NEW YORK – The World Jewish Congress on Friday commemorated the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass), the 1938 Nazi-led pogroms in which more than 1,000 synagogues were burned, windows smashed, shops looted, and individual Jews rounded up to be sent to concentration camps. Four hundred people were killed in the pogroms.
“Eighty years ago, the Nazis unleashed a series of horrific attacks against the Jewish population in Germany and Austria, desecrating property and destroying lives and livelihood, a violent offensive that was followed by an intense escalation of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies, and ultimately the near genocide of European Jewry,” Lauder said.
“It would be impossible to mark this seminal event in Jewish history without noting the frightening climate of antisemitism and xenophobia currently spreading across Europe and the United States,” Lauder said. “The far-right is gaining power at an alarming speed, and neo-Nazis are feeling emboldened to march in the streets shouting hateful slurs and advocating the most dangerous brands of nationalism and hatred.”
“Just last week, 11 people were brutally murdered at a synagogue in a quiet and safe neighborhood in Pittsburgh, just for being Jewish, an attack that for most American Jews was beyond unthinkable,” Lauder said. “In Europe, synagogues and Jewish property are routinely targeted by antisemitic vandals and criminals, with firebombs hurled at buildings and anti-Jewish graffiti scrawled on walls.”
“It would also be impossible to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht without noting the critical difference between November 9, 1938 and November 9, 2018,” Lauder said. “In 1938, firemen stood idly by to ensure that the flames remained contained to inflict maximum damage on Jewish property alone. Police helped rioters loot and attack, goading them on and aiding their aggression. In 1938, the incursion against the Jewish community was designed, promoted, and handled by the government in a direct and systemic attempt to destroy the Jewish presence.”
“The antisemitic incidents of 2018, in Pittsburgh and in parts of Europe, are beyond terrifying, and must be treated with utmost severity, but they are not another Kristallnacht. After Pittsburgh, an entire country united in an unprecedented way in condemnation of the attack and solidarity with the Jewish community. Concrete action is being taken by governments and authorities around the world to quell the rise of antisemitism and the proliferation of terror, not to bolster it, as the Nazis did” Lauder said.
“There is still so much work that needs to be done to ensure the security and well-being of our Jewish communities, including an across-the-board adoption by governments and international organizations of the universal International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism,” Lauder added. In November 2018, we are not at the precipice of another Kristallnacht, and it is all of our duty to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”
Lauder praises German President Steinmeier’s remarks on anniversary of Kristallnacht
WJC President Lauder also praised German President Frank Steinmeier for his “piercing reflections” on Kristallnacht and underscored the critical nature of nations coming to terms with the crimes of their forefathers.
In an address delivered Friday, Steinmeier said that the Kristallnacht pogroms “stand for the incomparable break of civilization, for the crash of Germany into barbarism, and asked what he called “the most difficult and painful question in German history”: How the same society that made such progress in so many areas of human endeavor – in music, art, politics, and culture – could later allow extremists to gain power, and stand either idly by or as active participants as the ruling regime led Europe into war and annihilated Jews and other minorities.
Lauder said: “President Steinmeier’s piercing reflections on the anniversary of these atrocious pogroms are all the more poignant in today’s climate, as we seek to understand what causes average people to deteriorate into hatred, xenophobia, and even incitement to violence.”
“No country has come as deeply to terms with its culpability in the Holocaust as Germany has, and its leaders should be commended for taking their moral responsibility to this regard as seriously and comprehensively as they have,” Lauder added. “Germany today has again become a hotbed of antisemitic and neo-Nazi activity, with demonstrations in the streets and even attacks in some cases against Jews visibly displaying their identity. And yet, we know that in Germany, both society and its official representatives are acutely aware of the dangers of such manifestations and will do their utmost to ensure that the country’s good name will never again be besmirched by such evil.”
“We hope that other countries around the world will follow Germany’s lead, come to terms with their role and responsibility in the near destruction of European Jewry and internalize the dangers that can arise from apathy,” Lauder said.