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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.