This past October, I hosted the bimonthly #IWitnessChat Twitter chat with middle school and high school teachers to discuss ways they use testimony to teach students about Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht, literally, "Night of Crystal," is often referred to as the "Night of Broken Glass." The name refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place throughout Germany, annexed Austria, and Czechoslovakia occupied by German troops—on November 9 and 10, 1938. The Kristallnacht pogrom was a critical turning point on the path to genocide, and all of our #IWitnessChat participants agreed that using testimony is a meaningful way for students to understand and connect with the event. Hearing survivors’ detailed accounts of this night makes it much more accessible to students. From this Twitter chat, my experiences as an educator and insights from my fellow educators here are five resources to teach Kristallnacht with testimony.
1. Historical approach: Kristallnacht as a turning point
Kristallnacht is evaluated as a turning point in the Nazi rise to power. By examining the causes and effects of this event and situating it within a larger historical context, students can begin to understand its significance.
Recommended Resource: Kristallnacht 1938 by Alan Steinweis - this brief but powerful account situates the event within the larger context of the Holocaust while also illustrating how it was a significant turning point in Nazi policy against the Jews.
2. Multimedia approach: combining testimony and other sources
Pairing testimony with another source, such as a novel or a documentary, exposes students to different experiences and portrayals of the same event, Kristallnacht. Presentation of these mediums can be followed by students’ discussion—either in groups or as a class—comparing the two.
Recommended Resource: Pairing testimonies from the Watch Page - Kristallnacht Topic with accounts such as those of students at Gross-Breesen in Robert Gillette’s Escape to Virginia can give students greater insight into the experience of Jews in Germany, annexed Austria and the occupied Sudetenland during this event. Additionally, using the primary sources in Echoes and Reflections: Lesson One “Studying the Holocaust” can add additional depth to exploring this topic.
3. Holocaust survivor testimony
The IWitness Watch page houses hundreds of clips of testimony addressing more than 50 different topics include Kristallnacht. The Watch page includes a short description of Kristallnacht, clips of testimony from eyewitnesses to the pogrom, related activities, topics and terms. The Watch page includes the powerful clip from Holocaust survivor Esther Clifford as she shares her experience of Kristallnacht as a child. Her story can serve as a jumping off point for student discussion of the event and its effects on Jewish citizens.
Recommended Resource: Watch Page - Kristallnacht
4. Kristallnacht Information Quest
In this Echoes and Reflections authored activity, students explore primary and secondary sources concerning individuals affected by the events of Kristallnacht. These sources allow them to understand both the effects this event had on individuals and its larger implications within Germany.
5. Mini Quest: Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust
In this United States Holocaust Memorial Museum authored activity, the focus is placed on the actions of average non-Jews during Kristallnacht. Through photos, film footage, articles, and maps, students are reminded of the dangers of the bystander effect and the importance of speaking up when something is wrong.