Kristallnacht Martyrs

Germany (1938)
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Before implementing their plan to exterminate the Jewish people, the Nazis advertised their intentions through a number of public spectacles. The most dramatic of these occurred on the night of November 9, 1938, when Nazi storm troopers throughout Germany mounted a coordinated assault on the Jewish community. Hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground, with particular care taken to destroy prayer books, scrolls, and religious books. Jewish tombstones were overturned and the graves desecrated. Seventy-five hundred Jewish-owned shops were destroyed. Because of the many shattered windows the pogrom became known as the Kristallnacht, or Crystal Night. Throughout the pogrom police merely watched, while firefighters stood by to make sure no non-Jewish property was threatened. In addition, twenty thousand Jewish men were arbitrarily arrested and placed in “protective custody,” with half of them shipped to the Buchenwald concentration camp. More than a hundred Jews were killed. 

The following day there was little protest in Germany. There was no general expression of outrage from the Churches or public expressions of solidarity. Notes from a meeting of the top-ranking Nazi officials indicate that they considered the night’s activities a tremendous success.  

“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening. . . . Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun.’” —Report in the London Daily Telegraph 

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Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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