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Remembering Kristallnacht

DW staff (nda/sms)November 9, 2008

Germans recalled Sunday, Nov. 9, the horrific violence unleashed 70 years ago against Jews in Germany on the Night of Broken Glass, and from Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, appealed for vigilance against anti-Semitism.

A group of people stand outside a Jewish-owned shop in an unnamed German town in November 1938, after the Kristallnacht, when Nazis thugs burned and plundered hundreds of Jewish homes, shops and synagogues across the country.
Merkel said the anniversary of Kristallnacht obliges Germans to act against anti-SemitismImage: AP

Germans cannot be indifferent to anti-Semitism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday, Nov. 9, at a Berlin ceremony to recall a 1938 pogrom against Jewish residents of Germany.

"Indifference is the first step towards endangering essential values," Merkel said during Germany's national memorial ceremony at the old synagogue in Berlin's Rykestrasse. "Xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism must never be given an opportunity in Europe again."

She added that Germany needs to encourage moral courage in the face of racism and anti-Semitism.

The head of the Jewish community in Berlin Lala Suesskind, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knobloch and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel said Germans must not be indifferent to xenophobia, racism or anti-SemitismImage: AP

"There was no storm of protest against the Nazi, but silence, shrugged shoulders and people looking away -- from individual citizens to large parts of the church," she said. "We cannot be silent, we cannot be indifferent when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated and rabbis are insulted on the street.

"It is a mistake to think it doesn't affect you when your neighbors are affected," Merkel added. "This mistake just leads us further and further into evil."

In an annual symbol of how Jewish life is flowering again in Germany, yet another community opened a synagogue on Sunday.

The building is a half-timbered village synagogue that was in use from 1825 to 1937 and was carefully moved to its new site in the central city of Goettingen and renovated.

In another city, Speyer, the Jewish community was laying the foundation stone for a new synagogue.

Pope recalls horror of Kristallnacht

Pope Benedict XVI is framed by cardinals during a Mass for cardinals and bishops deceased over the year, inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican
Pope Benedict spoke of a deep solidarity with the JewsImage: AP

Pope Benedict, who is German, spoke out after public prayers Sunday in Rome on the horrific legacy of the 1938 violence.

He said vigilance was needed against anti-Semitism and every form of discrimination. He said he spoke "in deep solidarity with the Jewish world."

At the national ceremony, in the synagogue first opened in 1904 in Berlin's Rykestrasse and re-inaugurated two years ago, emotion overwhelmed Charlotte Knobloch, 76, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews.

She recalled being led through Munich as a child by her father and seeing the destruction and indifferent lookers-on in 1938.

At the end of her speech, she sobbed for a moment before she could read her closing line, based on a remark by Henrik Mandelbaum, who survived the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.

"I beg you not to ever let anyone talk you into whom you have to love and whom you have to hate," she said.

The late November 9, 1938 pogrom, a precursor to the Holocaust, ultimately led to more than 1,300 deaths from injuries, by suicide or in concentration camps, official historians have said.

Vicious pogrom a precursor for Holocaust

Flames leapt into the sky across Germany when the Nazis gave a foretaste of the Holocaust in the vicious pogrom against the Jewish community. By the time the rampage had ended, thousands of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues had been burned down or looted by thugs as police and fire brigades looked on.

A youth with a broom prepares to clear up the broken window glass from a Jewish shop in Berlin, the day after the "Kristallnacht" rampage
The day after the Night of Broken GlassImage: AP

"Everything said about it is harmless compared to the reality of what actually happened," said one Berlin woman whose recollections are documented at the Central Jewish Information Office.

Another witness from Dusseldorf described how Jews, "dragged from their beds in pajamas and nightgowns," were forced "to walk through the broken glass without any footwear."

More than 400 people were beaten to death, shot or driven to suicide, records show. More than 30,000 were rounded up and packed off to concentration camps.

The tyranny marked a turning point in the anti-Semitic policies pursued after Hitler took power in 1933 and which eventually led to the Holocaust, the systematic state-sponsored killing of Jews.

New anti-Semitism resolution adopted

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkl's government agreed a new resolution against anti-SemitismImage: AP

Germany's parliament adopted a resolution against anti-Semitism to mark Sunday's 70th anniversary of the pogrom after a dispute over whether a far-left party should be included.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats lobbied to have The Left excluded because of its cooperation with "extremists hostile to Jews" -- a reference to the Palestinian movement Hamas.

Merkel herself will represent the government at a remembrance ceremony held together with the Central Council of Jews in Germany at the country's largest synagogue, located in Berlin.

Built in 1904, the Ryke Street synagogue was badly damaged in the 1938 pogrom, but was not burned down, apparently because the Nazis feared damage would be caused to adjacent buildings.

It was reopened in August 2007 after being restored to its original glory at a cost of $7 million.

Some 600,000 Jews lived in Germany before the war, but the figure declined to around 12,000 after 1945. Today, there are more than 110,000 Jews or people of Jewish origin, giving Germany one of the largest Jewish populations of any country in Europe.

A growing mood of anti-Semitism in Germany

Despite a revival of Jewish culture, there is a growing mood of anti-Semitism in Germany, according to the German-Israeli Society, which held its annual meeting over the weekend.

Supporters of the National Democratic Party (NPD) carry flags during a demonstration of neo-nazis in Schwerin, northeastern Germany
The National Democratic Party (NPD) is accused of being anti-Semitic and xenophobicImage: AP

Figures disclosed by the government on Tuesday showed there were nearly 800 anti-Semitic crimes committed during the first nine months of this year, resulting in injuries to 27 people.

Among the events is being held in Berlin and other cities to mark the anniversary of the pogrom is an exhibition called "It's Burning -- Anti-Jewish Terror in 1938."

The display at the capital's Neue Synagogue contains little known photographs that underscore the extent of the violence and the public humiliation of Jews during the Third Reich.

At the same time, the first museum to honor Germans who helped Jews survive Nazi persecution during the Holocaust has just opened in central Berlin.

On show are photographs, letters and other documents from more than 250 "silent heroes" who risked their lives by providing food, shelter and other assistance to Jews from 1938-45.

Seven decades on, an Israeli journalist has been sifting for remnants of the Night of Broken Glass in a rubbish dump an hour's drive northeast of Berlin in the German state of Brandenburg.

Following a tip from locals, Yaron Svoray, 54, discovered a bottle imprinted with a Star of David and part of a backrest that might have been used in synagogues around that time.

Experts are expected to be called in to investigate the site in Schorfheide, where Hitler's designated successor, Hermann Goering, maintained his country residence.