BERLIN – Holocaust survivors, political leaders and ordinary citizens in Germany marked the 75th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom Kristallnacht on Saturday with solemn ceremonies and innovative tributes to the victims.
Rather than conducting one central memorial event, the country saw the start of smaller commemorations that will take place throughout the weekend, including striking art projects, Twitter initiatives and silent vigils.
In the attacks of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, Nazi thugs plundered Jewish businesses nationwide, burned down synagogues and rounded up some 30,000 Jewish men for deportation to concentration camps. At least 90 Jews were killed in the orgy of violence, also known as The Night of Broken Glass, which historians say ushered in the start of the Nazis’ drive to wipe out European Jews.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, hoped for “honest, emotional concern” on the part of Germans on the anniversary and urged continued vigilance against hatred.
“The lesson that we must draw is as simple as it is clear: Never again will we allow ourselves to be attacked because of our Judaism; never again will we allow ourselves to be intimidated,” he told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.
German President Joachim Gauck was to pay his respects at a synagogue in the eastern city of Eberswalde near Berlin which was destroyed in the rampage, and where there now stands a memorial made from the building’s rediscovered foundations and freshly planted trees. He was to later travel to nearby Frankfurt an der Oder to speak ahead of a memorial concert.
Churches in Berlin have planned a silent march to the site of an obliterated synagogue in the city center in which Mayor Klaus Wowereit was to take part. Wowereit was to later address a memorial event organized by the capital’s Jewish community and attended by Israeli Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann.
But the anniversary has also inspired more unconventional forms of remembrance.
A Twitter account, @9Nov38, launched by historian Moritz Hoffmann last month and called “Heute vor 75 Jahren” (“75 Years Ago Today”), offers historical accounts of the pogrom. “Sunrise in Kassel. Few people on the street, but a lot of glass shards and destroyed furnishings in front of more than 20 shops,” read one tweet.
The account has already attracted more than 4,200 followers, with organizers saying they hope to reach a younger generation of Germans by harnessing social media.
Meanwhile, around 120 retailers in Berlin have affixed adhesive film to their shop windows depicting the jagged pattern of broken glass to commemorate the destruction of Jewish businesses. The stickers are concentrated in areas of central Berlin that were targeted by the Nazi looters in 1938, with participants including Germany’s most famous department store, KaDeWe.
And Berliners are being called upon to polish “Stolpersteine” memorials for Jews in their neighborhoods. The “stumbling blocks” are small plaques bearing the names of Holocaust victims embedded in the street in front of their last known address, along with their dates of birth and facts about their deportation.
City magazines have printed advertisements for the campaign, complete with an attached cleaning cloth for volunteers. Tour guides will lead residents to local sites of Jewish life before the Holocaust.
Against this backdrop, a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on Friday showed that anti-Semitism has deepened across Europe over the past five years, facilitated by social media and file-sharing websites.
Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her compatriots to be watchful for the dangers of anti-Semitism, calling Kristallnacht “one of the darkest moments in German history.” While she hailed the flourishing Jewish community in Germany, now numbering more than 200,000 people, she lamented “the reality that no Jewish institution can be left without police protection.”
In Austria, where Jews were also targeted in the wake of the German annexation, President Heinz Fischer will speak Sunday during ceremonies organized by the country’s Jewish community. And in the city of Innsbruck, western Austria, the local branch of the Social Democrats plans to hold an ‘anti-fascist walk’ to sites of the pogrom.