Breaking point

Above: Frank Henley describes Kristallnakht in a 1989 interview for the Central British Fund (now World Jewish Relief.) Courtesy World Jewish Relief and British Library Sound Archive.


Over the night of 9-10 November 1938, a night of coordinated violence broke out across Germany and Austria in what became known as ‘Kristallnacht’: the night of broken glass.

‘The entire Jewish population of Germany was subjected yesterday to a reign of terror. The pogroms started simultaneously all over Germany. No attempt was made by the police to restrain the savagery of the mob. Almost every synagogue in the country was burnt to the ground. Scarcely a Jewish shop escaped being wrecked… Jews of all ages, of both sexes, were beaten in the streets and in their homes. Numbers were lynched. The caretaker of a synagogue is believed to have been burnt, with his family, to death.’

Report in the Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1938, read aloud in the House of Commons ten days later.


Young man clearing debris in the destroyed bedding shop S. Kalis. Wiener Library Collections.


‘As we walked to the tram stop on our way to school … we saw the damage to Jewish shops. The windows had been smashed and contents vandalised and the surrounding walls and fronting pavements daubed with the Star of David and anti-Semitic slogans in white paint.’

Gisela Eisner, ‘Cottage pie on Tuesdays’ unpublished memoir, Wiener Library Collections.


Kurt Katzenstein’s account of Kristallnacht, written later at school in England. His father said that on their release the camp commander of Dachau told them to leave Germany as quickly as possible, or they would be arrested again. Wiener Library Collections.




It is awful just now here … there are hundreds of people queued up in our front car park trying to get out of the country and then one hears their tales of distress and misery, and one is almost physically  sick with the hopelessness of it all

Letter to a friend in England from Mr Frame, an employee at the British Embassy in Berlin. Wiener Library Collections


The events of that night [Kristallnacht] and following day proved a watershed. No one could any longer be deceived into thinking that these were anything but centrally co-ordinated attacks on the Jewish population….The need to leave Germany was now irrefutable. But where to go?…

Gisela Eisner, ‘Cottage pie on Tuesdays’ unpublished memoir, Wiener Library Collections.


A glimpse of hope

In Britain, it was Kristallnacht that finally prompted the government to ease its immigration policy, at least for trans-migrants – refugees who would not remain in Britain. In November 1938, the Home Office agreed to the scheme proposed by Jewish and other aid organisations to bring thousands of children to Britain to be housed here temporarily. The programme, known as the Kindertransport, was put in by a number of local organisations and volunteers in Britain, Germany, Austria and later Czechoslovakia and Poland,  centrally coordinated in Britain under the Refugee Children’s Movement. 

Example of one of the index cards kept by the Hampstead Garden Suburb care committee for each child they were trying to save. The committee was one of the many local organisations that helped to house children, and to find them the sponsorship required for them to be allowed into Britain. Wiener Library Collections.


Sponsorship form issued by the Hampstead Garden Suburb care committee. Wiener Library Collections



Letters from Salvation Army Major to another volunteer trying to find housing for a child still in Germany. Wiener Library Collections.




Next page- Escape