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Historical Context: Overview and Introduction

On and around 9th to the 10th November 1938, simultaneously in hundreds of towns and villages in Germany and Austria, thousands of Jews were terrorised, persecuted and victimised.

Synagogue smouldering after 'Kristallnacht' in Bamberg, November 1938.
Synagogue smouldering after 'Kristallnacht' in Bamberg, November 1938.

During these incidents over 1,200 synagogues and thousands of Jewish shops, businesses and homes were desecrated, looted and burned.Countless individuals were attacked, abused and beaten. Over 90 people were killed, over 25,000 men were arrested, deported and detained in the concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen, many of them for several months where they were brutally tortured and mistreated. Hundreds of these individuals died in the concentration camps as a result.

The sequence of events that preceded the November terror included increasing restrictions and disenfranchisement of Jews in Germany and Austria, a wave of arrests in May and June 1938, the expulsion of Polish-born Jews from Germany to the border with Poland in October 1938, and Herschel Grynszpan's mortal attack on German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris on 7 November 1938. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Goebbels used this as the pretext for launching the terror, although there is evidence that it had apparently already been planned for some time.

Immediately afterwards, on 12 November 1938, Nazi leaders met to assess the outcomes of the operation and to discuss further expropriation, expulsion, deportation, and the extermination of the Jews.

Wrecked and pillaged windows of Jewish shops
Wrecked and pillaged windows of Jewish shops

For those Jews able to emigrate, a swift departure was urgent but not easy, because of the intricate snares of bureaucratic procedures imposed on them along with punitive taxes and the seizure of a large proportion of their property and assets.

For those who could not get out, ghettoisation, poverty and desperation intensified as more and more Jews were rounded up and sent to Poland as forced labourers, and random attacks and executions of Jews were common.

Poland was invaded in September 1939, war was declared and the so-called 'Final Solution' that was the Holocaust gathered pace.


Please note:
The following texts about the political context and significance of the November Pogrom were written by the Mémorial de la Shoah, who have given us their generous permission to include them in this resource. These texts were first published in 2008 in the form of an exhibition catalogue to mark the 70th Anniversary of the November Pogrom and to accompany exhibitions and events held in Paris.


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