Kristallnacht was a turning point in the mounting persecution of Jews by the Nazi party. Before these two days of terror, the campaign against German Jews had primarily been nonviolent. That all changed during the events of November 9-10, 1938.
The Gestapo formed mobs and took to the streets to destroy Jewish businesses and residences, killing 91 people and arresting 30,000 Jewish men. As over 200 synagogues burned across Germany, firefighters were instructed to stand by and hose the flames that licked surrounding buildings, but to do nothing to extinguish the core fires within any Jewish house of worship or dwelling.
Despite this highly prominent and flagrant display of violence, Kristallnacht was widely ignored by the non-Jewish citizenry. This night signalled the end of any hope that Jewish people could live freely as Jews in the German Reich.
Our lesson on Kristallnacht is from our 15-lesson unit Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour, which leads students through a detailed and challenging study of the Holocaust. When examining this catastrophic period during the Second World War, students explore what it teaches us about the power and impact of choices.
In Lesson 10: Kristallnacht, students learn about the violent pogroms of Kristallnacht by watching a short documentary and reflecting on eyewitness testimonies. They then look closely at the range of choices made by individuals, groups, and countries—to participate in the attacks, to oppose attacks, to help the victims, or to look the other way—and connect those choices to universal concepts about human behaviour in times of crisis.
Learning about the brutal acts of Kristallnacht helps students make vital connections between the past and the present: antisemitism still persists and, worryingly, hate speech and assaults against Jews have increased in recent years. According to figures from the Community Security Trust, reports of antisemitic incidents reached a record high in the UK last year.
To help students understand how contemporary antisemitism manifests, you might choose to share one or more of the following resources: Responses to Antisemitism Online, A Young Upstander Stands Up to Hate and Fan Culture at a Tottenham Match. Students can then reflect on what they have learnt by completing a Connect, Extend, Challenge activity.
Coming soon: our new unit to exploring contemporary antisemitism, its impact and what needs to be done to challenge it is in its final stages of development.