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Kristallnacht remembered in Leipzig

Kate Brady
November 10, 2015

November 9-10, 1938, saw Jewish premises ransacked across Germany and thousands of men taken to concentration camps. A Kristallnacht memorial service in Leipzig has come with a warning to learn from history.

Stolperstein for the Frankenthal Family in Leipzig
Image: DW/K. Brady

As winter finally began to set in around the eastern German city of Leipzig on Monday, a small crowd gathered at a seemingly normal tram stop west of the city center. Until 1938, Dittrichring 13 was the home of Dr. Ludwig Frankenthal; his wife, Ilse; and their two sons, 9-year-old Günther and 7-year-old Wolfgang.

The Frankenthal family was just one of hundreds in Leipzig to be persecuted on the night of November 9-10, 1938, when a pogrom against Jews was carried out across Germany by civilians and Nazi paramilitary troops, the Sturmabteilung (SA).

Across the country 30,000 people were arrested and sent to concentration camps, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground, and 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed. All the while, German authorities observed the coordinated attacks without intervention. Jewish homes, schools, hospitals and cemeteries were also targeted.

Smashed Jewish Shop, November 10, 2015
The Nazi pogrom against the Jews left thousands of premises, homes and synagogues destroyed.Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1970-083-42/CC-BY-SA

Night of Broken Glass

The pogrom became widely known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass - its meaning taken from the smashed windows and shards of broken glass strewn across German streets.

For many historians, the night marked the beginning of the Final Solution, which sought to systematically exterminate all Jews in Nazi Germany. The plan wasn’t agreed in procedural terms, however, until January 1942.

In Leipzig alone, more than 500 men were taken on November 9 to Buchenwald concentration camp. Among them were Dr Ludwig and his two sons.

World's largest memorial

As is the case with thousands of Jewish families who perished at the hands of the Nazis, all that remains of the Frankenthal family's presence in the city is an engraved "Stolperstein," which literally translates as "stumbling block."

The brass cobblestones are part of the world’s largest memorial, with more than 48,000 having been laid in 18 European countries as of August 2014.

It was at the former site of the Frankenthals' house that Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung this year chose to participate in the annual Stolperstein cleaning, in which thousands of people across Europe polish the stones.

Leipzig Mayor cleans Stolperstein
Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung (SPD) cleans the Stolperstein for the Frankenthal family.Image: DW/K. Brady

The November 9 Candlelight Service and Stolperstein Cleaning is held to "make the Nazi crimes visible" Europe-wide, according to the initiative's statement.

At the intimate memorial by the roadside, Jung cleaned the "stones" before they were surrounded by white roses and candles, the wicks left to burn into the early evening.

Xenophobia, fascism have 'no place in Germany'

The annual initiative on Monday culminated with a candlelit service at the location of Leipzig’s memorial to a synagogue that was built in 1855 and burned to the ground on the night of the 1938 pogrom.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of people in Leipzig’s Gottschedstrasse, 82-year-old Cornelius Weiss - whose family smuggled a Jewish girl to safety by using his sister's identification documents - said he called upon those attending the memorial service to share the message that "xenophobia and fascism had no place in Germany."

Racially motivated attacks

In light of the growing number of attacks on refugee homes in Germany in recent months, Leipzig’s mayor said arson had nothing to do with the perpetrators' "concerns over refugees," but was instead a "form of terror."

The 77th anniversary on Monday also coincided with the weekly demonstration held by LEGIDA - Leipzig’s offshoot of the Dresden-based right-wing PEGIDA movement, who claim to be "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West."

The city ruled last Friday, however, that until the end of the year, LEGIDA would only be allowed to rally and not march through the city. The anti-refugee movement had originally planned to walk directly pass the former site of Leipzig’s synagogue.

Crowds at Leipzig Kristallnacht memorial
Crowds gather at a memorial on the former site of Leipzig's synagogue, destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938Image: DW/K. Brady

Lessons in history

Frank Kimmerle, leader of the Stolperstein cleaning project in Leipzig, welcomed the decison with open arms.

"Racists and right-wing extremists simply couldn’t have been allowed to march through the city the same day that the pogrom against the Jewish community is remembered," Kimmerle told DW.

"Our initiative strongly opposes any form of racism, xenophobia or right-wing extremism in today's society, including LEGIDA" he added.

Mrs. Reinige, a Leipziger who attends the Stolperstein cleaning every year, told DW that "right-wing extremists and PEGIDA supporters still have much to learn from the past."

"I recommend that they sit down and spend a good amount of time reading a history book."

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