Understanding Kristallnacht Lesson Plan | Facing History & Ourselves
Pedestrians in front of the demolished businesses of  Jewish residents on Potsdamer St., Berlin. November 10, 1938.

Understanding Kristallnacht

Students analyze a variety of firsthand accounts of Kristallnacht in order to piece together a story of what happened on that night.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust


About This Lesson

This lesson complements the resources from Chapter 7 of Holocaust and Human Behavior to help students investigate what happened in Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938, and the variety of choices individuals made in response to that night’s violence and terror. By analyzing a variety of readings containing firsthand accounts of Kristallnacht, students will actively piece together a more comprehensive story of what happened and arrive at a deeper understanding of the impact these events had on individuals who participated in them, were targeted by them, or witnessed them. This lesson asks student to consider the range of human behavior often observed in times of violence and terror and begin to see the impact that the choices of perpetrators, bystanders, and upstanders have on those around them. 

  • What happened on November 9 and 10, 1938? How can an examination of different sources documenting the event give us a more comprehensive picture of what actually happened?
  • What do the variety of responses to Kristallnacht teach us about the ways that people often respond to episodes of violence and terror? What roles can people who are not targeted by violence and terror play in perpetuating or preventing injustice?
  • Students will understand that: learning about a historical event through a variety of sources and from a range of accounts can help us gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of that event and its impact.
  • Students will understand that when an act of injustice occurs, those who witness but do not participate in it have the power to influence the impact and meaning of the event through their responses. 

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

  • 3 activities 
  • 1 video
  • 6 readings

Preparing to Teach

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Lesson Plans


In this activity, students will look at multiple primary sources in order to gather information about Kristallnacht and better understand what happened.

  • First, provide students with some brief background about Kristallnacht. Do so by showing the short video "Kristallnacht": The November 1938 Pogroms.
  • Then divide the class into small groups and assign each group one of the readings listed in the Materials section of this lesson.
  • Tell students to complete the following steps when looking at their group’s assigned reading:
    • Identify basic facts about the account: Who was the author? Who was the audience (if it is stated)? What kind of document is this? When was it created or written?
    • Analyze the account: Based on the background information you gathered, what was the document’s significance or purpose? What new information does the document contribute to your understanding of this historical moment? 1
  • Consider including the additional valuable documents about Kristallnacht included in our Teaching Salvaged Pages online collection. These digital resources include newspaper reports, a telegram sent by Nazis to deliver orders for the pogrom, and a diary entry written by a young man on November 11, 1938.
  • After students have had the opportunity to work with at least one reading, write the question “What happened on November 10, 1938?” on the board, and lead a class discussion in which students add information and inferences they took away from the readings to the words on the board. When a student adds a piece of information to the board, he or she should also identify the reading in which that information was found.

The events of Kristallnacht also provide a window into the range of choices people and groups made during this time.

  • Ask students to continue working in their groups from the first activity to review their assigned reading and to consider the following questions about human behavior during Kristallnacht:
    • What experience did the people or groups in this reading have with the events of Kristallnacht?
    • How did they react to Kristallnacht? What choices did they make?
    • What role did they play in perpetuating or preventing injustice?
    • What factors influenced their decision making?
    • What does this source teach us about perpetrators, bystanders, victims, or upstanders?
  • After students have completed their discussions, 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, and the role that the choice played in perpetuating or preventing injustice.

Conclude this lesson by leading a brief Think, Pair, Share discussion about the students’ experience of learning about Kristallnacht through multiple accounts and experiences. Focus the discussion on the following question:

  • How can different sources documenting Kristallnacht give us a more comprehensive picture and a deeper understanding of what happened and how it impacted people?

Materials and Downloads

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