Herzog, Berlin community mark 81 years since Kristallnacht

"It it is unthinkable that Jews take off their kippah, prayer shawl and are afraid to walk in the streets of Europe," said Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog.

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November 7, 2019 18:42
3 minute read.
Herzog, Berlin community mark 81 years since Kristallnacht

Herzog and Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg. (photo credit: JEWISH AGENCY)

BERLIN – Ahead of the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht on Saturday, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog joined the rabbi of the Orthodox Synagogue of Berlin, Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg, to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

Herzog and Ehrenberg lit a memorial candle and recited Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, on Thursday morning at the central Berlin synagogue, which was used by the Nazis to distribute the yellow Stars of David and converted during the Second World War into a sports hall.

The grand synagogue, which was restored to its previous use after the conclusion of the war, is today home to a growing Jewish community, dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, visiting Israelis and several Jewish youth groups.

Jerusalem-born Ehrenberg, a former chief rabbi of Munich, has led the revived Berlin community since 1997.

“On Saturday, 81 years will have passed since Kristallnacht, the pogrom across 1,000 German synagogues, when the Holocaust started for the Jews of Europe,” Herzog told community members at the synagogue, addressing the rise of antisemitism in Germany and across the continent. “It it is unthinkable that Jews take off their kippah... and are afraid to walk in the streets of Europe.”

Herzog then attended a ceremony where the European Janusz Korczak Academy presented Dr. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Berlin-based media group Axel Springer SE and president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers, with an award to recognize his efforts to combat antisemitism.

The biannual Korczak Prize for Humanism is awarded by the academy, a strategic partner of the Jewish Agency, for outstanding contributions to advancing tolerance, human rights and the fight against racism and hatred.

Döpfner, head of Germany’s largest publishing house, has been praised for his vocal opposition to rising antisemitism in Germany and abroad, and his efforts to boost ties between Germany and the State of Israel.

“The challenge of defending justice and the just cause of Judaism and the State of Israel cannot be done alone,” said Herzog. “It has to be a coalition of governments, a coalition of non-profits and Jewish organizations, and it has to be – first and foremost – a battle of public opinion.”

The presentation took place at the Jewish orphanage in Berlin-Pankow, established in 1882 to house children fleeing pogroms in Russia. The orphanage was closed in 1940, with the last of its residents deported to concentration camps in 1942. Today the building serves as a school and library for the city’s residents.

“De facto, Germany organized the Holocaust,” Döpfner said. “A country that did this cannot deny its special responsibility to ensure that Jewish life in this country is safe.”

Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff delivered the keynote speech ahead of awarding the prize to Döpfner.

“As an eminent opinion-shaper, he retained in the public eye the importance of remembering the Shoah and the lessons that all of us, and the younger generations, should internalize at the current time,” said Issacharoff. “The scourge of antisemitism is growing in Germany and Europe as a whole. The trend is deeply troubling and requires multi-faceted responses.”

Also attending the ceremony was European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein, and former Jewish Agency chairman and Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky.

Citing the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, Sharansky emphasized that the fight against Communism demonstrated the “powerful connection” between the desire of people to be free and their desire to return to their identities.

Recent clashes between the two desires, he warned, are now leading to a rise of antisemitism on both the liberal and nationalist extremes of the political spectrum.

“The challenge for all of us on the Left and Right, Jews and non-Jews, is to understand that hatred and double-standards are equally dangerous, no matter from which direction they come,” Sharansky said. “The number of Jews that feel that the future of their children is not in Europe is increasing every day.”


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