Kristallnacht, a German word meaning "night of broken glass," is the name given to the violent anti-Jewish riots that began on the night of 9 November 1938 and continued through the day of 10 November. The Kristallnacht riots were orchestrated by the German government and carried out by members of the Assault Detachment, known as Storm Troopers; the Schutzstaffel (SS); the Hitler Youth organization; and local branches of the Nazi Party. Riots took place throughout Germany as well as in Austria, which had been annexed by Germany, and in an area of German-occupied Czechoslovakia known as Sudetenland.
Violence was so massive and severe that Kristallnacht is considered the first pogrom to occur in Germany since the Middle Ages. In fact, some scholars consider it to be the most brutal public display of anti-Semitism in German history up to 1938. Along with Jewish cemeteries, homes, hospitals and schools, more than 1,000 synagogues were attacked and burned, with 76 being completely destroyed.
Approximately 7,500 businesses, all Jewish-owned, were looted and their windows shattered, which gave the night its name. So much glass was broken that Germany had to import plate glass from Belgium because it could not produce enough to repair the damaged homes and businesses. The Jewish community was required to remove the rubble left from ruined synagogues. A total of 91 Jewish people were killed in the riots, and an estimated 30,000 Jewish men age 16-60 were arrested by units of the Gestapo and transported to concentration camps.
It is significant that Kristallnacht is the first time the German government moved to imprison Jewish people on a massive scale simply based on their ethnicity. Kristallnacht was launched by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Chief of Propaganda, using the pretext of the assassination of a German diplomat by a Polish-Jewish student on 7 November 1938. On 9 November, the Gestapo informed all police units that actions against Jews and synagogues would happen throughout Germany and were not to be interfered with. Instead, the police were instructed to arrest the victims of the attacks, and fire companies were given direct orders to let all synagogues burn after they were attacked. Consequently, Jewish people were freely attacked wherever they worked, lived or worshiped.
Kristallnacht is considered the starting point of the Holocaust. Subsequent to it, measures were introduced by the government to remove both Jews and their influence from Germany. Within the next few months, Jews were restricted from most public places, physically segregated within towns and placed under curfew, among many other prohibitions enacted by the German legislature.