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The Complex History of November 9 in German History

Published: November 8, 2019

by Dan "Karl" Hamilton and Paige "Saskia" Harouse

Thirty years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It was the day the Cold War ended, the hour the German people came back together after decades of division, the night the Soviet empire cracked. November 9, 1989, paved the way for Germany’s reunification and for the prospect that the continent’s century of hot and cold wars could finally give way to a Europe whole, free and at peace.

In other years, November 9 was a much darker date. A half century earlier, on the night of November 9 and morning of November 10, 1938, Jewish life in Germany and occupied Austria was disrupted when the Nazis vandalized, attacked and destroyed synagogues and community centers, as well as some 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses. In addition, about 30,000 Jewish men were interned in concentration camps. The event is known in English as Kristallnacht and in German as the Reichspogromnacht. The day marked a change in Nazi policy towards the treatment of European Jews, which would ultimately result in the Shoah, or Holocaust.  

Fifteen years earlier -- November 9, 1923 -- was an important date in the political rise of Adolf Hitler. On that day Hitler declared himself leader in Munich, but his badly organized effort to overthrow the government in the so-called Beer Hall Putsch was stopped by Bavarian police. Hitler only gained significant voter support seven years later, and once attaining power he declared November 9 a national holiday in memory of the Nazis who died in the Beer Hall Putsch. This and Kristallnacht are important reasons why, when Germany reunified in 1990, Germans decided against making November 9 their national holiday, choosing instead their day of unification, October 3.

Just five years before the Beer Hall Putsch – on November 9, 1918 – following four years of conflict in World War I, a democratic parliamentary republic was proclaimed from the balcony of the German parliament building, the Reichstag, by a German politician named Philipp Scheidemann. German Emperor Wilhelm II was dethroned. Germany’s new democracy, known as the Weimar Republic, proved to be fragile in the aftermath of war and cycles of inflation and depression, leading to Hitler’s rise to power.

An earlier German surge for democracy 70 years earlier, known as the 1848 Revolution, was crushed on November 9 of that year when Robert Blum, a revolutionary leader, was executed.

November 9 – a day of joy, a day of sorrow for Germans. 

About the Authors

Dan "Karl" Hamilton, dean of Waldsee, the German Language Village, is a regular commentator on international affairs for U.S. and world media. He is a leading expert on transatlantic relations and has authored hundreds of publications on issues ranging from global economics to national security.  He also served as a senior diplomat in the U.S. Department of State with Secretaries Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. He puts his language and cultural skills to good use regularly by interpreting German developments for U.S. audiences, and U.S. developments for German audiences.

Paige "Saskia" Harouse is a leadership staff member at Waldsee and former villager who is currently volunteering in a peace-service year with Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste in Germany, where she is engaged in Holocaust education and memory at the former Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and working with elderly members of the Berlin Jewish community.