On the 75th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom against Germany's Jewish citizens, Europe's leading rabbi has called for tolerance and pluralism. The 1938 pogrom devastated Jewish life and was a prelude to the Holocaust.
The president of the Council of European Rabbis Pinchas Goldschmidt has warned against what he called a trend in Europe toward restricting the religious freedom of minority groups. He called for tolerance and pluralism as Germany marks the 75th anniversary of the 1938 pogrom, also known as Reichskristallnacht.
Some 200 Rabbis were set to gather in Berlin for a three-day conference, starting Sunday, where they will discuss issues confronting Europe's Jewish communities.
Ritual circumcision and the kosher and halal slaughtering of animals have come under criticism in Europe in recent years, sparking outrage among the continent's Jewish and Muslim communities.
"We decided the time has come to come back to Germany; for the sake of memory and also for the sake of continuity," Goldschmidt told DW in an interview, referring to the Council of European Rabbis' decision to meet in Berlin for the first time.
"We are witnessing today a rebirth, a renaissance of Jewish life in Germany, which we are going to celebrate, along with the memory of Kristallnacht."
On November 9, 1938, a wave of anti-Semitic attacks was instigated against the Jewish communities of Austria and Germany by forces of the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Some 1,400 synagogues and thousands of Jewish medical practices, businesses, and homes and apartments were destroyed in a matter of hours.
At least 91 people were killed. In the following days, 30,000 members of the Jewish community were deported to concentration camps.
At the time, the Nazis in propaganda claimed that the violence was a spontaneous response to the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris. The shooter was 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents had been deported by the Nazis to Poland. But in reality the pogrom was organized by the Nazis and led by the paramilitary SS and SA.
'Tolerance and Pluralism'
According to Goldschmidt, although the recent controversy over ritual circumcision has been resolved in Germany, there are still efforts to restrict the religious practices of Jews and Muslims in Europe.
In the summer of 2012, a court in Cologne had ruled that circumcision amounted to bodily harm and was therefore illegal, sparking outrage among Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities. In response, the German parliament passed a law to override the ruling and legalize circumcision under tight medical rules.
The Council of Europe, a human rights body with 47 member states, expressed "particular concern" about the religious circumcision of young boys among other practices in an October resolution on "children's right to physical integrity." And Poland has altogether banned the kosher and halal slaughtering of animals.
Goldsmith said that Europe cannot react to the growing immigration from North Africa and the Middle East by restricting Muslims' religious practices.
"Europe can answer immigration only with the European values of tolerance and pluralism," Goldsmith told DPA.
Memorial March in Berlin
In Berlin, the Catholic and Protestant churches led a march through Berlin on Saturday to remember the victims of the 1938 pogrom.
"We are going through the streets with the knowledge of how fragile a democratic culture and human rights are, and how fast the rule of law and justice can be sacrificed," said Protestant Bishop Markus Dröge.
The anniversary events will culminate in a remembrance ceremony on Sunday in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
According to the news agency DPA, two Jewish cemeteries in the western cities of Siegen and Bad Berleburg were desecrated Friday overnight, with the anti-semetic epithet "The eternal lie lives" and a Star of David found at both sites. Authorities are investigating the incident, but no suspects have been named.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma have demanded that the German government compensate the remaining survivors of Nazi persecution. The council named Soviet prisoners of war and the handicapped as examples of groups who were persecuted by the Nazis, but who have still not been fully recognized as victims.
slk/ipj (AFP, dpa)