President of Germany H.E. Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "We need to act"
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09 November 2020
IIn cooperation with Yad Vashem, the Residence of Israel's President H.E. Mr Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin hosted an online event to mark 82 years since the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht), which took place on 9-11 November 1938. The event was broadcast live on Yad Vashem's Facebook page as well as the social media platforms of the President's Residence.
The pogrom was presented by the Nazi authorities as a seemingly spontaneous response of the angry German population to the death of Ernest von Ratt, the Third Secretary at the German embassy in Paris, who had been shot two days earlier by the young Jew, Herschel Greenspan, in order to bring to light the plight of the Jews deported to the Polish border. However, it is known that in fact from at least the summer of 1938 the pogrom was planned in detail by various elements in the Nazi party, in collaboration with a variety of governmental authorities.
During the pogrom, Jews were attacked all over Germany and Austria. Thousands of Jewish synagogues and businesses were looted, burned and destroyed, and cemeteries were desecrated. It was a harbinger of the end of Jewish life in Germany and Austria. During and after the pogrom, some 30,000 Jews were sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
The President launched the online event by recalling the terrible fate of individual families in the wake of the pogrom, which was "the opening shot" for the Nazis cruel plans of separation, degradation, persecution and eventual murder of the Jewish people in the transportations, gas chambers and killing pits. He recalled the gathering earlier this year of heads of state from all over the world, who pledged to combat antisemitism.
"The virus of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia is more resistant than the coronavirus; it changes its form and threatens humanity," he said. "But there is a vaccination – that of education, learning and taking responsibility - which is led the world over by Yad Vashem."
"The November Pogroms did not mark the beginning of the persecution of the Jews," said Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a prerecorded address, "and they foreshadowed the unspeakable crimes of the Shoah committed by my compatriots. We cannot stop at describing our reality, however painful it may be… we need to act.
"Remembrance carries the seeds of hope for a better future."
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen reminded the viewers that "too many Austrians were among the perpetrators.
"Acknowledging responsibility means to decidedly and courageously prevent any form of discrimination and antisemitism wherever we encounter it."
During the event, testimonies by German-born Holocaust survivors Uri ben Ari and Prof. Walter (Zwi) Bacharach were screened – both of whom witnessed the horrors of the pogrom firsthand.
Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who chairs the Yad Vashem Council, stated that although the Nazis were criminals, they were "not stupid." By targeting synagogues, they hit "the heart of the Jewish people" in order to lower their moral, humiliate and denigrate them. The "minor" reactions of the world following the event thus gave them the "green light" to proceed with their murderous plans.
"Kristallnacht shows us where antisemitism can lead – the breaking of glass led to the murder in cold blood of six million innocent people… the destruction of sacred objects will eventually result in the destruction people – and of humanity itself."
Rounding off the speakers, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev described the shocking events of those fateful nights: "With frightening force, the Nazis succeeded during Kristallnacht in overturning two principal foundations of identity and existence, essential for the Jews, as for any collective human community: the spiritual foundation of faith, represented by the synagogues and Torah scrolls that were desecrated and burned; and the material foundation of economic security, represented by the businesses, shops and factories owned by Jews, and other frameworks in which they were employed, which were attacked, looted and defaced during and following the pogrom," he said, and concluded:
"The flames in 1938 were lit in order to demolish the Jews' places of worship and business. The lights that we kindle tonight, in synagogues throughout Israel and around the world, symbolize the continuity of our constructive, enlightening way of life."
The event concluded with a musical interlude provided by violinist Gennady Talis as the Synagogue in the President's Resident was illuminated in memory of the November Pogrom.
Other Yad Vashem events marking the November Pogrom:
* On Monday 9 November, Prof. Dan Michman, Head of Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research and John Najmann Chair for Holocaust Studies, gave a lecture entitled: "Reinhard Heidrich and the Fate of the Jews during the Holocaust: "Kristallnacht," the Protectorate and the "Final Solution." The lecture was followed by a screening of the 2009 Czech film Protector.
* On Tuesday 10 November at 5:30 PM Israel time, Yona Kovo, Online Exhibitions Coordinator in the Yad Vashem Communications Division, will present via Zoom Yad Vashem's online exhibition "The November Pogrom (Kristallnacht)." The exhibition displays photographs, personal letters, Pages of Testimony, filmed testimonials, artifacts and works of art that illustrate the pogrom through the personal stories of Jews living in Germany and Austria – some revealed for the very first time. To register for this Hebrew-language event, please click here.
* A special conversation between Dr. Robert Rozett, Senior Historian at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research, and Holocaust survivor Dr. Charles W. Greenbaum will take place via Zoom on Thursday, 12 November 2020, 8:00 PM Israel Time, 1:00 PM EST, 6:00 PM UK. Greenbaum who was born in Nuremberg Germany in 1934, will share his memories of the harrowing events of the November Pogrom, and how they directly impacted his family. He will relate how in the midst of the violence and chaos, an "Aryan" business associate of his father, Carl Klein of Furth, Germany, engaged in heroic acts, at great personal risk to himself, providing support and assistance to the Greenbaum family, who finally managed to escape from Germany in 1939. Click here to register.