Remembrance ceremony in parliament

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recalls the events of 9 November in German history.

Remembrance ceremony in parliament
dpa

Berlin (dpa) - President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a "democratic patriotism" in Germany on Friday as he commemorated the the 80th anniversary of the anti-Jewish Nazi pogrom known as Kristallnacht and the centenary of the founding of the republic.

The catastrophe of two world wars and the Holocaust are immovable parts of the German identity, Steinmeier said in the Bundestag in Berlin.

But at the same time, the roots of democracy and the struggle for freedom should be remembered, as represented by the democratic dawning of 1918, he said. Germany's monarchy came to an end and the Weimar Republic was founded on November 9, 1918, as World War I came to an end.

"We can be proud of the traditions of freedom and democracy, without losing sight of the abyss of the Shoah," Steinmeier said, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

Nationalists would like to gild the past and conjure up a perfect world that did not exist. "A democratic patriotism is not a comforting cushion, but a constant incentive," the president said.

Friday also marked a third German anniversary, the fall of the Berlin Wall 29 years ago, which Steinmeier on Friday termed "the happiest November 9 in [German] history."

However, it remained the "most difficult and most painful question in German history" how just a few years after the democratization of 1918, the enemies of democracy - the Nazis in 1933 - could win elections and the German people overrun their European neighbours with war and extermination, Steinmeier said.

"Jewish families penned in cattle cars, and parents sent with their children to the gas chambers," Steinmeier recalled.

Later Steinmeier was set to join the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel at a ceremony in Berlin's largest synagogue to mark the 80th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom.

Hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were looted and set on fire, tens of thousands of Jews publicly humiliated and deported and at least 100, but possibly as many as 1,300, murdered in the pogrom that started on November 9, 1938.

The launch of the Nazi regime's concerted campaign of violence against Germany's Jewish population became referred to as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, as the streets were covered with the debris from the shattered windows of Jewish properties.

The president of the Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, and Merkel plan to deliver addresses in the synagogue in Berlin's Ryke Street, which will be broadcast live on German public television.

Guests include leading figures from politics, science, industry, the church and cultural life.

With seats for more than 2,000 worshippers, the synagogue in Ryke Street is the largest in Germany and one of the largest in Europe after Budapest's central synagogue.

The synagogue was set on fire during the pogrom, but the police commander of the district quickly gave the order to extinguish the fire as it threatened to spread to surrounding buildings.

Services were still held in the synagogue until 1940, but the building was then seized by the German army for storage.