The pogrom organized by the German Nazis was then called Kristallnacht, after the shards of broken glass from the windows and shop windows of Jewish shops, houses and synagogues.
“A frighteningly beautiful sight was the light-whipping flames on the four corner towers and the great central dome of the temple, which finally all collapsed with a great crash,” wrote the Deutsche Post für Sudetenland newspaper the day after of the synagogue’s destruction. No mention of the cause of the fire.
A crowd of onlookers watched the events, photographs of them watching the fire with their hands in their pockets have also been preserved. Although the fire brigade was on the scene in time, they could only protect the surrounding houses.
“Actually, we watched the fire from a distance, through neighboring houses. Perhaps the whole of Opava gathered, but only the Nazis were allowed to go directly to the fire. The access roads to the synagogue were occupied by barricades. When the firefighters were finally able to stand by the hand-held syringes and pump, only ruins remained of the synagogue,” described eyewitness František Lhotský, then a volunteer firefighter and later a member of the Opava choir.
People then dismantled the debris and used it in their homes.
At that time, Opava was overwhelmingly German. Already at the beginning of October, after the withdrawal of the Sudetenland, civil servants had to leave the city, i.e. members of the security forces, teachers, railway workers and others.
“However, the Germans never completely displaced Bohemia, the civilian Czech population partly remained,” pointed out Opava historian Ondřej Kolář. Jews left a lot even before Munich, and even more intensively after the occupation of the border areas.
The atmosphere was tense. “It was such an in-between period, the Sudeten Reich County was only established in the spring of 1939, and in Opava in the fall of 1938 a paramilitary administration ruled, the security authorities were made up of the so-called einsatzkomanda. The euphoria of the supporters of Henlein’s party peaked, accounts were being settled, for example the monument on Ostrá Hůrek was devasted,” Kolář described.
On Kristallnacht on November 10, anti-Jewish actions took over the whole of Silesia and the parts of northern Moravia assigned to the Empire. Historian Mečislav Borák reconstructed their course from the period police reports of the schupo, orpo and sipo units.
In the article The events of the Kristallnacht and their impact on the territory of Czechoslovakia, he stated that early in the morning of November 10, unknown perpetrators broke the storefronts and windows of Jewish shops and apartments in Svinov. In Bruntál and Rýmařov, all Jewish shops were closed and sealed by SS units. In Bruntál, the ceremonial hall at the Jewish cemetery also burned down.
In Nové Jičín, she took the interiors of the temple as her windows, as well as the windows of Jewish shops. Eyewitness Max Mannheimer told the Memory of the Nation about the looting of the synagogue: “The Germans destroyed the organ and threw prayer books, Torah scrolls and shawls into the street. They stepped on it. It was spared from being burned down only because it was not far from the gas plant.”
Bílovec did not avoid the event either. “The Jewish doctor dr. was arrested there. Beck for allegedly defaming the race,” Borák further described. In Krnov, the Nazis selected the library of the Jewish bookseller Erwin Kunnewälder and burned it on Adolf Hitler Square. They returned to the fire several times with loads of books.
They partially demolished the local synagogue, damaged the Jewish cemetery, smashed and burned the ceremonial hearse. According to eyewitness Kurt Schmidt, the synagogue survived thanks to rewriting for another purpose.
“My friend’s father was a councilor and even before that he had the synagogue officially changed to a market place, so there were already warehouses in it that were not allowed to be set on fire. At least that’s what a friend told me.” Later, the temple actually served that way, but historians also cite the proximity of the local mayor’s villa and the factory as reasons for its “rescue”.
In the following days, the tense atmosphere calmed down, but the persecution of the Jews continued.