Germany marks Kristallnacht 'day of fate' in shadow of Gaza tensions

November 9 is the anniversary of anti-Jewish terror, Hitler putsch and fall of Berlin Wall

Police on Thursday cordoned off the Beth Zion synagogue in Berlin where a commemoration service was taking place. Reuters
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Germany vowed on Thursday to tackle an eruption of anti-Semitism linked to the war in Gaza, as it marked an eventful date in its history known among other things for a night of anti-Jewish terror in 1938.

November 9 is also the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the failure of Adolf Hitler's 1923 putsch, the end of the German monarchy in 1918 and other significant events.

But Kristallnacht – a night of Nazi violence on November 9, 1938 that foreshadowed the Holocaust – was uppermost in Germany's mind on Thursday with tensions high as a result of the Israel-Gaza war.

Police cordoned off a synagogue in Berlin where a remembrance service was taking place on Thursday. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock laid flowers at the Holocaust memorial commemorating Germany's darkest hour.

In parliament, Israel's ambassador Ron Prosor and Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander, 102, were among the guests in the public gallery at a debate on protecting Jewish life.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told MPs that further bans on hardline groups were on the way after Germany moved to ban Hamas activities and dissolve a pro-Palestinian group called Samidoun.

Invoking a post-war German motto, she said: "Never again, ladies and gentlemen, is now."

"If Jewish children are scared to go to kindergarten or school, if we need stricter security measures to protect them from attacks on the way to their lessons, that makes me ashamed and breaks my heart," Ms Faeser said.

"2023 is not 1938. We all stand by the side of those who are affected by anti-Semitism, hate propaganda and violence. Today, Jews who are attacked can count on the help of the state they live in."

In a spate of anti-Semitic incidents, the Star of David has been daubed on buildings, Israeli flags were burnt, a Jewish hospital had a window smashed and Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Berlin.

The unrest has unnerved Germany as it marks 85 years since Jewish shops, homes and synagogues were attacked and families rounded up and deported by Nazi secret police on Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass). Many were taken to concentration camps, where Holocaust atrocities ensured millions of them did not return.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday laid a tribute at a memorial to a Jewish couple who became friends with Anne Frank's family in hiding.

He also recalled Hitler's first attempt to seize power 100 years ago exactly, which ended in failure in Munich on the morning of November 9, 1923.

"We need to protect and defend our democracy against all those who want to undermine it," Mr Scholz said. "That is true for all of us and especially in these times."

Norwegian royals were among the guests at a separate commemoration marking the night the Berlin Wall was opened 34 years ago, thanks to a bungled announcement by an East German official.

Thursday is also 105 years since Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated at the end of the First World War, marking the end of imperial Germany. In 1848, a leading revolutionary was executed on November 9 after a failed uprising.

The date is often referred to as a "day of fate" due to this series of momentous events, although President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said he dislikes the term because human rather than supernatural forces were at work.

Mr Steinmeier convened Jewish and Muslim leaders at the presidential palace on Wednesday as he made a plea for harmony during the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Addressing people with Arab and Palestinian roots, he told them to "speak up for yourselves" and not to "let yourselves become stooges for Hamas".

Updated: November 09, 2023, 11:08 AM