BONN (Jan. 31)
Masses of German demonstrators crowded into the center of Berlin on Saturday night to protest against racism and anti-Semitism on the 60th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.
Hundreds of German celebrities joined the demonstration, which attracted crowds estimated at being between 100,000 and a quarter of a million people.
The showpiece of the protest was a huge lighted banner which read “Never Again,” the central message of the demonstration.
The event, organized by leading German authors, actors, television stars and artists, came against the backdrop in recent months of anti-foreigner violence in Germany. The protest was meant to lead Germans away from racism, and remind them not to repeat their unpleasant past.
The vigil marked the 60th anniversary of the day Hitler became chancellor.
In other towns in Germany, dozens of similar events took place. According to police, more than 2 million people participated in vigils and protest marches nationwide.
At a ceremony in Frankfurt, the chairman of the German Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, rejected comparisons between today’s Germany and the Weimar Republic. Bubis said democracy in today’s Federal Republic is able to defend itself against neo-Nazi extremism.
Over the weekend, German television scheduled several broadcasts to mark the anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and warn against right-wing extremism.
President Richard von Weizsacker joined a vigil Saturday in the town of Rostock, the scene of violent attacks against asylum-seekers last year, including the torching of a refugee hostel. The violence in Rostock has come to symbolize the initial indifference with which the political system reacted to the neo-Nazi wave of violence.
ANOTHER JEWISH CEMETERY DESECRATED
Von Weizsacker declared that citizen protest against right-wing extremism is justified and important, though it cannot replace action by the state authorities.
Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters said in a statement released in Bonn that the government would do whatever necessary to protect its Jewish community and to curb neo-Nazi violence against foreigners.
He also promised further action is in store to disrupt the organizations and groups practicing or propagating violence against foreigners.
Bubis, for his part, criticized Bonn for having banned only three neo-Nazi groups in recent months, while more than 80 exist in the country.
In two German towns, clashes with small groups of neo-Nazis were reported during vigils to protest the wave of violence against foreigners. Police made a few arrests and said the protest marches were not seriously interrupted.
Meanwhile, police reported that a Jewish cemetery was desecrated late last week in Eisenhuttenstadt, a town in Brandenburg state. Eleven gravestones were upturned and several others smeared with swastikas.
Although no one was arrested in connection with this incident, police announced they had arrested two German youths in southern Germany found in possession of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner pamphlets.’
Two other neo-Nazis in the state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania were sentenced to jail terms for setting on fire a hostel for foreign asylum-seekers. One, a 23-year-old, was sentenced to two years and eight months and his 19-year-old friend was sentenced to two years.