BERLIN, Nov. 11 (JTA) — Berlin’s Jewish community this week marked the 64th anniversary of what many consider the start of Holocaust. About 500 people, among them German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Israeli Ambassador Shimon Stein, gathered for Saturday’s commemoration of Kristallnacht. The commemoration was held at the city’s main Jewish community center, which stands on the site of a synagogue destroyed Nov. 9, 1938. Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, occurred on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazi thugs ransacked Jewish-owned shops and torched synagogues 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 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed. “After that night, no one in Germany could say they knew nothing,” Ralph Giordano, a German Jewish essayist, said at the commemoration. “It was a dress rehearsal.” “The lack of protest gave Nazis the green light to intensify their anti-Jewish policies,” said Giordano, who was a child at the time. He and his brother were hidden by a non-Jewish woman on Kristallnacht. “When murderers were needed, they were ready.” Alexander Brenner, the leader of Berlin’s Jewish community, issued a call for greater public involvement in the fight against intolerance. His comments at the commemoration came two weeks after hecklers at an event in Berlin’s Spandau district shouted slogans including “Jews Out” and “It’s all the fault of you Jews.” Commemorations were held across Germany over the weekend to mark the Kristallnacht anniversary, but not of them were welcome. The far-right National Democratic Party used the anniversary to hold a march in the city of Weimar. But only 200 right-wingers out of an expected 1,000 showed up. At the same time, some 1,500 counter-demonstrators marched peacefully under the slogan, “Block the Road Against Nationalism and anti-Semitism.” Bernhard Vogel, governor of the state in which the march was held, said the party’s decision to gather on Kristallnacht was a disgusting provocation. Meanwhile, a new study of 3,000 Germans shows that significant numbers of them sympathize with right-wing politics. Sociologist Wilhelm Heitmeyer of Bielefeld University said some 20 percent of Germans would vote for a new right-wing party if given the chance. Of this group, some 67 percent consider themselves to be middle-of-the-road, Heitmeyer said. The study shows that Jews and Muslims are widely viewed with suspicion, Heitmeyer added. About 22 percent of the respondents agreed without reservation with the statement, “Many Jews try to take advantage today of the history of the Third Reich, and the Germans pay for this.” Some 53 percent were against building more mosques, seeing them as a sign of a lust for power. The findings contradict conclusions drawn after the Sept. 22 national elections, in which the Free Democratic Party failed to win enough votes to form a government coalition. The party’s failure was seen by some as proof that German voters rejected what were widely viewed as the anti-Semitic campaign tactics of the party’s then-deputy leader, Jurgen Mollemann. Following the election, Mollemann resigned his party post.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.