Posts Tagged ‘Kristallnacht’

November 9 – a weighty date in Germany

Monday, January 9th, 2017


November 9 is a weighty date in German history. Depending on the year, it conjures up acts of brutality or widespread euphoria. In 1938, Nazis in Germany and Austria plundered Jewish homes and businesses, torched synagogues and killed and deported Jews during the night of 9 November to 10 November. The night became known as Kristallnacht (crystal night).

On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell after having separated family and friends for 28 years, which prompted a jubilant celebration.,,

Events preceding Kristallnacht

In the 1920s, most German Jews were fully integrated into German society. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the situation changed. Hitler branded the 500,000 Jews living in Germany (about 0.86% of the total German population) as enemies of the State. He blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I and for the hyperinflation in the 1920s and quickly introduced policies that restricted their rights. Jewish citizens lost the ability to work in civil service, to get accepted into university and to marry non-Jewish Germans. Many Jews left Germany, but as the number of Jews wanting to leave increased, so did the restrictions against them.

In August 1938, authorities revoked residence permits for foreigners, including those of German-born Jews of foreign origin. In the so-called Polenaktion on 28 October 1938, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews were expelled from Germany. The deportees were put on trains to the Polish border. But Polish border guards sent them back to Germany because Poland no longer accepted “Jews of former Polish origin.” The deportees ended up walking back and forth between Germany and Poland for days. Among those expelled were the Grynszpans, Polish Jews who had emigrated to Germany in 1911 and settled in the north of Germany. Their teenage son Herschel was living in Paris when he received a postcard from his parents on 3 November 1938, describing their expulsion. Four days later, Herschel went to the German embassy in Paris with a revolver in his pocket. He was directed to the office of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official. Young Grynszpan fired five bullets at vom Rath who succumbed to his wounds two days later.

What happened during Kristallnacht in 1938?

When news of the death of Ernst vom Rath reached Nazi officials, they decided that the Jews would have to pay for vom Rath’s death. During the night of 9 November to 10 November, Nazi storm troopers destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, set fire to more than 900 synagogues, killed 91 Jews and deported some 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps.

The sounds of breaking glass shattered the air and littered the streets throughout Germany and parts of Austria, which gave rise to the term “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht had also provided an opportunity for Hitler to totally remove Jews from German public life. He ordered that henceforth Jews would be prohibited from practicing most professions in the private sector; Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless non-Jews managed them; Jewish children would be barred from attending school and Jews would lose the right to hold a driver’s licenses or own an automobile. The Nazis held the Jewish community liable for the damages caused during Kristallnacht and imposed a fine of one-billion Reichsmark. In the ten months following Kristallnacht, more than 115,000 Jews emigrated from the Reich. The majority went to other European countries, the US and Palestine. At least 14,000 went to Shanghai.

Kristallnacht and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

Decades later after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany chose to declare 3 October 1990 – the day of German reunification – a national holiday rather than 9 November 1989. The main reason cited was the association of the latter date with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which had occurred more than 50 years earlier.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of





Hitler and Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Hitler and Roosevelt: a dictator and a democrat. What do the two men have in common? Both came to power in the beginning of 1933. Both died in April 1945. But that’s where the parallels end. One led Western Europe to the brink of destruction, the other returned it to the path to freedom.

72 years ago today, on 11 December 1941, the German Empire declared war on the USA. To this day, historians speculate what made Hitler declare war on America. Four days earlier, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. The following day, the US Senate and House of Representatives declared war on Japan. It could not be known at the time that what happened in Pearl Harbor would change what was going to happen in Western Europe.

Americans oppose US intervention

Until Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had secretly debated how to depose Adolf Hitler. But the majority of Americans wanted the US remain neutral in the European war. After Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass – in November of 1938, Hitler’s invasion of the Czech Republic and of Poland, public opinion began to change although the majority of Americans still opposed US intervention. And following the attack on Pearl Harbor the eyes of the American public were directed toward Japan.

Hitler is delighted

At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, German troops were stuck in the snow in front of Moscow. The Red Army had begun a powerful offensive. The news of Pearl Harbor caught Hitler by surprise, but he saw an opportunity. He suspected that the U.S. would now focus all of their armament and military power against Japan and reduce or eliminate their support for the United Kingdom. If he employed his submarines, he may win against England.

Historians speculate

The historian, Alan Bullock, suspects that Hitler felt he had to demonstrate after the defeat of his troops in the east. Sebastian Haffner called it a simple act of madness. Hitler biographer, Ian Kershaw, says “It was in Hitler’s eyes the chance to win against England.” Together with Japan, Hitler hoped to not only control the European continent, but to also bring the US to its knees. In his 2011 book, Roosevelt and Hitler: Todfeindschaft und Totaler Krieg, Washington historian, Ronald D. Barley, surmises, “as paradoxical as it sounds the fact that Hitler declared war on the US on December 11, 1941, forged the path to freedom for Western Europe.” For additional information, visit (Zweiter Weltkrieg: Krieg gegen America)


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.