BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the 70th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom “Kristallnacht” on Sunday by warning against complacency in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Merkel was speaking alongside Jewish leaders at a ceremony in a Berlin synagogue that was among the 1,000 that were damaged or destroyed by Nazi mobs in the “Night of Broken Glass” across Germany and Austria.
At least 91 Jews were murdered, about 7,500 Jewish businesses ransacked and some 30,000 Jewish males arrested during the assaults which presaged the Holocaust in which about six million Jews were killed.
“We can’t be indifferent to right-wing extremists marching through the Brandenburg Gate or to right-wing extremists winning seats in legislatures,” she said, in reference to recent events.
“We can’t remain silent when rabbis are accosted on the streets, Jewish graveyards desecrated and anti-Semitic crimes are committed,” she said. “Complacency is a first step towards putting the most essential values of our democracy at risk.”
The 1938 violence shocked many non-Jewish Germans who saw the Nazi brutality first-hand.
November 9 marks “Kristallnacht” in 1938 and also the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on Sunday she was disturbed by the success of far-right parties in several eastern state elections.
“There are some alarming signals...There seems to be a lack of conviction by democratic forces to take on the rightists,” said Knobloch, who eye-witnessed ‘Kristallnacht’ as an 6-year-old in Munich. “Strong steps are needed to fight them.”
A close ally of Merkel, Lower Saxony state premier Christian Wulff, was criticised on Friday for saying the financial crisis was causing a “pogrom sentiment” aimed at business executives.
Wulff expressed his regrets as Jewish leaders called for his resignation. His comment came just weeks after one of Germany’s most prominent economists, Hans-Werner Sinn, was forced to apologise for a similar analogy.
Jewish culture had thrived in Berlin before the Nazis took power. It was one of the world’s 10 largest Jewish centres and many of Germany’s leading scientists were Berlin Jews.
There were about 160,000 Jews in Berlin in 1933, when Hitler came to power, but only 1,400 in 1945 at the end of World War Two. The rest emigrated or were killed in death camps.
The ostensible impetus for Kristallnacht was the November 7 attack on German diplomat, Ernst von Rath, by a Polish-Jewish student named Herschel Grynszpan in Paris. Rath’s death sparked public protests, which Hitler is reported to have proposed harnessing for broad attacks on Jews.
Additional reporting by Dave Cutler in London; Editing by Matthew Jones