In October 1938, the Nazis ordered the expulsion from Germany of Jews who had been born in Poland; they were forced across the border in horrific conditions. In retaliation, Herschel Grynszpan, a young man whose parents had been amongst the deportees, assassinated a German diplomat in Paris. This was used by the Nazis as an excuse to launch a pogrom against the Jews of Germany on the night of 9-10 November 1938. Susan Oppenheimer was a Jewish teenager in Nuremberg.
A number of men, somewhere between seven and ten, came bursting into our house and started smashing up everything. They locked my parents in the bathroom... My younger sister and I shared a big room and I saw that her bed was full of glass and that everything had been smashed and the furniture was turned upside down. Then they pulled me out of bed and tore my nightdress to shreds and I was so self-conscious as a fifteen year old. There were roars of laughter from these young men, who seemed as if they were drunk, and they said to me, “Well, get your clothes on, where are they?” And I said, “In that wardrobe”... So I went to get them and as I went up to it they got behind it and threw it over. In fact it certainly would have killed me if they hadn't turned quite a large table upside down first; for a short time the table held the wardrobe and I crawled out underneath. Then they started smashing up the rest of the place. My parents were screaming and shouting because they didn't know what was happening to us, it really was awful. Then they left to smash up somebody else's house. It was then that life as I had known it, stopped.
In what became known as Kristallnacht (‘the night of broken glass’), at least 91 Jews were murdered and thousands of homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed. In the days that followed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and held in concentration camps until they agreed to emigrate and dozens of new anti-Jewish laws were issued.
Photo: a synagogue on fire on Kristallnacht, Marburg, November 1938; Yad Vashem
Testimony: Lyn Smith (ed.), Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust (Ebury Press, 2006)