Germany remembers ‘Kristallnacht’ pogrom

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jewish leaders are paying tribute to the victims of the Nazis' Kristallnacht pogrom on the 70th anniversary of the event at a ceremony in Berlin's largest synagogue on Sunday.

Germany remembers 'Kristallnacht' pogrom
Inside Berlin's Rykestrasse synagogue. Photo: DPA

Merkel is to take part Sunday in a ceremony at Berlin’s largest synagogue, one of the few to escape destruction by the Nazis, along with Jewish leaders and survivors of the Kristallnacht pogrom. The ceremony will also pay tribute to the miraculous rebirth of Jewish life in recent years.

Speaking on the eve of the 70th anniversary of major anti-Jewish riots, Merkel called on German lawmakers to “fight with determination” against racism and anti-Semitism.

On the night of November 9, 1938, during what became known as Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” Nazi thugs destroyed some 200 synagogues, smashed countless windows and vandalized Jewish-owned homes and businesses. Some 30,000 were rounded up deportation to concentration camps and around 90 Jews were murdered in the orgy of violence.

“We know the unspeakable began that day and ended with the Holocaust,” Merkel said in her weekly video message broadcast on the Internet. “We must guard that memory not only out of duty towards the victims but also to ensure that it does not happen again,” she said.

The secretary general of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Stephan Kramer, called on the authorities to explain better the Nazi era to young people who should “more than ever at the moment be warned against the dangers of the future, of a new anti-Semitism and of the far-right.”

The president of the Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch, said she

hoped a reminder of the atrocities 70 years ago would rekindle Germans’

commitment to tolerance. “This important day heavy in symbolism is an opportunity to show that Germany is a diverse and vibrant democracy,” said Knobloch, who was six years old on Kristallnacht.

Because it shares the same date, the fall of the Berlin Wall will also be marked and the victims of communist East Germany remembered at low-key events ahead of the 20th anniversary next year.

The pretext for the Kristallnacht pogrom was the murder of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by a student, Herschel Grynspan, who sought revenge for the expulsion of his family from Germany with about 15,000 other Polish Jews.

“From that moment on, Jews knew that those who could must save themselves,” survivor Betty Alsberg, an 88-year-old who now lives in Israel, told AFP.

The pogrom was a prelude to the Nazis’ extermination campaign launched three years later in which they murdered six million Jews. After reunification in 1990, Germany began accepting Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet states and the country now has one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world with some 120,000 members.

The main ceremony Sunday will take place at Berlin’s Rykestrasse synagogue, which reopened in August 2007 after a major restoration as a defiant symbol of a Jewish revival in the city where the Holocaust was planned.

The 1,200-capacity house of worship was one of the few Jewish institutions in Berlin to survive Kristallnacht. It was only spared because it was between “Aryan” blocks of flats which might have caught fire had the synagogue been firebombed. But its precious Torah rolls were damaged and rabbis as well as congregation members were seized and deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

British violinist Daniel Hope will give a memorial concert Sunday headlined “Do Something!” at Tempelhof Airport, the hub of the Berlin Airlift which closed last month after 85 years.

“‘Reichskristallnacht’ took place 70 years ago and yet its consequences are still reflected in today’s society,” said Hope, whose family was forced to flee Berlin and the Nazis. “Situations that require civil courage, individual or collective, continue to arise, whether it’s an individual attack on a defenceless fellow human being or the brutality of groups such as rightwing radical skinheads.”

The same evening, a German doctors’ association will honour Jewish colleagues who were first stripped of their right to practice medicine and later killed at the camps.

At Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, a guided tour will recount the story of 6,000 Jews interned there after Kristallnacht.

In Munich, where Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels issued the call for the pogrom, the names of 4,587 Holocaust victims who lived in the city will be read out in public. And two new synagogues will open, in Göttingen, northern Germany, and in the southern city of Lörrach.