THE QUIET OF THE EARLY November morning was shattered by loud voices and the screech of brakes. Herman peered through the crack in the stable door. A prickle of fear shot up his neck at the sight of a covered truck, two police motorcycles, and a black sedan in front of the homes across the street. Two brown-shirted SA officers, the Swastika symbols on their armbands blazing, pounded on his cousin’s front door.

* * *

So begins Immigrant Soldier, The Story of a Ritchie Boy.

Before Kristallnacht, Herman tried to live each day within the confines of the new anti-Jewish laws. Like many assimilated Jews in Germany at the time, he loved his country and figured the “Nazi madness” couldn’t last long. But Kristallnacht revealed a very real, physical danger for any Jew who remained in Germany. It was a turning point for Herman, as well as for many other German-Jews. This night of riots, fire, and beatings is often considered to be the beginning of the Holocaust.

Starting just before midnight on November 9, 1938, mayhem invaded the streets of cities and towns throughout Germany, as well as in newly annexed Austria and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. By morning, the streets were littered with shards of glass from the broken windows of synagogues, Jewish businesses, and homes. SA, SS, and Hitler youth, many in civilian clothing to confirm the lie that the riots were a spontaneous uprising of the citizenry, looted shops and homes, stole the records from synagogues and took them to the police, smeared anti-Semitic graffiti over walls, and beat and humiliated Jewish men.

The tumult of destruction proceeded according to rules set out in specific orders from Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Security Police, at 1:20 a.m. on November 10.

  • No foreigners (non-German nationals) should be subject to violence.
  • No non-Jewish German property should be endangered.
  • All synagogue archives should be removed before these religious buildings were vandalized or burned.
  • Fire fighters should not interfere to put down fires unless the flames endangered neighboring non-Jewish structures.
  • As many Jews as possible should be arrested, especially young, healthy men able to work.


By the end of the evening of November 10, the pogrom was over. 7,500 Jewish businesses where looted, their plate-glass storefronts shattered and in the streets. Jewish cemeteries and places of worship were desecrated, including 267 synagogues, many burned to the ground. Ninety-one Jews were murdered in that one day, many Jewish women were raped, and 30,000 Jewish males were arrested and sent to the labor/concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen.

Somehow it was the litter of broken glass in the streets that most upset Germans with their affinity for cleanliness and order. There is continuing controversy surrounding the use of the term Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) to refer to these events. Many Holocaust scholars feel that because the term was first used by Nazi leaders to trivialize the pogrom, it should not be perpetuated. Others contend that the term Kristallnacht, after almost 75 years of usage, carries the full emotional power of the completely Nazi, totally German pogrom of November 9–10, 1938. The origins of the term may no longer be as significant as the fact that the


word Kristallnacht has been transformed over the years into a word of unforgettable and terrible meaning.

But what actually triggered the orgy of anti-Semitism? And what happened afterward? These are questions I will answer next.


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