Kristallnacht (UK) | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Image showing the destruction resulting from Kristallnacht.

Kristallnacht (UK)

Students learn about the violent pogroms of Kristallnacht by watching a short documentary and then reflecting on eyewitness testimonies.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Lesson

In the previous lessons, students explored the variety of methods the Nazis used to marginalise Jews and other supposedly inferior groups. In this lesson, students will continue this unit’s historical case study by learning about a major escalation of the Nazi campaign against Jews, the violent pogroms of Kristallnacht on 9–10 November 1938. Students will learn about these events by watching a short documentary and examining a range of first-hand accounts. They will then look closely at the range of choices made by individuals, groups, and countries – to participate in the attacks, to oppose them, to help the victims, or to look the other way – and connect those choices to universal concepts about human behaviour in times of crisis.

What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

What do the variety of responses to Kristallnacht teach us about the ways that people respond in times of fear and crisis?

  • Students will cite evidence from a mini-documentary to understand the historical significance of Kristallnacht as a major escalation of the Nazi campaign against Jews.
  • Students will define the terms perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander and use first-person testimonies about Kristallnacht to demonstrate how these roles that people play in times of fear and crisis do not describe fixed identities; individuals move into and out of these roles depending on circumstances.

This lesson is designed to fit into a one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 3 activities
  • 1 suggested homework
  • 3 handouts 
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 1 video
  • 2 extension activities

In the second half of the 1930s, the Nazis became openly aggressive towards neighbouring countries and increasingly violent against Jews and other targeted minorities within Greater Germany.

By 1935, Hitler’s efforts to rebuild the German military forces (which had begun in 1933 in violation of the Treaty of Versailles) became public, and Germany began taking steps towards expanding the Third Reich across all of Europe. The first steps included annexing Austria (an act known as the Anschluss) and the part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland, territories inhabited by so-called ‘true Germans’ who Hitler believed ought to be part of the Reich. Fearful of igniting a new world war, the leaders of other countries were unwilling to oppose with military force Hitler’s demands for these territories. As a result, Germany expanded into Austria and Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. (The Nazis’ plans to expand Germany’s ‘living space’ are explored in more detail in the next lesson.)

The German takeover of Austria and the Sudetenland increased the number of Jews affected by Nazi restrictions, while at the same time discrimination intensified to the point where Jews were effectively removed from German public life. This meant that Germany’s aggressive steps to expand its borders touched off both an international political crisis, as world leaders scrambled to avoid war, and a humanitarian refugee crisis, as hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, sought safety from the Nazis.

The ineffective international response deepened the peril in which Jews in the Reich found themselves. The danger became even more dire on 9–10 November 1938, in what was called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) – the worst outbreak of terror and violence against Jews all over Germany since the Nazis came to power.

On that night, according to the Nazi propaganda, ‘the German people’ spontaneously took revenge on the Jewish people for the murder of a Nazi diplomat in Paris by a young Jewish man named Herschel Grynszpan. In reality, the violence had been planned and organised by the Nazis, and carried out by the SS, SA, Hitler Youth, and other Nazi groups.

By the morning of 10 November, they had destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, and they had set fire to 191 synagogues, the centres of Jewish social and spiritual life, in every part of Greater Germany. Fire departments were instructed not to put out the fires but merely to stand by and make sure that adjacent property did not go up in flames. Although the exact figure is not known, it is likely that anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 Jews died as a result of the violence and 30,000 others were afterwards sent to concentration camps. Two days later, the German government fined the Jewish community 1 billion marks for ‘property damaged in the rioting’.

In this lesson, students will learn about the events of 9–10 November 1938, and they will explore the choices a variety of people made during and after this violent crisis to participate in the violence, help those who were targeted, or look the other way. This lesson introduces important terms that help us understand this range of human behaviour in times of crisis. The roles of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander can be assumed by individuals, groups, or even nations. But it can be difficult to define each term clearly. For example, under the label upstander, we often list those who take a variety of actions, including resistance and rescue. However, upstanders might also include those who are able to maintain a part of their identity despite opposition, such as people who continue to secretly practise their religious faith or others who refuse to give up hope. The term bystander can be even more complicated. In most dictionaries, it means a person who is simply ‘standing by’ or who is present without taking part in what is going on – a passive spectator. But some scholars, like psychologist Ervin Staub, believe that even passive spectators play a crucial role in defining the meaning of events by implicitly approving the actions of perpetrators. The choice not to act or speak up is still a choice.

It is important to recognise that it is not these labels themselves, as words, that matter; it is the way we think and talk about the actions (or inactions) of others that helps us both understand history and make connections to the choices we all make in the present. In addition, it is important to remember that individuals and groups usually do not fit into only one category. Instead, they may move into and out of these roles throughout their lives.

But studying this history and others with these terms in mind, despite those limitations, allows us to think about the agency of individuals, groups, and nations – their ability to recognise the options available to them and make choices that impact their own lives, the lives of others, and the course of history. By reflecting on the agency of individuals, groups, and nations in historical context, we can better understand the possibility and power of the choices available to us today.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:

  1. Pogrom
  2. Perpetrator
  3. Victim
  4. Bystander
  5. Upstander

Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide the necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.

The terms bystander and upstander are difficult to define clearly because they can apply to a variety of different kinds of choices in different circumstances. It is important that students understand the nuances of these two terms before applying them to choices from the past they learn about in this lesson and their own personal choices. To help you guide students through the nuances, make sure to read carefully the discussion of these terms in the Context section before teaching this lesson.

