International diplomats were among those attending a ceremony in Israel as it marked the ‘Kristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired riots in which hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked in Germany and Austria. “They robbed everything out of the store and the synagogue was burning,” recalled Holocaust survivor, Gerhard Mashkovski.
At least 91 Jews were killed in the violence whipped up by Nazi stormtroopers and close to 30,000 Jews were arrested in the two-day pogrom and sent to concentration camps. Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and the German and Austrian ambassadors to Israel attended a solemn ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial here in Jerusalem on Sunday, November 9.
Austrian Ambassador, Michael Rendi said it was important that Austria took over this year the presidency in the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, on Holocaust remembrance, on research. “I think it says and it shows that we have learned a very painful lesson. And the knowledge that is given on to the next generations is the key,” he said.
Kristallnacht, which means “Night of the Broken Glass,” is seen as the beginning of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II. On Sunday, November 9, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel “will never forgive or forget” the atrocities of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
Events were also held in Germany itself and other European nations to remember the Kristallnacht.
In Nazi Germany persecution of the Jewish population had begun long before Kirstallnacht. After Hitler had come to power, laws were passed placing restrictions on Jews, on where they could work, on who they could marry and where they could receive medical help.
But on the night of November 9, 1938 the anti-semitism turned physical, Jewish people recalled. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was therefore crucial to “fight with determination” against racism and anti-Semitism.
“Indifference is the first step toward endangering essential values,” Merkel said during a speech at Germany’a largest synagogue in Berlin’s Rykestrasse. “Xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism must never be given an opportunity in Europe again.”
Kristallnacht, often viewed as the first major act that ultimately led to the Holocaust, was met with indifference by many Germans in 1938, Merkel noted on Sunday, November 9.
“There was no storm of protest against the Nazis, but silence, shrugged shoulders and people looking away — from individual citizens to large parts of the church. We cannot be silent, we cannot be indifferent, when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated and rabbis are insulted on the street,” she said at the ceremony, attended by Jewish representatives and diplomats.
German-born Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Vatican City Sunday, November 9, voiced his lingering pain over the Kristallnacht. “Still today I feel pain over what happened in those tragic events, whose memory must serve to ensure such horrors are never repeated and that we strive, on every level, against all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination.”
“I invite people to pray for the victims of that night and to join me in expressing profound solidarity with the Jewish world,” the pontiff told crowds at the Vatican after his regular Sunday Angelus address.
Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927, was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a teenager, though both his parents opposed the Nazis. Earlier this year the pontiff spoke in New York about his teenage years being “marred by a sinister regime,” Reuters news agency reported.
The pope is reportedly being lobbied by Holocaust survivors and their descendants to halt the process of making his wartime predecessor Pius XII a saint. Some Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes to help save many Jews from certain death. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).