The family of Herschel Grynszpan, 17, was among the Polish Jews who ended up in a Polish concentration camp near the border town of Zbaszyn. Living in Paris at the time, Herschel did not know in detail what was happening to his family, but word received from his sister Berta indicated that the Grynszpans had been forced to leave their home in Hannover, Germany. In reprisal, Grynszpan went to the German Embassy in Paris on November 7 and shot a diplomat named Ernst vom Rath, who would die two days later.
News of the shooting led some local Nazi leaders to instigate violence and rioting in parts of Germany during the evening of November 8. The following evening, after Rath's death, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave the signal, sanctioned by Hitler himself, for a nationwide pogrom against the Reich's Jews to avenge Rath's murder. Evidence that these November pogroms, which came to be known collectively as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, or Night of Broken Glass), were anything but spontaneous is illustrated by the telegram that Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent to all police units at 11:55 on the evening of November 9: "In shortest order," Müller instructed, "actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all Germany. These are not to be interfered with...."
The "actions" were devastating. Throughout the Reich, Jewish synagogues, cemeteries, hospitals, schools, businesses, and homes were looted, wrecked, and often set aflame. Scores of Jews were killed; thousands more were arrested and marched off to concentration camps. The Jews' German neighbors inflicted much of this damage, while police not only followed Müller's orders not to interfere but went on to arrest many of those who had been victimized. Meanwhile, fire brigades followed their orders, too: Let torched synagogues burn, but protect Aryan property nearby.
Kristallnacht ended the illusion that anything resembling normal Jewish life was still possible in the Third Reich. Its violence also smashed some Nazi illusions, for the shattered glass that littered the streets symbolized the high cost that the November pogroms had exacted for Germany. Property valuable to the Reich had been wantonly destroyed. Despite their antisemitism, many Germans also found the violence abhorrent.
On November 12 Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, who controlled the Reich's economic planning, convened an important meeting to deal with Kristallnacht's consequences. Göring opened the meeting by announcing that it would be of "a decisive nature," for he had received "a letter written on the Führer's orders...requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or the other." At the time, Göring remained convinced that the solution was "mainly an economic one." His stated goal was "the elimination of the Jew from the German economy."
The policies that emerged from Göring's meeting on November 12 were not yet overtly genocidal, but those brainstorming talks led to harsh segregation measures and lethal economic restrictions that soon barred Jews from theaters, denied them admission to German parks and schools, and made it increasingly difficult for Jews to earn a living in the Third Reich. It was increasingly hopeless to think that Nazi Germany's anti-Jewish policies would relent. The end of that illusion was at hand.
Göring aptly concluded his November meeting--and summed up the year 1938 as well--when he said, "I would not like to be a Jew in Germany."