75 Years After “The Night of Broken Glass” and the Gay Secret that Goebbels Hid


By Niall McArdle

Only a few weeks after the Munich Crisis, in which Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler, Nazi Germany showed its true colours regarding its policy towards Jews. With a combination of violence and propaganda, it carried out a series of attacks on Jews across the country.

On November 9th, 1938, violence broke out across the Reich. Thousands of Jewish businesses were attacked. Over two hundred synagogues were set on fire. At first it appeared to be a sudden outburst of unplanned attacks, attributed to anger at the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris. In fact, the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) was a well-orchestrated campaign organised by Joseph Goebbels.

Joseph Goebbels, Germany's Propaganda Genius
Joseph Goebbels, Germany’s Propaganda Genius

Following two nights of violence and vandalism, the official Nazi crackdown on Jews and Jewish business began in earnest. Thousands of Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Jewish businesses were only allowed reopen under strict conditions. Curfews against Jews went into effect.

To add insult to injury, the Nazis actually fined Jews for the destruction on the nights of the pogrom and barred them from collecting any insurance against damages.


Of course, as with everything else under the Nazis, the Night of Broken Glass did not emerge out of a vacuum. Nascent German – and Polish – anti-Semitism had been skilfully exploited to provoke the attacks. Several weeks before the Kristallnacht, Poland decided that any Jews who had lived outside of the country for more than five years would have their passports revoked, effectively making thousands of Polish Jews who were living in Germany stateless.

kristalnacht deportations Sir Martin Gilber Map sm

Berlin said it would expel 15,000 Polish Jews unless the Polish government agreed to allow them to return to Poland. Warsaw refused. On October 31st, the Nazis deported thousands of Polish Jews -the so-called “Polenaktion” – in one massive operation.

Herschel Grynszpan
Herschel Grynszpan

During the deportation, a teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, escaped the round-up and fled to France. Upset at what was being forced upon his fellow Jews, he assassinated a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst Vom Rath. Grynszpan was arrested and his trial was set.

However, the Nazis had a potential embarrassment on their hands: Vom Rath was a well-known homosexual in Paris. It is alleged that he picked up Grynszman on the street, and that the teenager killed his gay lover after Vom Rath failed to protect his family as he had promised.

Ernst Vom Rath, the "Madame Ambassador" of the Paris gay scene
Ernst Vom Rath, the “Madame Ambassador” of the Paris gay scene

Goebbels could not risk such an accusation – real or not – and decided to whip up the German masses into a frenzy of anti-Jewish hatred. The result was the Kristallnacht: a horrifying foreshadowing of the Holocaust to follow.

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