November pogroms 1938

Gouache depicting violence during the Night of Broken Glass as painted by German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon. The caption states ‘Death to Jews! Take everything you can’. Image courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum © Charlotte Salomon Foundation

In response to the shooting of Legation Councillor Ernst vom Rath in the German embassy in Paris on 7 November 1938 by a young Polish Jew, German newspapers reported the attack as the work of ‘world Jewry’. ‘Retaliatory raids’ on synagogues and Jewish schools, homes, and shops ensued across Germany. This violence intensified in the following days, as news spread of Ernst vom Rath’s subsequent death and NSDAP leaders allowed ‘displays of outrage’ to proceed. In most cases, the perpetrators of the anti-Jewish violence were members of the SA, NSDAP, or Hitler Youth. The November pogroms marked a shift in the collective consciousness of Jews regarding life under the Nazi regime and led to intensified emigration efforts.

The November pogroms are described here in eyewitness accounts written by Jewish victims and non-Jewish German bystanders. The selected documents also offer an unfiltered look at how Nazi leaders and media construed the pogroms.

Sample documents
Volume 2  –  document 123
Gerda Kappes tells her mother-in-law about the pogroms in Bebra on 7 and 9 November 1938
‘We heard a terrible racket and did not sleep at all, because axe blows sound so very scary at night.’
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Volume 2  –  document 124
Joseph Goebbels’s diary entries concerning the evening of 9 November 1938 and the instructions for the November pogroms
‘I brief the Führer on the matter. He decides: let the demonstrations continue. Pull back the police. Let the Jews feel the anger of the people for once.’
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Volume 2  –  document 156
On 15 November 1938 a French diplomat in Berlin analyses the background to the pogroms and the resulting international tensions
‘The rumour is circulating here among the ordinary people that the attack on Mr vom Rath was nothing but a Gestapo plot to finally allow the Nazis to brutally settle the Jewish question.’
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Volume 2  –  document 163
On 19 November 1938 a father from Beuthen writes to his daughter living abroad about events during the November pogrom
‘Is the world’s conscience not stirred? Can the countries stand by impassively and see how hundreds of thousands are being bullied, tormented, and martyred?’
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Volume 2  –  document 185
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee memorandum, dated 30 November 1938, on the consequences of the pogrom in various cities, as well as in Jewish retraining centres and in concentration camps
‘I could go on telling you some more of these horrible stories, but the mere repetition of them is so upsetting that I hate imposing them on anyone.’
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Volume 2  –  document 219
NS-Frauen-Warte, December 1938: article about reactions in Germany and abroad to the November pogroms
‘The spontaneous manifestations of outrage all over Germany and the measures taken by the Reich government have unleashed a new, unparalleled storm of agitation and defamation directed at Germany.’
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