Unseen Kristallnacht photos published 84 years after Nazi pogrom

Images released by Israeli Holocaust memorial show Hitler’s regime clearly orchestrating 1938 atrocity

Civilians watch a Nazi officer vandalise Jewish property, most likely in Fürth, outside Nuremberg.
Civilians watch a Nazi officer vandalise Jewish property, most likely in Fürth, outside Nuremberg. Photograph: AP

Harrowing, previously unseen images from 1938’s Kristallnacht pogrom against German and Austrian Jews have surfaced in a photograph collection donated to Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, the organisation said on Wednesday.

One shows a crowd of smiling, well-dressed middle-aged German men and women standing casually as a Nazi officer smashes a storefront window. In another, brownshirts carry heaps of Jewish books, presumably for burning. Another image shows a Nazi officer splashing petrol on the pews of a synagogue before it is set alight.

Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial centre, released the photographs on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. Mobs of Germans and Austrians attacked, looted and burned Jewish shops and homes, destroyed 1,400 synagogues, killed 92 Jews and sent another 30,000 to concentration camps.

Nazis pose next to a vandalised shop.
The photos were donated to Yad Vashem by the family of a Jewish-American serviceman who obtained them while deployed in Germany. Photograph: AP

The violence is widely considered a starting point of the Holocaust, in which Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews.

Jonathan Matthews, head of Yad Vashem’s photo archive, said the photos dispel a Nazi myth that the attacks were “a spontaneous outburst of violence” rather than a pogrom orchestrated by the state. Firefighters, SS special police officers and members of the general public are all seen in the photos participating in Kristallnacht. The photographers themselves were an integral part of the events.

Matthews said these were the first photos he was aware of depicting actions taking place indoors, as “most of the images we have of Kristallnacht are images from outside”. Altogether, he said, the photos “give you a much more intimate image of what’s happening”.

Nazis carrying books away, presumably for burning.
Jewish books being carried away, presumably for burning. Photograph: AP

The pictures were taken by Nazi photographers during the pogrom in the city of Nuremberg and the nearby town of Fürth. They wound up in the possession of a Jewish-American serviceman who was deployed to Germany during the second world war. How he obtained the photos is uncertain; he never talked about them to his family.

His descendants, who declined to give his name, donated the album to Yad Vashem as part of the institution’s effort to collect Holocaust-era objects kept by survivors and their families.

Petrol being poured over the pews of a synagogue before it is set on fire.
Petrol being poured over the pews of a synagogue. Photograph: AP

Yad Vashem said the photos help demonstrate how the German public was aware of what was going on, and that the violence was part of a meticulously coordinated pogrom carried out by Nazi authorities. They even brought in photographers to document the atrocities.

The Yad Vashem chairman, Dani Dayan, said the photos would “serve as everlasting witnesses long after the survivors are no longer here to bear testimony to their own experiences”.

Despite Nazi censorship, the Associated Press was able to send pictures from Kristallnacht when it happened that were widely circulated in the US. The images included a burning synagogue and people cleaning up glass from vandalised Jewish shops.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/09/unseen-kristallnacht-photos-published-84-years-after-nazi-pogrom

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