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Germans get annual reminder to never forget

November 9, 2017

Germans are commemorating the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired nationwide pogrom against Jews. Politicians in Berlin are hoping to rebuild a synagogue on the spot where Germans destroyed it in 1938.

Wreath with Star of David
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

On Thursday, November 9, Germans reflected on Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews that preceded the Holocaust, leaving more than 90 people dead, and reducing residences, synagogues and businesses to piles of ash and broken glass. Politicians across the spectrum and across the country reminded their fellow Germans that Kristallnacht and the events that followed it must never be repeated.

From engraved stones nationwide marking homes where Jews lived before they were deported and often killed to the 19,000-square-meter (4.7-acre) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany makes a clear effort to never forget. However, as a far-right party whose members have been critical of such displays prepares to cast its first votes in the Bundestag, academics and activists are calling on Germans to remain vigilant.

Destroyed shop in Magdeburg 1938
A Jewish shop that was destroyed in Magdeburg in 1938Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1970-083-42/CC-BY-SA

"Commemoration alone is not enough," said Meron Mendel, who directs a Frankfurt center dedicated to Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager murdered by the Nazis. Despite efforts to honor the Holocaust's victims, he said, "anti-Semitism is a consistent problem in Germany."

Elsewhere, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with Holocaust survivors about anti-Semitism and the far-right resurgence. In Munich, where a European Holocaust research center will soon open, Mayor Dieter Reiter was on hand at an event as names of the city's victims of Nazi violence were read aloud.

Remember — and rebuild

Raed Saleh, who leads the Social Democrats on Berlin's city-state council, said the capital should reconstruct a synagogue that was established in 1916, nearly destroyed during Kristallnacht and never restored. Most of the original building was finally demolished in the 1950s, but congregants continue to meet for religious services in a wing that remained standing.

According to the Jewish Community of Berlin, the space would include a secular preschool and facilities for interfaith events. Saleh is seeking federal, municipal, foundational, and private support for the project, which could take several years and would cost at least €28 million ($32.5 million), according to early estimates. He said restoring the synagogue would be a "sign of the revival of Jewish life in Berlin," but added that he and members of the community would be open to another space within the city.

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, a fellow Social Democrat and frequent rival of Saleh's, found common cause with the council president on Thursday. "Anti-Semitism and racism have no place in our land," he said.

mkg/ng (AFP, dpa)