Germany on Saturday began marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom Kristallnacht with solemn ceremonies and touching and innovative tributes to the victims.
Rather than conducting one central memorial event, Germany this year is seeing smaller commemorations throughout the weekend including striking art projects, Twitter initiatives and silent vigils.
The attacks of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, saw Nazi thugs plunder Jewish businesses throughout Germany, torch synagogues and round up about 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 Jewry.
As part of the unconventional memorials, Berliners and tourists during the day polished about 5,000 “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.
“It’s sad for me, very, very sad,” said Tamar Maier, an Israeli whose family fled Vienna after their business was smashed during Kristallnacht, as she cleaned one of the plaques.
“I think of all these people, who didn’t know what was happening ... It’s simply horrible. And that’s why it’s very important to remember, it’s essential to do so,” she said.
City magazines have printed advertisements for the campaign, complete with an attached cleaning cloth for volunteers. Meanwhile about 120 retailers in Berlin have affixed adhesive film to their shop windows depicting the jagged pattern of broken glass to commemorate the destruction leveled against Jewish merchants. The stickers were 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.
KaDeWe president Joachim Gauck paid his respects at a synagogue in the eastern city of Eberswalde near Berlin which was destroyed in the rampage, and where there is now a memorial made from the building’s rediscovered foundations and freshly planted trees.
He was due to travel to nearby Frankfurt an der Oder, where he was 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 Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit was due to take part.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, had called 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 Saturday’s Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.
Among some of the more unconventional forms of remembrance this year is a Twitter account, @9Nov38, launched by historian Moritz Hoffmann last month and called “Heute vor 75 Jahren” (75 years ago today), offering historical accounts of the repressive measures.
“Sunrise in Kassel. Few people on the street, but a lot of glass shards and destroyed furnishings in front of more than 20 shops,” one tweet read.
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.
Against the backdrop of the commemorations, a report by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency on Friday showed that anti-Semitism has deepened across Europe over the past five years, facilitated by social media and file-sharing Web sites.
Last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans 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 said that “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, Austrian President Heinz Fischer was to speak yesterday during ceremonies organized by the Jewish community.
In Warsaw, a thousand people chanting: “No to fascism and nationalism” and “Holocaust, never again” marched on Saturday to the spot from where the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were deported to concentration camps.