Tell students that they will be studying several documents related to the same event in order to compare and contrast source material. To prepare them for this assignment, provide students with some or all of the following background on the Kristallnacht Pogrom.
From the time the Nazis came to power in 1933 they began isolating Jews in Germany, and passed many laws to that effect. In the first half of 1938, additional laws were passed in Germany restricting Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities. In July 1938, a law was passed requiring all Jews to carry identification cards. Later that year, 17,000 Jews of Polish citizenship, many of whom had been living in Germany for decades, were arrested and relocated across the Polish border. The Polish government refused to admit them so they were interned in “relocation camps” on the Polish frontier. Among the deportees was Zindel Grynszpan, who had been born in western Poland and had moved to Hanover, Germany, where he established a small store, in 1911. On the night of October 27, Grynszpan and his family were forced out of their home by German police. His store and the family’s possessions were confiscated and they were forced to move over the Polish border. Grynszpan’s seventeen-year-old son, Herschel, was living with an uncle in Paris. When he received news of his family’s expulsion, he went to the German embassy in Paris on November 7, intending to assassinate the German Ambassador to France. Upon discovering that the Ambassador was not in the embassy, he shot a low-ranking diplomat, Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath. Rath was critically wounded and died two days later, on November 9. Grynszpan’s attack was interpreted by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Chief of Propaganda, as a direct attack against the Reich and used as an excuse to launch a pogrom against Jews. The Nazis euphemistically called this pogromKristallnacht, “Night of the Broken Glass”; the harmless sound of the name disguised the terror and devastation of the pogrom and the demoralization faced by Jews across Germany, Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. On the nights of November 9 and 10, rampaging mobs throughout Germany and the newly acquired territories of Austria and Sudetenland freely attacked Jews in the street, in their homes, and at their places of work and worship. Almost 100 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured; approximately 7,000 Jewish businesses and homes were damaged and looted; 1,400 synagogues were burned; cemeteries and schools were vandalized; and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Divide the class into six groups and have each group select a recorder. Distribute one of the documents listed below to each group, and instruct students to discuss and make notes on what they learn about the Kristallnacht Pogrom from studying the material:
Textbook description of the Kristallnacht Pogrom [Note: Locate and have on hand a textbook, or a portion thereof, that includes information about the Kristallnacht Pogrom.]
After allowing ample time to discuss the documents, instruct students to pass their documents to another group. Group members should again discuss and make notes on what they learn about the topic from studying the material. Continue this process until all groups have had an opportunity to analyze all six documents.
Have students share their thinking about the six documents in a whole-group discussion. Following are suggested questions:
Which of these materials are primary source documents? Which are secondary source documents?
What were some of the things your group noticed while studying the two photographs? What questions, if any, did the photographs raise for your group?
How is studying photographs different from studying other types of material?
What did you learn about the Kristallnacht Pogrom by reading Heydrich’s instructions?
What argument does Margarete Drexler use in her letter to the Gestapo to try to get her money returned? Why is this information important to know?
How does the Description of the Riot in Dinslaken make the story of the Kristallnacht Pogrom a “human story”?
What, if anything, did you learn from the textbook description of the Kristallnacht Pogrom that you didn’t learn from any of the primary sources?
Kurt Messerschmidt was born January 2, 1915 in Werneuchen, Germany. He was forced to live in the Theresienstadt ghetto and later imprisoned in the concentration camps of Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Golleschau, and Ganacker. Kurt also was a prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. His interview was conducted in the United States. When the war began, Kurt was twenty-four years old.
Explain to students that another source of information about the Holocaust is survivor and witness testimony. Survivor and witness testimonies, unlike documents or words from a book, communicate the crucial role of the individual’s experiences through his or her stories. The interviewees in these testimonies are not “simply” Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. They are students, teachers, brothers, sisters, friends, and family members. They tell stories that recount anger, frustration, humor, surprise, relief, and fear. Viewing first-person, visual history testimony is a personal experience—no two people necessarily react to hearing a particular clip of testimony exactly the same way. Tell students that the visual history testimony that they will hear was collected by USC Shoah Foundation. Information about USC Shoah Foundation can be found at the beginning of this guide and on the Echoes and Reflections website.