Broken Glass And Insufficient Metaphors

'Kristallnacht' Fails To Encapsulate Terror of Nazi Pogrom

Nazi Pogrom: The Ludwigsburg Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht.
Wikimedia Commons
Nazi Pogrom: The Ludwigsburg Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published December 18, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

November 9–10, 1938, lives tragically in historical memory for the coordinated attacks against Jews in Germany and Austria by paramilitary forces and locals. A new book, “The Night of Broken Glass: Eyewitness Accounts of Kristallnacht,” argues that to sum up events in which some 400 Jews were murdered “or driven to suicide,” and 30,000 were sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps by using a metaphor evoking how windows were broken, is at best “ironically euphemistic.”

Translated by Robert Simmons and Nick Somers from “Nie Mehr Zurück in Dieses Land,” “Never Return to this Country,” edited by sociologist Uta Gerhardt and political historian Thomas Karlauf, this book has the virtue of making ironic metaphors irrelevant, not just inaptly reductive.

“The Night of Broken Glass” puts human faces on hitherto inadequately named events. The narrations were originally compiled by American sociologist and heroic anti-Nazi activist Edward Hartshorne, who was murdered in postwar Germany after he discovered, to his horror, that U.S. Army counterintelligence officials were smuggling Nazi war criminals out of Soviet-occupied Austria and Eastern Europe to South America to serve as future Cold War allies.

Almost a decade earlier, Hartshorne had joined a group of Harvard sociologists who were launching a writing competition for those who had experienced Nazi persecution. The essay contest drew hundreds of entries, including a handful from enthused Nazis who misunderstood the competition’s purpose. More than 250 manuscripts arrived, most from Jews.

From these, Hartshorne edited a group dealing with November 9–10, 1938, to form “Nazi Madness: November 1938,” a book that would never be published. After sending the book to a prospective publisher in 1941, Hartshorne joined the American Secret Service and the book never saw the light of day. Gerhardt and Karlauf rediscovered Hartshorne’s typescript in 2008, in a California archive. The editors call the collection “a document of the greatest importance for modern history.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.