The readings in the handout Responses to Kristallnacht vary in length and complexity, so you will need to consider in advance how you will group students for Activity 3 (Analyse Responses to Kristallnacht). One option is to create heterogeneous groupings of readers so the stronger readers can assist struggling ones with pacing, vocabulary, and comprehension. Alternatively, you might group students by level and work more closely with struggling readers to target specific literacy skills while allowing the more confident readers to tackle the content independently. 

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.

The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales, context, and detailed activity instructions that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plan


  • Explain to students that today they will be learning about a major escalation of the Nazi campaign against Jews, the violent pogroms of Kristallnacht on 9–10 November 1938, and exploring the different ways in which people responded to the violence.  
  • First, have students make connections between injustice and their own lives by asking them to respond in their journals to the following questions. Project or write the questions on the board one at a time. Let students know that they will not be sharing their responses.
    • Write about a time when you could have helped someone but chose not to. What happened? What choices did you have in that moment? What made it hard to help in that moment?
    • Write about a time when you made the choice to help someone. What happened? What choices did you have in that moment? How did it feel?
  • Pass out the handout The Range of Human Behaviour Vocabulary Terms. Students should work in pairs to write the predicted meaning of each term in the middle column. Project, dictate, or provide the definitions of the following terms: 
    • Perpetrator: A person carrying out a harmful, illegal, or immoral act.
    • Victim or Target: A person being targeted by the harmful, illegal, or immoral acts of a perpetrator.
    • Bystander: A person who is present but not actively taking part in a situation or event.
    • Upstander: A person speaking or acting in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.
  • Tell students that ‘victims’ can also be called ‘targets’. Because these are roles and not parts of our identities, we say ‘victim of bullying’ or a ‘target of bullying’ rather than ‘he is a victim’.
  • Explain that individuals and groups do not fit solely into one category. Instead, they slip in and out of these roles throughout their lives and because of extenuating circumstances. Individuals can also play more than one role at the same time.
  • Explain to students that they will learn about an explosion of violence against Jews in Germany in November 1938, and will examine the choices a variety of individuals made in response to these events.  
  • Students will initially learn about what happened on 9 and 10 November 1938, by watching one video in which historians discuss the causes, events, and aftermath of Kristallnacht. 
  • Students will hear the word pogrom in this lesson, so if they have not yet learnt it, provide a dictionary definition:

    pogrom: an organised massacre of helpless people; specifically, such a massacre of Jews

  • Pass out the handouts “Kristallnacht”: The November 1938 Pogroms Viewing Guide in preparation for viewing the video “Kristallnacht”: The November 1938 Pogroms.
  • There are powerful images of destruction in this video, so it is important that your students are able to watch the film and not focus solely on their handout.
  • You might ask students to read the questions in advance, and then pause the film a few times to allow them to record their reactions, or give them time to write after viewing the film.
  • Briefly discuss students’ responses to the questions.
  • Explain to students that they will now read about a variety of experiences and choices that people made in response to the pogroms that occurred on Kristallnacht in groups, thinking about the responses of those mentioned in the sources. 
  • Assign each group one of the readings from the handout Responses to Kristallnacht, instructing them to read the source and then answer the questions. 
  • After groups have completed the questions, have a spokesperson for each group report to the class about:
    • one of the choices made in the reading that the group discussed, 
    • the reasons the individual made that choice, 
    • the role that the choice played in perpetuating or preventing injustice,
    • what this source suggests about human behaviour in times of fear and crisis, and
    • what this source suggests about the roles people who are not targeted by violence and terror play in perpetuating or preventing injustice.
  • After each spokesperson’s report, ask the class to respond by briefly discussing how an individual they studied seemed to define their universe of obligation and how that individual’s sense of responsibility towards others influenced their actions.

Suggested Homework 

You could consider applying the Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World teaching strategy by asking students to make connections to resources from this lesson. For homework, ask them to choose something they encountered in this lesson and write a paragraph that describes how those stories connect to other literature, histories, current events, or personal experiences they know about. It is important to give students the choice about which of these three types of connections they want to write about, since their knowledge of literature, history, and, especially, their personal experiences will vary.

Extension Activities

  • The allegorical poem ‘The Hangman’ by Maurice Ogden explores the consequences of inaction after a hangman arrives and constructs his gallows in the centre of a small town. You can either read ‘The Hangman’ or watch an animated version that can be found online.
  • Conclude with an activity based on the Connect, Extend, Challenge strategy, in which students reflect on how the poem enhances their thinking about the range of choices in times of crisis and the reasons and explanations that bystanders might give for their choices.

For classes with older students, the primary source Nazi Telegram with Instructions for Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938 details the instructions sent from Reinhard Heydrich, major general of the SS, on 10 November 1938, that explained to local German officers how to carry out the anti-Jewish measures that became known as Kristallnacht. Consider sharing this document with students and asking the students to reflect in their journals on the following prompt:

What new, different, or deeper understanding of Kristallnacht do you have as a result of reading this Nazi telegram? What new questions does the document raise for you?

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts that students use throughout the Kristallnacht (UK) lesson plan.

Download the Files

“Kristallnacht”: The November 1938 Pogroms Viewing Guide - PDF
Provide students with prompts for reflection as they watch a short documentary about Kristallnacht.
The Range of Human Behaviour Vocabulary Terms (UK) - PDF
Students predict the definitions of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander, using context clues.llnacht.

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