Chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed “outrage and shame” that Jews in Germany face growing attacks and anti-Semitic threats since the October 7th Hamas attack in Israel.
Some 85 years after the start of the Nazi-organised pogrom against German Jews, their homes, businesses and places of worship, Mr Scholz was speaking at a Berlin synagogue which, three weeks ago, had two Molotov cocktails tossed against the facade of its nearby community centre.
Mr Scholz said the widespread silence after the 1938 pogrom triggered what theologian Martin Niemöller later described as Germany’s “descent into a catastrophe of indifference, intolerance and inhumanity”.
Despite shows of public support after the October 7th attacks, Mr Scholz warned that “something is coming apart at the seams” if synagogues in Germany were once again being firebombed and Jews hiding their identity in public.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing justifies anti-Semitism,” he said. “Not someone’s background, political conviction. No alleged postcolonial view of history can be allowed celebrate the murder, the barbarous massacre, of ordinary people.”
At the same event, German Jewish leaders insisted that 1938 was not repeating itself because, unlike then, German Jews today enjoyed the full support – and protection – of the state.
“But we don’t want protection, we want to live freely in Germany, in our country,” said Dr Josef Schuster, president of the Committee of Jews in Germany.
In the televised ceremony, he asked that expressions of solidarity with Jews in Germany equal the volume and frequency of anti-Semitic yells at Islamist demonstrations. He also urged greater honesty about the spread of anti-Semitism throughout German society in recent years.
“What we couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see,” he added, “was its creep into the heart of our society, into our university lecture halls, our theatres and our suburban homes.”
Across the country on Thursday, the remaining eyewitnesses of the 1938 pogrom gathered to tell their stories. For Charlotte Knobloch, the 91-year-old Shoah survivor and head of Munich’s Jewish community, November 9th is forever linked to the smell of smoke from her local synagogue, as it went up in flames.
“It was a cool, foggy day with a terrible atmosphere,” she said. “I remember asking, ‘Why isn’t the fire brigade coming?’ and my father weeping.”
The October 7th attacks in Israel, and the growing humanitarian disaster in Gaza, have added new meaning – and tension – to this year’s pogrom memorials.
Many in the German-Arab community are frustrated and angry that pro-Palestinian marches have been framed – or banned by police – as pro-terrorism gatherings with a latent anti-Semitic slant.
President Frank Walter Steinmeier mediated those concerns, telling a gathering of Jewish and Muslim community members he was “troubled at how much the Middle East violence is endangering the social peace in Germany”.
There must be “no anti-Muslim racism” in Germany, he said, and the country’s Palestinian and Arab communities “should have the space to show – and share – their pain and despair for the civilian victims in Gaza”.
Mr Steinmeier urged these groups “not to be instrumentalised by Hamas helpers”, adding: “Speak for yourself, push back clearly against terrorism.”