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Eyewitness to Kristallnacht

The Nazis used the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a 17-year-old Jewish student in Paris as an excuse for a government- sponsored pogrom known as "Kristallnacht" (night of broken glass). This massive wave of violence and destruction of Jewish property throughout Germany heralded a new, even more frightening stage in the Nazis' anti-Jewish campaign. The director of a Jewish orphanage provided this eyewitness account of how Kristallnacht unfolded in the town of Dinsklaken.




Facing the back of the building, we were able to watch how everything in the house was being systematically destroyed under the supervision of the men of law and order -- the police. At short intervals we could hear the crunching of glass or the hammering against wood as windows and doors were broken. Books, chairs, beds, tables, linen, chests, parts of a piano, a radiogram and maps were thrown through apertures in the wall, which a short while ago had been windows or doors.

In the meantime the mob standing around the building had grown to several hundred. Among these people I recognized some familiar faces, suppliers of the orphanage or trades-people, who only a day or a week earlier had been happy to deal with us as customers. This time they were passive, watching the destruction without much emotion.

At 10:15 AM we heard the wailing of sirens! We noticed a heavy cloud of smoke billowing upward. It was obvious from the direction it was coming from that the Nazis had set the synagogue on fire. Very soon we saw smoke -- clouds rising up, mixed with sparks of fire. Later I noticed that some Jewish houses, close to the synagogue, had also been set alight under the expert guidance of the fire-brigade. Its presence was also a necessity, since the firemen had to save the homes of the non-Jewish neighborhood.