Berlin, Vienna, New York – On the occasion of the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, some of the destroyed synagogues shone anew for a day. The WJC, in cooperation with the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israelite religious society Austria displayed digital reconstructions of the synagogues in several cities in Germany and Austria. In addition, VR (virtual reality) goggles enable a virtual tour at some locations.
Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress: “As we solemnly commemorate 85 years since Kristallnacht, the shadows of the past remind us of the urgent imperative to preserve history, especially as Jewish communities worldwide confront a resurgence of Antisemitism following the wave of terror carried out against Israel by Hamas. This attack, claiming over 1,400 Jewish lives, stands as the most devastating since the Holocaust, reinforcing the vital need to remember and educate. Through initiatives like the digital reconstruction of synagogues, we not only honor the memory of what was lost but also fortify our resolve to combat the tides of hatred and bigotry. In doing so, we ensure that the phrase 'Never Again' transcends mere words, becoming a steadfast commitment to safeguarding Jewish lives and dignity everywhere.”
A component of the WJC’s #WeRemember campaign, the initiative uses virtual reality to create new formats of remembrance. By immersing viewers, it offers tangible insights into the diverse Jewish life in Germany and Austria that was destroyed by the Nazis. The initiative includes full-color image projections of digitally reconstructed synagogues, developed in collaboration with TU Darmstadt and the University of Vienna. These projections were displayed on the walls where the synagogues once stood. This year's patrons were Bärbel Bas, President of the German Bundestag, and Wolfgang Ernst Sobotka, President of the Austrian National Council.
"It is our paramount responsibility to combat all forms of Antisemitism. We must do everything in our power to guarantee the safety of the Jewish community and enable them to foster their culture openly, without fear. The digitally reconstructed synagogues remind us of what is at stake,” stated Bärbel Bas, President of the German Bundestag.
“We must examine our painful history and historical critical junctures, such as the Night of November 9, 1938, closely and acknowledge the truth. The events of those days changed the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jewish women and men, and the appearance of our cities and our country, forever. Once proud symbols of Jewish culture and spirituality, synagogues were destroyed and reduced to rubble. The streets in which Jewish people lived and had their businesses lay in ruins. Today, we commemorate the victims and remember history so that such atrocities may never happen again. It is our responsibility to stand united against terrorism and its causes. Antisemitism is antidemocratic. Therefore, it falls upon our parliament, with unwavering resolve, to counteract it and grant visibility to Jewish life”, asserted the President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Ernst Sobotka, on this day of remembrance.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany also held a commemoration in the presence of Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz at Berlin’s synagogue Beth Israel, which was the target of recent antisemitic attacks. The synagogue which bore substantial damage during the events of Kristallnacht was rebuilt with the support of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.
This year's commemoration aimed to take a visible stance against the current threat to Jewish life. Since the terrorist attacks by Hamas on October 7 in Israel and the escalation of the Middle East conflict, antisemitic incidents have significantly increased. In addition to the projections of the digitally reconstructed synagogues, the Jewish Youth Vienna held a memorial march called "Light of Hope" to foster a culture of remembrance.
“We need different forms and formats through which we can bring commemorative and memorial days to life, making them relevant to the present,” stated Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Israelite Cultural Community of Munich, and Upper Bavaria, and WJC Commissioner for Holocaust Memory.
“This year, we are commemorating perhaps the saddest remembrance of the November Pogroms, 85 years ago. Today, it is imperative for all individuals to recognize that the words 'Never again' hold a more pressing relevance than ever. Following the most heinous massacre of Jewish women and men since the Shoah, it is our collective duty to confront this barbarism and secure the release of the hostages from the grip of terrorists. The reconstructions of the destroyed synagogues are reminders of the once-thriving Jewish life in Vienna, decimated by the forces of Antisemitism. Together, we must do everything in our power to protect our society from Antisemitism and strengthen our unity. This commitment is our daily charge, preserving the essence of our open and diverse democracy,” said Oskar Deutsch, Chairman of the Israelite Cultural Community of Vienna.
“With their project, the World Jewish Congress and the Central Council of Jews in Germany make it possible to experience the destruction on the night of November 9 and 10, 1938. No one stood up to those who set fire to synagogues, humiliated, and abused Jews, and destroyed their businesses and homes. Even today, Jews in Germany are intimidated, threatened, and attacked. It is the common task and duty of state and society to oppose this hatred and misanthropy and to protect the Jewish community from violence and hostility. The virtually reconstructed synagogues show us a part of what we have lost and must never give away again – the integrity of our rule of law, our democracy, and finally our humanity,” comments Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser.
Eighty-five years ago, the National Socialists initiated pogroms against Jewish population centers in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland in former Czechoslovakia. Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, cemeteries, and residences were looted, destroyed, and set on fire. Approximately 300 synagogues were wrecked before the eyes of the public. Over 7,500 businesses were destroyed, and countless Jewish men and women were arrested and murdered. In the weeks that followed, the National Socialists passed laws and regulations to further deprive Jews of their property and livelihood. November 9, 1938, accelerated the National Socialists' plans for annihilation.