On the evening of November 9, 1938, now known as Kristallnacht or "Night of the Broken Glass", the Nazis unleashed an orgy of violence against Jews throughout Germany. Hitler’s protégé, SS Security Service chief Reinhard Heydrich, instructed the Nazi security agencies to burn synagogues and vandalize Jewish institutions throughout the country. Nazi party members in nearly every German city and town rushed out into the streets to fulfill this directive. 

Hundreds of synagogues were torched and many more were damaged. Thousands of Jewish store windows were broken and the shops looted.  Homes and apartments were invaded and ransacked. Ninety-one Jews were killed. Thirty thousand Jewish men from age sixteen to sixty were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where over the next months more than a thousand died of the ensuing torture and beatings.  

Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels praised the “healthy instincts” of the German people and declared that “the Jewish problem will be solved very shortly in a manner satisfactory to the nation’s sense of right and wrong.”

Although the Nazis had already taken steps to eliminate Jews from Germany’s economic life, seizing over $800 million, after Kristallnacht the Nazis imposed an additional $400 million property tax on all Jews as a penalty, and imposed a levy of $60,000 each on wealthier Jewish families to pay for cleaning up the damage inflicted against them. Economics Minister Walther Funk stated that the Jews would be “completely obliterated from the business world.”

World reaction to Kristallnacht was strong. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned home the American ambassador from Berlin, and called for increased military spending to protect North and South America from Germany. But he stopped short of calling for increased immigration quotas for Jews fleeing the Nazis.

The pretext trigger for the Nazi-planned riots was an assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in France by the 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan, whose family were among the 12,000 Polish Jews deported two weeks earlier from Germany to the Polish border town of Zbaszyn, where the Poles had refused to admit them and placed them in a refugee camp.