Merkel marks the Nazi "Kristallnacht" against the Jews with a speech at the synagogue


BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has a moral duty to fight anti-Semitism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a moving speech at a synagogue in Berlin on the occasion of the country's 80th anniversary. A campaign of Nazi attacks against Jews.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expresses herself at a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also called Broken Glass Night, in Rykestrasse Synagogue, Berlin, Germany, November 9, 2018. REUTERS / Axel Schmidt

Dressed in black, Merkel told Jewish leaders that violence against Jews, blamed on right-wing activists or Muslims, was growing in Germany eight decades later.

"Jewish life is flourishing again in Germany – an unexpected gift for us after the Holocaust," she said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. "But we are also witnessing a worrying anti-Semitism that threatens Jewish life in our country."

Germany and Austria marked Friday, November 9, 1938 "Kristallnacht", a wave of assassinations, looting and destruction of property. The name refers to the broken glass that strewn streets outside synagogues and Jewish shops and houses.

Shortly before Merkel's speech, a Berlin appeals court overturned the police's decision to ban a far-right protest in the capital scheduled for Friday.

Police had banned the event on the grounds that it would be unacceptable to hold a far-right march on the same day, while the rest of the country commemorated the Jewish victims of Nazi violence.

But the court was of the view that constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly were paramount.

A counter-demonstration of leftist groups was also planned.

Merkel called for zero tolerance of far-right attempts to hold the large German Muslim community responsible for acts of violence perpetrated by Islamist militants.

MIGRANTS

The Chancellor's decision in 2015 to admit nearly a million migrants, mostly Muslims, fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which claims that Islam is incompatible with the German constitution.

The Germans were shocked by images of skinheads pursuing migrants in Chemnitz in the east of the country in September, after two migrants were stabbed mortally. Right-wing extremists also clashed with the police and attacked a Jewish restaurant.

"This form of anti-Semitic violence reminds us of the beginning of pogroms," Merkel said.

In Vienna, the head of the Austrian government, which includes a party founded by former Nazis, pledged Friday to support Israeli security on the occasion of Kristallnacht's birthday.

For decades, Austria has portrayed itself as a victim of Nazism rather than recognizing its collaboration with its crimes, including the Holocaust. Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said this has changed.

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"We did it too late, but we faced our own story … we are not simply removing the events of the darkest hours of our history in 2018," he said at A ceremony in Parliament marking the anniversary of that date.

Members of Kurz's coalition partner, the far-right party Freedom Party, attended the event. Although it was founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, the party claims to oppose anti-Semitism and denounce the Holocaust. Party officials have, however, been involved in recent anti-Semitic scandals.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Friday that anti-Semitic attacks have increased in his country in the last nine months.

Reportage of Joseph Nasr and Francois Murphy; edited by Andrew Roche

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