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Rare Photographs Shed Light on the Events of the November Pogrom 84 Years Ago

09 November 2022

A new photo album recently donated to Yad Vashem, features rare photos of the events of the November Pogrom of 1938, coined "Kristallnacht", by the Nazis. The photos, taken 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 the two-day pogrom.

Nearly a year before the outbreak of World War II, between 9-10 November 1938, German and Austrian mobs looted, torched and vandalized many Jewish-owned shops, businesses and homes. In just a few hours some 1400 synagogues were set ablaze and destroyed. Jewish citizens were viciously attacked and publicly humiliated. 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The November Pogrom claimed the lives of 92 Jews.  

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 in order to accomplish their murderous agenda. These photographs constitute important documentary evidence of the atrocities that were inflicted on the Jews of Europe. It is critical that these images and other documentation from the Holocaust 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 the individual stories and history of the Holocaust to everyone, in Israel and abroad."

The album was kept for many years in the United States in the home of a Jewish US soldier, who served in the counter-intelligence department of the US Army in Germany during World War II. The former serviceman never spoke about his experiences during the war. After he passed away, his daughter, Ann Leifer, and her two daughters, discovered the album while cleaning up her father's house.

"When I opened the album, I felt as if a hole had been burned through my hands," said Elisheva Avital, granddaughter of the soldier, describing that moment when they first saw the photos contained in the album.

The Gold Family chose to donate the album to Yad Vashem as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" project, which collects Holocaust-era possessions kept by Holocaust survivors and their descendants. The album arrived in Israel thanks to the assistance of a family member, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B'Nefesh. The photographs were taken by two Nazi photographers during the pogroms in Nuremberg and the nearby town of Fürth.

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. Flipping the pages of this rare album, the viewer also encounters pictures of SS men gathering piles of books, both religious and secular. These books were presumably being collected in order to burn later on.

Head of the Photography Section of the Yad Vashem Archives Jonathan Matthews explains:

"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."

The focus of these rare photos is the portrayal of the rioters in action and in the background, onlookers standing by, watching, and doing nothing to stop the violence or defend their Jewish neighbors.