FRANKFURT (Nov. 9)
At ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht, leading German politicians reiterated the importance of commemorating the Nazi pogroms throughout Germany that helped pave the way for the Holocaust.
At Monday’s ceremonies, they also welcomed the recent revival of Jewish life in Germany.
Jewish leaders, however, warned of continuing signs of right-wing extremism.
The warnings were punctuated when a Berlin memorial to the mass deportation of the city’s Jews was found defaced with swastikas on the day of the commemorations.
The solemn anniversary marks the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazi thugs ransacked Jewishowned shops and set synagogues ablaze across Germany and Austria. Nearly 100 Jews were killed, tens of thousands of Jewish men were arrested, hundreds of synagogues were set aflame and thousands of Jewishowned shops were destroyed.
There were commemorations in numerous cities, including Leipzig, Munich, Hamburg, Luebeck and Frankfurt. The ceremonies included speeches, lectures, silent marches and dramatic readings.
Events in smaller towns and city districts focused on the fate of former Jewish inhabitants.
The ceremonies in Germany were among many held across Europe and the United States to remember the fateful night.
Germany’s chancellor and president were among the country’s top officials attending the central ceremony in Berlin.
At that ceremony, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, warned that with the return of the German government next year to Berlin some Germans might seek a future unburdened by guilt for the Holocaust.
The desire for a return to “normalcy,” he added, cannot mean that Germans “live with a new anti-Semitism and new racism.”
During his speech, Bubis blasted German novelist Martin Walser for stating recently that he avoids films about Auschwitz because he is tired of being forced to confront this aspect of his country’s history and wants Germans to live again as a normal nation.
“These are assertions that normally come from right-wing extremists,” Bubis said during the ceremony at the Rykestrasse Synagogue in the eastern part of Berlin.
Bubis said he defines normalcy in German society differently than Walser. For Bubis, it means that Jews can live in Germany as a normal part of society, taking part in the democratic process.
Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, who also attended the Berlin ceremony, warned against attempts in Germany to repress the Holocaust.
“Some people say that after 60 years it is time to change the page and open a new book and forget. I can’t forget,” said the bearded rabbi, a child survivor of Buchenwald. “We have no mandate from the millions who died to forget.”
One of the lessons of Kristallnacht, according to Lau, is that “in a place and time where you burn synagogues, schools and Torah scrolls, you end up burning people as well.”
At the same commemoration, German President Roman Herzog spoke out against tendencies to repress the memory of the Holocaust.
“No society, no group and no state can live without memory. That would mean living without identity and orientation.”
But Herzog defended Walser by remarking that too large a dose of Holocaust commemoration can blunt the lessons of the tragic event, especially among young people.
In Dresden, there were groundbreaking ceremonies Monday for the construction of a synagogue to replace the one burned down on Kristallnacht.
Jewish leaders say they purposefully chose a modern design, instead of trying to reconstruct the former synagogue, to emphasize the break in Jewish history in Germany.
Only half of the projected $12 million building costs have been raised so far, creating uncertainty about the completion date for the construction.