Kristallnacht—and What Groups Like ADL Are Doing About Its Legacy 

Listen to the sound of hate. Listen as it grows. From soft-spoken slander to sardonic laugh; from the bang of a gavel to fiery speech, then the jeers of the mob, the screaming of epithets, the explosion of gunfire—and finally, at the end, the tinkling of broken glass.

Today marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass,” so named for the myriad shards of glass littering the streets of Germany after a riot that saw the destruction of Jewish shops, buildings, and synagogues in 1938.

Business with broken windows
The broken windows of a Jewish-owned printing business in Berlin in the days following Kristallnacht (Photo by Everett Collection/

Nazi paramilitary thugs along with private citizens demolished nearly 300 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in a rampage that destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses and ended in the death of hundreds of Jews and the incarceration of 30,000 others in concentration camps. The highly organized nationwide pogrom was greenlit by Hitler and marked the escalation of Nazi anti-Semitism from economic and social oppression to overt violence, beatings, imprisonment, torture and murder.

Listen to the sound of hate. Listen as it grows. 

Police and civil authorities were warned in advance not to interfere, except to protect property owned by non-Jews. Even insurance on damaged property was confiscated by German authorities for “reparations” (calculated in the billions) for the alleged shooting of a German diplomat by a young Jew.

A horrified world press documented the violence. “Mob rule ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening,” wrote Hugh Greene of The Daily Telegraph, “and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destructions… Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun.’”

Barbed wire fence
Photo by Szymon Kaczmarczyk/

Kristallnacht is where many date the Holocaust began.

How does one mark such a dark time? With lamentations? Prayers and fasting? The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is opting instead for solutions to hate and bigotry in all its forms—marking the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht with its own annual Never Is Now summit, so-named after the familiar response to the Holocaust: Never Again.

Never Is Now opened the conversation to scholars, students, celebrities, community leaders and heroes, “all,” as ADL puts it, “united in an effort to rally our communities in the pursuit of a better tomorrow. In the midst of the highest rates of anti-Semitic incidents ever tracked by ADL, we’re tackling crucial conversations about hate and bigotry in today’s world and creating a stronger, more inclusive movement for the future.”

The three-day conference was kicked off by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris—herself no stranger to prejudice as a Black, South Asian American—and continued this week, addressing subjects like the spreading of online hate through social media, the link between disinformation and bigotry, the need for all branches of Judaism to unite against anti-Semitism, the connection between anti-Black speech, racism and anti-Jewish hate, and many other topics.

Let us pray that through such conversations and the unity they foster; through problem-solving instead of handwringing; through education rather than demagoguery, the sounds of hate will be drowned out by the gentle murmur of joy.

That, or the tranquility of peace.

John Evans
John Evans has written for theater and the big screen. His essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in several publications on the East and West Coasts.