November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) takes place.
The event that set off this violent series of pogroms, which flared up across Germany and Austria through November 9 and 10, was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a young Jewish refugee. When the news of vom Rath’s death reached Nazi higher-ups, Joseph Goebbels made a speech in which he stated that “the Führer has decided that… demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.” In effect, the government declared that it would not officially organize any “demonstrations”, but it would do nothing to prevent them, either; to many, Goebbels’ message was a clear call to Gauleitersacross the country to organize pogroms. To what extent this was Goebbels’ own plot or a joint and widely-agreed upon plan by Nazi officials is unclear, since some prominent officials disagreed with or at least criticized Goebbels’ actions.
Nevertheless, the attacks that would be collectively be known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) and the Night of Broken Glass began during the late hours of November 9. Orders from Reinhard Heydrich explicitly stated that German life and property were not to be harmed, but with no direct statement condoning or encouraging violence against Jews and Jewish property, they were more or less fair game. The attacks gained their name from the over 7,000 Jewish businesses that were destroyed, the glass windows of their storefronts shattered. Also given special attention were synagogues, which Goebbels referred to as “Jewish fortresses”; in all, over 200 were damaged or destroyed, and, in general, little effort was made by local fire departments to stop their destruction. Jewish civilians were attacked by mobs of civilians and SA men. In all, over 90 people were killed (hundreds more were injured), and some 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The Nazi regime’s apparent encouragement for the violent actions that took place strained the country’s relations with much of the Western world, including the United States. It was, in that way, a sort of turning point, but it also marked a turning point within Germany with regards to the treatment of German Jews. While anti-semitism had certainly been endorsed by the government through boycotting measures and miscegenation laws, persecution now took a definite and irreversible turn toward violence and physical destruction. Because of this, Kristallnacht is sometimes used to mark the beginning of the Holocaust.