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80th anniversary of Kristallnacht: ‘We commemorate to change the present’

09 November 2018

German Jews look to the future, 80 years after the ‘Night of Broken Glass’


The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, pictured in November 1948. It had been set on fire during Kristallnacht in 1938 and left in ruins after an aerial bomb attack in 1943

The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, pictured in November 1948. It had been set on fire during Kristallnacht in 1938 and left in ruins after an aer...

ON MONDAY evening, days before the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “Night of the Breaking Glass”, the first Jewish Future Congress opened in the Oranienburger Straße Synagogue, in Berlin, in the presence of politicians, and Muslim and Christian representatives.

The organisers felt that, 80 years after the pogroms of 1938, Jewish life in Berlin today had become very diverse — something inconceivable in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Shoah. Their aim was to consolidate and renew Jewish life in Germany.

The idea came from Berlin’s Sen­ator for Culture, Klaus Lederer, of The Left party. “It does not help to commemorate by looking back: we commemorate to change the present and to look ahead,” he said.

Rabbi Walter Homolka, who chairs the Leo Baeck Foundation, one of the organisers of the congress, said: “We have succeeded in making it possible for young Jews to say, for the first time, ‘Yes, that’s also my society, and I want to shape it. I want to live in Germany, but I also want to help shape this Germany.’”

The conference, which had more than 1000 participants, ran from Monday to Thursday this week under the motto “Because I want to live here”.

The managing director of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Daniel Botmann, told the audience at Monday’s opening night: “So much future has never been seen since the Shoah.” He referred to active Jewish life, and structures such as community organisations, schools, and kindergartens.

Since 1990, as part of the Two Plus Four reunification agreement, more than 200,000 Jews, mostly from the former USSR, have moved to Germany. In the past 15 years, many young Israelis have made Berlin their home.

In several German cities this week there were also annual Jewish Cultural Days, with a full programme and open synagogue days. Last Sunday afternoon, at an open day in the Fasanenstraße Synagogue, Berlin, built after the war in the old West Berlin, a group of senior citizens met to remember Kristallnacht.

Eighty years ago, on the night of 9-10 November, Kristallnacht was a turning point in Hitler’s anti-Semitic Nazi Germany. The persecution of the well-integrated Jewish population moved from a largely psychological warfare to a physical one, ending in the Shoah that ultimately killed six million Jews.

The Nazis and their Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, co-ordinated looting and arson by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians on 7500 Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, care homes for the elderly, and schools. Synagogues in Germany and Austria were set on fire. In the aftermath, 30,000 Jewish males were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Now, questions are being asked about how safe Jewish life is in Germany and Europe. Earlier this year, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, advised individuals not to wear a kippah in public “in the metropolitan areas in Germany”.

Shortly after that, 2000 people of different faiths, wearing kippahs, went on the streets of Berlin in a “Wear a Kippah” demonstration, after a kippah-wearing man was attacked in Berlin.

Yesterday, in the centre of the city, at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in an event lasting more than 12 hours, the names of Berlin Jews murdered during the Holocaust were to be read out.

Today, an official remembrance service is due to be held in the Rykestraße Synagogue, Berlin, attended by representatives of the German government and other faiths. 

Read our comment piece on Kristallnacht

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