The International School for Holocaust Studies
Kristallnacht – Prelude to Destruction
Reviewed by Kathryn Berman
Harper Press, 2006
This book presents the true and moving story of a group of young children and adults living under Nazi occupation in Budejovice, Czechoslovakia. Martin Gilbert traces anti-Jewish discrimination and legislation that began when Hitler came to power in 1933, culminating in the 1938 pogrom which became known as the Kristallnacht pogrom or the "Night of Broken Glass". Storm troopers of the S.A. in Germany and Austria ransacked and burned Jewish-owned shops, destroying more than one thousand synagogues and murdering 91 Jews.
Through survivor testimonies, Gilbert clearly explains how this Nazi-orchestrated coordinated rampage became the forerunner of the terrible events to come and was the turning point for German and Austrian Jewry who had hoped that the rising tide of official Nazi anti-Jewish policy would disappear.
Gilbert writes in a conversational tone, creating a setting to pull readers in closer to events. His use of newspaper articles and first person accounts puts a human face on the tragedy. Mentioned also are the events that took place in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht pogrom – the flight of German Jews while they were still permitted to leave, and the "final destruction" of German and Austrian Jewry.
High school teachers can find an abundance of first-hand accounts and other materials to use in their classroom from this book. Particular attention should be paid to the maps shown at the back of the book. These maps indicate hundreds of towns and villages where synagogues and Jewish communities – many of which had existed in Germany for centuries – were attacked, conveying the full extent of the destruction. It is important for the student to visually understand the enormity of this event and the tragic effects and consequences to the individual Jewish families whose lives were destroyed forever just seventy years ago.