A crowd watches, smiling, as a uniformed officer smashes a shop window. Another officer pours gasoline on the pews of a synagogue. Men haul away stacks of books for burning.
Newly released photos reveal these harrowing moments from Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” This week marks 84 years since the tragic event that sparked the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
A brief history lesson: Germany suffered humiliation after its defeat in World War I, known then as “The Great War.” But a new leader arose and offered power to the German people. His name was Adolf Hitler. His hateful ideas spread quickly. Among them: antisemitism (discrimination and hatred against Jewish people).
Those evil ideas turned into violent action on November 9, 1938. Across Germany and Austria, a pogrom (a massacre based on ethnicity) broke out. Mobs burned and looted Jewish homes and businesses. They destroyed 1,400 synagogues and killed 92 Jewish people. They sent another 30,000 Jewish people to concentration camps.
This night would become known as Kristallnacht because of the glass shards from broken windows that filled the streets. It marked the beginning of the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, Nazi Germany would murder six million Jewish people.
That fact should make our hearts hurt. It should also remind us of humanity’s true sinfulness, and just how much we need a Savior.
The photographs show that Nazi officials played a major role in Kristallnacht. The violence wasn’t spontaneous, as some claimed. Firefighters and special police took part in the pogrom.
But so did ordinary people. Some, such as pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, resisted Nazi hatred. Many more went along with the hate. Even many who called themselves Christians participated or turned a blind eye.
The newly released photographs were taken by Nazi photographers. A Jewish American serviceman found them during World War II when the American military entered Germany. His descendants donated the photos to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Israel.
Antisemitism still exists today. Some people still spread hatred and lies about Jewish people. Some even deny that the Holocaust truly happened.
When Kristallnacht occurred, journalists managed to send photographs out of the country, despite Nazi censorship. Truth-tellers made sure the world knew about Germany’s injustice. Their work—and the work of others like them—helped spur other nations to action.
Today, people at places like Yad Vashem carry on that mission. They help us remember the truth. They show us how easily sinful humans—even entire nations—can fall into lies and hatred. Their work equips us to prevent such evil from taking root again.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. — Ephesians 5:11
UPDATE: Representatives from Yad Vashem have clarified that these photos are not, as previously claimed, “never-before-seen.” They had been partially released in several places. However, many people were previously unaware of these photos and their value.
(A Nazi official smashes the window of a Jewish business during Kristallnacht. German citizens watch. Yad Vashem via AP)