Frankfurt Jewish Community Split over 50th Kristallnacht Observance

A fierce debate has split the Frankfurt Jewish community over whether Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other West German leaders will be allowed to address ceremonies there Nov. 9 marking the 50th anniversary of the Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass), the first organized pogrom of the Nazi era.

The row started a month ago when the community chairman, Ignaz Bubis, announced that Kohl and other leading politicians would address a gathering at the Frankfurt synagogue. It was billed as the central national and Jewish event to commemorate the 1938 pogrom.

But an opposition bloc in the community, made up of left-of-center and conservative activists, argued that the German politicians did not deserve the honor of attending the event, much less addressing it.

They cited Kohl’s decision to accompany President Reagan on a 1984 visit to the German war cemetery at Bitburg, where Reagan placed a wreath, though members of the notorious Waffen SS are among the soldiers buried there.

The dissidents also recalled efforts to produce in Frankfurt a reputedly anti-Semitic play, “Garbage, the City and Death” by the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Finally, they raised the more immediate issue of Frankfurt municipal officials’ plans to build an office complex in Boerenplatz, over remains of the old Jewish ghetto.

The opposition pushed through a resolution a week ago to call off the ceremonies rather than have Kohl and other government officials participate.

But it was overruled by the Gemeinderat, the Jewish community’s parliament. Bubis has since argued that criticism of past events, however legitimate, does not justify a “boycott” of leading personalities.

The Gemeinderat decided last Friday to proceed with its plans. The debate is continuing, but tempers seem to have calmed.

“We won’t cancel the chancellor’s invitation, but we will certainly find a way to show him what we think,” an opposition member said.

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