most Jewish Germans had to now live from savings and welfare organisations.

This is one of the rare unofficial photographs of antisemitic violence. It shows the aftermath of an attack on a vocational training college preparing Jewish Youth for emigration to Palestine. The assault was part of the summer riots that served as a practising ground for the November Pogrom. The attacks on Jewish stores and workshops were intended to drive Jewish Germans out of the economy and the public sphere for good.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

The lack of public outrage in the face of terror and violence encouraged the regime to radicalise its anti-Jewish policies. In retrospect, this became an important turning point in the process that climaxed in genocide.