Seething hatred of the Jews, fanned by Adolf Hitler's propagandists, exploded 50 years ago in the Nazis' well-coordinated night of ransacking, torching and beating called "Kristallnacht."
Boastfully dubbed Crystal Night by the Nazis because of the sparkling shards of glass from thousands of smashed windows, that single night of terror was also the dawn of the murderous seven-year Holocaust.
The Nazis eventually killed an estimated 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of others they labeled "undesirables."
Throughout Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazis rampaged against Jews in major cities as well as those few left in small towns after years of persecution.
The balance of the terrifying destruction, according to official Nazi count: 195 synagogues and 7,500 businesses destroyed, thousands of homes ransacked. Officially, 36 Jews were slain, some as they fled burning buildings. Other accounts, however, indicate that at least 1,118 synagogues were vandalized and as many as 1,000 Jews were killed or committed suicide.
Thousands more Jews - men, women and children - were beaten. More than 30,000 were arrested and shipped off to concentration camps in the first major step in the systematic Nazi campaign to annihilate European Jews.
The action, which became known as the "Night of Broken Glass" in English, stunned the outside world and bluntly heralded the Nazis' intentions to "Aryanize" society and business.
Germans in both East and West have for months been making elaborate plans to mark the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, including solemn ceremonies, panel discussions and new publications.
Even half a century later, the memory of the terror haunts its victims.
Alfred Jachmann was an 11-year-old in the town of Arnswalde _ now Choszczno in northern Poland.
"We were sleeping behind shutters with the windows closed," Jachmann recalled in an interview. "We were jerked out of our sleep by the crashing glass. We heard the screams: `The synagogue is burning!'
"My father screamed, `Yes, the sky's all red!' We lived just 500 meters from the synagogue. We were hiding behind him for three hours. We were shaking from fear and terror. Uniformed Nazis rushed into our house. They arrested my father without saying a word," he said.
"My sister, Gerda, and I were crying terribly," added the 61-year-old Jachmann, now head of the Jewish home for the elderly in Frankfurt. "My sister, mother and I had to leave Arnswalde within three days."
Jachmann's mother, father and 13-year-old sister all died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Jachmann, also sent to Auschwitz, later saved himself by plunging into the snow when Nazi machine-gunners mowed down prisoners in January 1945.
In what the Nazis called "spontaneous anti-Jewish demonstrations," Kristallnacht raged across the German Reich, including Austria and the recently annexed Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. In addition to homes, businesses and synagogues, the Nazi gangs ransacked Jewish hospitals, orphanages and homes for the elderly.
In the city of Erfurt, all Jewish men aged 18 to 80 were rounded up and forced into a local gymnasium.
"Some of the Nazis took to task Jews whom they personally knew, to vent their fury on them," said local B'nai B'rith president Harry Stern.
"We had to line up and march around to the sounds of the Horst-Wessel song (a Nazi favorite). Then we were commanded to scream `Death to the Jews" and we had to do it," said Stern. Some were savagely beaten with whips, he said.
"Then we were loaded into buses and brought to Buchenwald, where we arrived at dawn," Stern recalled in historian Wolfgang Benz's recently published book, "The Jews in Germany 1933-45."
In other cities, Jews were herded into courtyards before the men were separated from their families and sent to concentration camps.
Valentin Senger, then a non-practicing Jew from a Communist family, witnessed the outcome of Kristallnacht in Frankfurt, where some of the worst violence took place.
"On the morning of the 10th, I went to the factory where I worked, and on the way I ran into a secretary. She said: `Have you heard the synagogue is burning?"' he recalled.
Senger described the mushroom cloud of smoke coming from the direction of the Boerneplatz. When he reached the synagogue, he said smoke was billowing from the roof, flames leaping through the windows.
"Hundreds of people were standing nearby," he said. "The area was blocked off by police. The fire department was there, but they weren't trying to put out the fire. They had instructions to let the synagogue burn, but to keep nearby buildings from burning.
"I stood there and never heard any words of approval or applause or bravos. The people looked stiffly and silently into the fire. No one criticized it either. The fear was too great.
"That was the first time I felt I belonged to them, I belonged there, that's my people. My synagogue was burning. I really felt that I was a Jew," the 69-year-old retired journalist told the AP in an interview. "I saw they were rounding up the Jews and putting them on trucks, that same day. The Jews were being mistreated and beaten."
Senger survived in Frankfurt by hiding from the Nazis.
Much to the annoyance of Nazi finance chief Hermann Goering, Kristallnacht had an unforeseen and nearly disastrous impact.
The damage, calculated at 25 million reichsmarks, worth about $6.25 million, shocked German insurance companies. They noted that just replacing the broken glass would hurt the Third Reich, since the glass had to be imported with much-needed hard currency.
"I wish you had killed 200 Jews instead of destroying so many valuables," Goering told Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi fanatic who gave the Teletyped orders for Kristallnacht.
Eventually, the Nazis confiscated the insurance proceeds and slapped the Jews with a $250 million fine.
West German Jews also frequently object to the word Kristallnacht, saying it minimizes the atrocities that followed the rampages. They prefer the term "Pogrom Night."
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Germany had 530,000 Jews. About 32,000 Jews live in West Germany today. In East Germany, the estimated number of practicing Jews is 450-600, with no permanent rabbi.