Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction

Martin Gilbert, Author . HarperCollins $21.95 (314p) ISBN 978-0-06-057083-5

An acclaimed Churchill biographer and Holocaust scholar, Gilbert makes a strong case in this elegant volume that Kristallnacht was the watershed moment that laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. Known as "the Night of Broken Glass," the "coordinated, comprehensive rampage" that began on the night of November 9, 1938, saw Nazi-inspired thugs ransack synagogues and Jewish-owned property across Germany and Austria. Gilbert maintains a tight focus on the individual experiences of Jewish men, women and children during the 24-hour spree of destruction, as well as on Germans and Austrians who rioted, opposed the riot or simply looked the other way. The book begins with a harrowing account of that night's events, using accounts from news sources of the day: " 'Terrified children were turned sobbing out of their beds, which were then smashed to pieces.'" Gilbert devotes a chapter each to eyewitness accounts from Berlin and Vienna, where some of the worst destruction occurred. As Felix Rinde, then an Austrian-Jewish teenager, later wrote, "Jewish life in Vienna came to a virtual end." A third chapter offers similar accounts from other cities. Gilbert's commanding account then traces the origins of Kristallnacht in the years of mounting Jewish discrimination that began when Hitler came to power in 1933, and shows how Kristallnacht pointed the way toward the events to come. 8 pages of b&w photos; maps. (June 13)

Reviewed on: 04/17/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
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