BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has a moral duty to fight the rise of anti-Semitism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday in an emotional speech in a Berlin synagogue to celebrate the 80th anniversary of a Nazi campaign of attacks on Jews.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a ceremony to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as Night of Broken Glass, at Rykestrasse Synagogue, in Berlin, Germany, on November 9th 2018. REUTERS / Axel Schmidt
Dressed in black, Merkel told Jewish leaders that violence against Jews, accused of far-right militants or Muslims, was growing in Germany now, eight decades later.
"Jewish life is blooming again in Germany – an unexpected gift for us after the Shoah," he 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 on Friday marked "Kristallnacht", a wave of Jewish killings and looting and destruction of property launched on November 9, 1938. The name refers to the broken glass that spread streets outside synagogues and Jewish shops and houses.
Shortly before Merkel spoke, a court of appeal in Berlin annulled the police's decision to ban a far-right march in the capital scheduled for Friday.
The police had banned the event on the grounds that it would be unacceptable to hold a far-right march on the same day the rest of the country was commemorating the Jewish victims of Nazi violence.
But the court was of the opinion that constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly were paramount.
A counter-demonstration by left-wing groups was also planned.
Merkel has called for zero tolerance for attempts by far-right groups to hold the large German Muslim community responsible for the violence committed by Islamic militants.
The decision of the chancellor in 2015 to welcome almost a million migrants, most Muslims, has fueled the rise of the party of extreme alternative for Germany (AfD), which states that Islam is incompatible with the German constitution.
The Germans were shocked by images of skinheads chasing migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz in September, after the fatal stabbing of a man was attributed to two migrants. Right-wing extremists also clashed with police and attacked a Jewish restaurant.
"This form of anti-Semitic violence reminds us of the beginning of the pogroms," Merkel said.
In Vienna, the head of the Austrian government, which includes a party founded by former Nazis, promised support for Israel's security on Friday as Austria marked the Kristallnacht anniversary.
Austria for decades presented itself as a victim of Nazism rather than recognizing its collaboration with its crimes, including the Holocaust. Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that he has changed.
"We did it too late, but we were confronted with our history … we do not simply suppress the events of the darkest hours in our history in 2018," he said at a ceremony in Parliament on the occasion of anniversary.
The event was attended by members of the Kurz coalition partner, the far-right party. Although it was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, the party claims to oppose anti-Semitism and to denounce the Holocaust. However, party officials have been involved in recent anti-Semitism scandals.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said anti-Semitic attacks had increased in his country in the last nine months.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Francois Murphy; editing by Andrew Roche