On the night of October 27, 1938, Zindel Grynszpan and his family were arrested by the German police, forced from their home and stripped of their possessions. Grynszpan—a Jewish shopkeeper who had lived in Germany for 27 years—and 17,000 other Jews of Polish citizenship were forced into relocation camps near the Polish border. Enraged by news of the expulsion, Grynszpan's seventeen-year-old son, who was living with relatives in Paris, walked into the German Embassy there and fired five shots at a junior diplomat, who died two days later.
The assassination provided Hitler with the pretext he needed to launch a massive pogrom against German Jews. Over the course of two nights – November 9th and 10th – gangs of Nazi youth stormed Jewish neighborhoods, smashing the windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burning synagogues, looting shops and physically beating and terrorizing thousands of Jewish residents. The name Kristallnacht, loosely translated as the “Night of Broken Glass,” euphemizes the tragic destruction and plundering of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues which left city and town streets carpeted with broken glass.
Jews were terrorized in their homes and many, including entire families, were driven to suicide. Over 90 Jews were killed, many were beaten, raped, and arrested, and over 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. Synagogues were burned while firemen watched, instructed only to prevent the flames from spreading to nearby (non-Jewish) buildings. Jewish businesses were destroyed by the thousands, cemeteries were desecrated, and schools were vandalized. Many scholars now agree this was a turning point in the German policy regarding the Jews, and the beginning of what we call the Holocaust.