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Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane
Resources to help you teach the book in middle schools and high schools

Historical Context

Kristallnacht: A Turning Point

In the fall of 1938, many Europeans and Americans discovered how desperate the situation was for Jews in Greater Germany. In October, Hitler announced plans to expel all Jews who were technically citizens of another country. Those who held Russian passports were the first to go. Fearing that the 70,000 Polish Jews in Greater Germany would be next, the Polish government required them to have a special stamp on their passports. Yet when Polish Jews tried to secure this stamp, they were turned away. The crisis came to a head when Poland announced that it would not issue stamps after October 31. On October 26, the Nazis responded by expelling all Polish Jews. When Poland refused to accept them, thousands ended up in refugee camps along the border. Among them were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old living in France.

Angry and frustrated by his inability to help his family, Grynszpan marched into the German Embassy in Paris on November 7 and shot a Nazi official. When the man died two days later, the Nazis decided to avenge his death. That night they looted and then destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. They set fire to 191 synagogues, killed more than 90 Jews, and sent 30,000 others to concentration camps—prison camps for civilians. The night of November 9–10 came to be known as Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.” The German press described the riots as the “spontaneous reaction” of the German people to the murder of an official by a Jew—but it was in fact carefully planned. A set of instructions issued by the government included a list of which buildings would be allowed to burn. Two days after the violence, the government fined the Jewish community one billion marks for “property damaged in the rioting.”

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Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business

Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business in Berlin that was destroyed during Kristallnacht, November 1938.

 

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