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Germany

Remembering the Night of Broken Glass

November 9 marks the 70th anniversary of the pogrom against German Jews known as Kristallnacht. DW spoke with Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, about her memories from that night.

A pedestrian looks at the wreckage of a Jewish shop in Berlin, Nov. 10, 1938, the day after the Kristallnacht rampage, when Nazi thugs set fire to hundreds of synagogues, looted thousands of Jewish businesses and attacked Jews in Germany and Austria.

The pogrom got its name from the shattered glass from the windows of Jewish shops

Deutsche Welle: Ms. Knobloch, you were a child at the time of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. What memories do you have of this day?

Charlotte Knobloch: My memory of this day is walking through Munich holding my father's hand. We'd been warned that something was going to happen to the Jews and that it was better to be out on the street instead of at home. We left our apartment and began walking in the direction of my father's office. He was a lawyer in Munich and he called his own office from a phone booth. A male voice came on the line and my father passed himself off as a client. He was told, "He's not here, we're waiting for him." And from that, he knew what was up -- they were already waiting for him in his office. We continued on our way along Herzog-Rudolf-Strasse. It was cordoned off, but I remember -- and this has always stayed in my memory -- seeing the smoking synagogue.

Charlotte Knobloch

Knobloch is the first female president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany

My father wanted to go to a good friend of his -- a man I knew as Uncle Rothschild. As we arrived, we saw a car parked outside his door. He came out of the house escorted by two people, and he had a bandage on his head. You could still see the blood. They led him to the car and immediately, he looked away from us. He didn't want us to be recognized. They were rough with him, kicking him into the car. My father went to a phone booth and called another good friend who lived outside Munich, and asked him if he could spend the night there. So we walked there; it took about two hours. We constantly had to veer off the main road because of the police patrols.

How important is it to you today that younger generations remember what happened on Nov. 9, 1938?

You have to be very clear about these things. It was 70 years ago. And it's the last opportunity we have to talk with eye witnesses about that day. We should make sure that young people today don't just take on the responsibility of remembrance on this, the 70th anniversary, but also on every anniversary that follows.

For over two years now, you've been President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and therefore the highest representative of around 110,000 Jews. What's the appeal, and what are the burdens of this office?

Interior of the synagogue at the Rykestrasse street in Berlin

The synagogue on Berlin's Rykestrasse Street reopened in 2007 after two years of renovation

It's neither appealing nor a burden. I'm happy that I get to experience -- because of my biography -- that Jewish life has been resurrected here, and that Jewish life continues to develop.

This coexistence has, for many years now in the Jewish community, been influenced by the considerable migration of people from the former Soviet Union -- a gain for the communities but surely also a challenge. Has this challenge been handled well in your view?

It's a challenge that should be further intensified. We now have to deal with migrants who, because of being Jewish, were exposed to much anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, but who actually have no idea about Judaism, because the religion was banned there. These people are now being integrated in Jewish life and the Jewish religion, but also in public life in this country and its customs and values. If we hadn't had this migration, then we wouldn't have the joy in seeing the new buildings going up weekly, monthly in Germany -- and which make Jewish life here so beautiful once again.

You've warned of a latent, poorly disguised or even open anti-Semitism in Germany. How have you determined that enmity against Jews hasn't been overcome here?

Well, there are the cliches and stereotypes that I hear over and over. Sometimes it's direct, and sometimes it takes a more vague form. It's also the topic of Israel. In that moment where people here compare Israelis or the Israeli government with Hitler and the Nazis -- that for me is a clear, anti-Semitic statement. I've always said and I'll say it again: Of course you can criticize the country or its government. I think constructive, factual criticism is always good, criticism can be helpful. But anti-Semitism, and this latent anti-Semitism with the stereotypes and cliches, is already there when I'm asked by young people whether Jews even have to pay taxes. Then I know exactly where I am.

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