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. On the night of 9 November 1938, after an inflammatory speech by Goebbels, Nazi leaders ordered SA, SS and various other National Socialist German Worker’s Party organisations to destroy synagogues and demolish Jewish shops. Police and Firefighters were told to hold back from the destruction ensuing, but to protect non-Jewish property from damage. 

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.  

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 


SA and SS mostly in civilian clothes, but also a significant minority of the general public – some of them party members – joined in the violence. Together they looted and destroyed synagogues, shops and apartments. 

Reaction of Non-Jewish Germans 

Many non-Jewish Germans just “stood by” while this violence was happening. They neither attempted to hinder the violence nor left the scene to express their protest. Up-standers existed, but they were exceptionally rare. Few stepped in to help the victims or stop the terror and destruction. 

Although many objected to the terror, the Anti-Jewish policies were accepted in general. Two core aspects prevailed in the mix of motivations: 

  1. A long tradition of antisemitism  
  1. Many non-Jewish people agreed with Nazi ideology. They perceived that Jewish people had indeed accumulated undeserved wealth at the expense of the “Aryan People’s community”. 


What decisions were made by Jewish people? 

During the November Pogrom Jewish people pro-actively attempted to protect themselves and the ones under their care. Though their choices were limited, many made courageous decisions. 

Appealing to common values 

For many Jewish Germans, it was inconceivable that they were no longer accepted by their compatriots as members of the German nation. Some appealed to common values especially the patriotism of World War One and their merits as Jewish soldiers to stop the atrocities. 

Hiding in plain sight 

Men in particular were under threat of violence and arrest. Some found themselves shelter with friends or neighbours. If there was nothing recognisably Jewish about their appearance, they were able to blend into the crowd. They walked the streets or travelled on the underground. The anonymity of the city afforded them protection. 

Choices of Jewish women 

Many women heroically faced humiliation, violence and murder. In the mistaken belief that they would not be a prime target, they stayed behind with small children and vulnerable family members that were unable to leave the house and hide. 

Consequences of the November Pogrom 

The November Pogrom was the violent climax of the Anti-Jewish Policies of 1938. In their entirety these measures resulted in the ‘social death’ of Jewish Germans. From now on Jewish Germans were segregated from society and excluded from the public sphere. With hindsight, the event can be considered as an important step towards genocide. 


Since August 1938 all Jewish Germans with “non-Jewish” forenames had to replace them with “Sarah” for women and “Israel” for men respectively. Jewish Germans had to carry identity cards at all times and be ready to present them on demand. In October 1938 all Jewish passports were withdrawn and only reissued with a large red stamp ‘J’ for Jewish. Jewish Germans were now easily identifiable by the authorities. 

Social exclusion 

Jewish Germans were excluded from all cultural events like theatres, cinemas, funfairs and sports grounds. As a first step towards later ghettoisation Jews were banned from certain areas and a curfew applied for part of the night. The introduction of a special office for unemployed Jewish Germans laid the groundwork for future forced labour. 


Aryanisation had progressed well since 1933. However, the process had been unsystematic. Now the Decree for the Elimination of Jews from Economic Life of November 12 1938 gave it a structured framework. German Jewish people were prohibited from working in retail or business enterprises. Subsequently, a crush to “buy” aryanised businesses at bargain prices began. The public showed little concern about this. Nazis propaganda and the traditional antisemitic envy of perceived undeserved economic success amongst Jewish people ensured this. 

Atonement payment and restrictions on remaining financial assets 

The German government imposed a so called “atonement payment” of one billion Reichsmark on the Jewish community for the damages caused by the Pogrom. The bank accounts of Jewish Germans were frozen, and they could no longer sell assets like jewellery or securities freely. Instead, they had to be offered to government purchasing offices. Lack of financial resources further diminished chances to emigrate. 

Necessity of emigration 

The November Pogrom marks the turning point towards emigration. Many diary entries show that this is the point when most gave up any hope to be able to endure the circumstances with any guarantee of safety and wait for better times. 

To find rescue and refuge from terror drove the desperate attempts to leave Germany at any cost. Favourite destinations were Western Europe, the US and Palestine, but also South and Middle America. 

No one will take Jewish refugees 

It may have become a necessity to emigrate, but visas were almost impossible to get. Most countries were unwilling to take Jewish immigrants. Under the repercussions of the World Economic Crisis, most countries were afraid to add further job-seekers to an already tight labour market. In addition, antisemitism played a role. 

Applying for work to emigrate was equally hopeless 

Many countries demanded proof that immigrants could support themselves.  They did not want immigrants competing with their domestic labour force. Often, that meant taking on unqualified work as a domestic servant or farmhand. 

Survivor testimonies  

The centre is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust through the stories of its victims and their testimony plays a central role in our work. Our collection holds valuable first hand testimony of the November Pogrom. Here Ruth Barnett MBE, Steven Mendelsohn, and Hedi Argent MBE recall their experiences. 

Ruth Barnett MBE

Steven Mendelsohn

Hedi Argent MBE

To watch our webcast, 'Kristallnacht: The night German civilisation shattered', here.