Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s main Jewish leader have warned against tolerating modern-day anti-Semitism and racism as they marked the 80th anniversary of the Nazis’ purge of Jewish people on the infamous “Night of Broken Glass”.
Twenty years after Germany’s defeat in the First World War and five years after Adolf Hitler took power, state-driven anti-Semitism “made it possible for many Germans to live out long-held resentments, to live out hatred and violence”, Mrs Merkel said.
“With the November pogrom, the road to the Holocaust was mapped out.”
She spoke in a ceremony at a Berlin synagogue. The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said the building was set alight in 1938 and the blaze extinguished relatively quickly only so it would not endanger neighbouring houses.
Mr Schuster said that, while the Nazis’ SA and SS organisations were responsible for the pogrom, that already meant thousands of Germans took part – and the population’s reaction “gave the Nazis valuable information: barely anyone protested”.
He added that, while modern-day attacks on Jews, migrants and Muslims cannot be equated with the crimes of the Nazi era, “I see it as a disgrace for our country that such things happen in Germany in 2018”.
He condemned the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which he said has “respect for nothing” and which his organisation did not invite to Friday’s event.
The party entered Germany’s parliament last year.
“Today, we are living once again in a time of far-reaching change,” Mrs Merkel added. “In such times, there is always a particularly great danger of those who react with supposedly simple answers gaining support.”
Those answers, she said, are too often accompanied by a “brutalisation of language”.
“We are commemorating today with the promise that we will set ourselves strongly against attacks on our open and plural society,” she said.
“We are commemorating in the knowledge that watching as lines are crossed and crimes are committed ultimately means going along with them.”
In France, prime minister Edouard Philippe sounded the alarm over a sharp rise in anti-Semitic acts this year, pledging to increase efforts to punish perpetrators and police hate speech online.
Mr Philippe announced on his Facebook page a 69% rise in the number of anti-Semitic acts reported to police in the first nine months of 2018 compared with the same period last year.
Despite years of government efforts to fight it, “we are very far from having finished with anti-Semitism”, he wrote.
He expressed particular concern because overall, anti-Semitic acts had been on the decline in recent years.