Remembering Kristallnacht: What Was It?

November 9, 2020

On November 9 & 10, we recall Kristallnacht which means “Night of Broken Glass”, a German pogrom against Jews that many historians recognize as the tipping point that started the Holocaust. But, not everyone knows how this event changed the course of history forever. Inside our museum, you’ll find this photograph, “The shattered front of Jewish-owned stores” taken on November 17, 1938, Bettman/Corbis. We use this image as a learning tool during our digital “Stop the Hate” tour, and invite you to read the excerpt below. Share the story of Kristallnacht with your social circles and join us in standing up to hate through education.


The shattered front of Jewish-owned stores, November 17, 1938, Bettman/Corbis

We see a black and white photograph of a Jewish shopfront destroyed during Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) which occurred in 1938. Several onlookers examine the damage, while others walk by.

In 1938, Germany was under the control of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Antisemitism had been escalating within Germany for five years, when a 17-year-old German-born Jew living in Paris protested the treatment of Jews by assassinating a German diplomat. In response German military and civilians carried out a series of violent attacks on November 9 and November 10, 1938 in an incident known as Kristallnacht.

Nazis torched 267 synagogues, destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, vandalized Jewish homes and schools, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and killed close to 100 Jewish people. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, also called the “Night of Broken Glass,” some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. The riots were designed to look spontaneous, but Nazi party officials and Hitler Youth were given instructions in advance and police and firefighters were told not to intervene unless it was to save non-Jewish homes and businesses.

Not all Nazis and non-Jewish citizens participated in Kristallnacht. Some individuals bravely offered assistance to Jewish families at the risk of being killed or sent to concentration camps. The majority of Germans watched passively, their silence as bystanders signaling that violence against Jews could be taken further, marking a turning point in history. Many Historians consider Kristallnacht the beginning of the Holocaust.

Who do you think the onlookers are in the photograph and what might they be thinking or feeling? Would you risk your own safety to help someone who is different than you? Why did upstanders help the Jews when the consequences were so dire?


To explore the full (and free) digital Stop the Hate Tour visit or see the photo in person during open hours. Timed tickets can be purchased on our website at or by calling 216-593-0575.


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