BERLIN (AP) — Across Germany, in schools, city halls, synagogues, churches and parliament, people came together Thursday to commemorate the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht — or the “Night of Broken Glass” — in 1938 in which the Nazis terrorized Jews throughout Germany and Austria.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, spoke at an anniversary ceremony at a Berlin synagogue that was attacked with firebombs in October.
“Jews have been particularly affected by exclusion for centuries,” Scholz said in his speech.
“Still and again here in our democratic Germany — and that after the breach of civilization committed by Germans in the Shoah,” they are being discriminated against, the chancellor added, referring to the Holocaust by its Hebrew name.
“That is a disgrace. It outrages and shames me deeply,” Scholz said. “Any form of antisemitism poisons our society. We do not tolerate it.”
The commemoration of the pogrom comes at a time when Germany is again seeing a sharp rise in antisemitism in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, which started with an Oct. 7 Hamas incursion in southern Israel that killed 1,400 people. Israel responded with a relentless bombing campaign in Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinians.
On Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazis killed at least 91 people and vandalized 7,500 Jewish businesses. They also burned more than 1,400 synagogues, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Up to 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many of them taken to concentration camps, such as Dachau or Buchenwald. Hundreds more killed themselves or died as a result of mistreatment in the camps years before official mass deportations began.
Kristallnacht was a turning point in the escalating persecution of Jews that eventually led to the killings of 6 million European Jews by the Nazis and their supporters during the Holocaust.
“I was there during Kristallnacht. I was in Vienna back then,” Holocaust survivor Herbert Traube said at an event marking the anniversary in Paris on Wednesday.
“To me, it was often repeated: ‘Never again.’ It was a leitmotif in everything that was being said for decades,” Traube said, adding that he is upset both by the resurgence of antisemitism and the lack of a “massive popular reaction” against it.
While there’s no comparison to the pogroms 85 years ago, which were state-sponsored by the Nazis, many Jews are again living in fear in Germany and across Europe, trying to hide their identity in public and avoiding neighborhoods that were recently the scene of some violent, pro-Palestinian protests.
Jews in Berlin found the Star of David painted on their homes, and Jewish students in schools and universities across the country have experienced bullying and discrimination.
Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that “something has gone off the rails in this country. There is still an opportunity to repair this, but to do so we must also admit what has gone wrong in recent years, what we have been unable or unwilling to see.”
He said it’s wrong that pro-Palestinian protesters have been able to call for the death of Jews and the destruction of Israel openly in recent weeks across Germany, and said that hatred of Jews by far-right and leftist groups has been on the rise.
“We want to live freely in Germany — in our country,” Schuster said.
The German government has been one of Israel’s staunchest supporters since the Oct. 7 attack, and Scholz and other leaders have repeatedly vowed to protect Germany’s Jewish community.
Still, Anna Segal, manager of the Berlin Jewish community Kahal Adass Jisroel, which was attacked in October in an attempted firebombing, told The Associated Press that not enough is being done to protect them and other Jews in Germany.
She said the community’s 450 members have been living in fear since the attack and that authorities haven’t fully responded to calls to increase security for them.
“The nice words and the expressions of solidarity and standing by the side of the Jews — we are not very satisfied with how that has been translated into action so far,” Segal said. “I think there is a lack of a clear commitment that everything that is necessary is invested in the security of the Jews.”
Alex Turnbull contributed to this report from Paris.