A new photo album recently donated to Yad Vashem, features rare photos of the events of Kristallnacht, the Nazi name for the pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. According to a Yad Vashem press release, the photos, shot by Nazi photographers, depict scenes from one particular location but are representative of the destruction and attack on the Jewish community across much of Germany and Austria during those two days.
Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was a mass pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi party, with German and Austrian police looking on. The name comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed by German and Austrian mobs. In just a few hours, some 1400 synagogues were set ablaze. Jews were viciously attacked and publicly humiliated. 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The pogrom claimed the lives of 92 Jews.
The first pages of the album contain photographs of vandalized homes belonging to local Jewish families. Next, they depict images of Jews in dressing gowns or pajamas, some wounded, and others still in bed – classic propaganda photos taken by the Nazis. There are also pictures of SS men gathering piles of books, both religious and secular, presumably to be burned.
According to Yad Vashem, the album was kept for many years in the United States in the home of a Jewish American soldier who served in Germany during World War II. After he passed away, his daughter, Ann Leifer, and her two daughters discovered the album while cleaning up his home.
“When I opened the album, I felt as if a hole had been burned through my hands,” said Elisheva Avital, the late Jewish soldier’s granddaughter.
Jonathan Matthews, Head of the Photography Section of the Yad Vashem Archives, explained: “We can see from the extreme close-up nature of these photos that the photographers were an integral part of the event depicted. The angles and proximity to the perpetrators seem to indicate a clear goal, to document the events that took place. These are indeed rare photos that shed light on the November Pogrom events we did not have until today. We see SS men and SA actually carrying out the events – setting the fires, vandalizing homes and Jewish businesses, and humiliating the Jewish population. All this serves as further proof that this was dictated from above and was not a spontaneous event of an enraged public, as they tried to make these pogroms appear.”
Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan said: “Seeing these images of humiliation of Jews, and the destruction of their homes, businesses, and even synagogues is extremely disturbing and difficult. But all these years later we must bear witness to the atrocities of the past. These photographs clearly show the true intention of the Nazis and the systematic and deliberate lengths they would go to accomplish their murderous agenda. These photographs constitute important documentary evidence of the atrocities that were inflicted on the Jews of Europe. These images and other documentation from the Holocaust must be preserved and kept at Yad Vashem forever. They will serve as everlasting witnesses long after the survivors are no longer here to bear testimony to their own experiences and will convey for generations to come to the individual stories and history of the Holocaust to everyone, in Israel and abroad.”