Remembering Kristallnacht (Extract)

Extract from a story in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. A European gathering commemorated 70 years since the 1938 pogrom that was the harbinger of Hitler's Holocaust of European Jewry. Some see troubling parallels to current events. Standing next to the ark of the Great Synagogue of Europe, in the center of Brussels, Arthur Schneier, 78, recalled the sounds of breaking glass and the smell of the raging fires as the fire brigade stood by, doing nothing, in his native Vienna. Schneier, now rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in New York, was an 8-year-old boy in Austria, which had recently been annexed to Nazi Germany, when he witnessed Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom that marked the beginning of the organized Nazi attack on European Jewry. On November 9 this year, he joined with other rabbis and dignitaries to mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht at one of several commemorative events, organized by Dr. Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and Aleksander Kwasniewski, former president of Poland and president of the recently formed European Council of Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) (see "Organized Tolerance" in our Nov. 10 issue). "Kristallnacht must be remembered again and again," declared Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterne at the closing event, summing up two days of commemoration proceedings in Brussels, which began with the service at the central synagogue of Brussels, a venerable and sober 130 year-old building that was dedicated as the Great Synagogue of Europe five months ago, and culminated in a ceremony in the European Parliament. The week-long series of European gatherings for "tolerance and reconciliation," organized by the ECTR, went on from Brussels to the Czech Republic and then to Russia. Survivors recounted the pogrom night of November 9-10, 1938, in Germany and German-controlled lands, during which over 90 Jews were murdered, tens of thousands deported to concentration camps and the shattered windowpanes of hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned shops set aflame carpeted German streets, giving the night its name of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass). The Jews were then punished still further by the Nazi government, which ordered them to pay millions of marks to repair the damage. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp as an 8-year-old child, noted in the ceremony at the European Parliament that there was nothing spontaneous about the pogrom - it was premeditated in cold blood by "people who loved music and culture, but at the same time were murderers." "We are worse off now than after World War II, because of shortness of memory," reflected Kantor. "The number of neo-Nazis today in Europe is greater than the number of Jews. There is a banalization of the Holocaust. But it is not enough merely to worry. The tragedies of the past can be a base for moving forward to face the challenges of the 21st century in attaining tolerance." Toward that end, the Euro-pean Parliament has drafted a new European convention on tolerance, consisting of 39 articles, including a list of nine specifically anti-Semitic acts that are to be punishable by law, among them, acts of violence against people, the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust and the desecration of religious sites. The draft contains provisions calling for the eradication of all manifestations of intolerance, including incitement to racial violence, racist and xenophobic acts, and even "aggressive nationalism." Special attention is also given to migrant workers, who have been victims of racism in Europe. The parties to the draft convention - the member states of the Council of Europe - are called upon to examine the conformity of their constitutions and laws with the efforts to eradicate intolerance listed in the convention. According to Kwasniewski, the new initiative will include not only prohibitions but also positive incentives designed to introduce an element of "competitiveness in producing tolerance." "There will be periodic publications - of a tolerance 'White Paper,'" says Kwasniewski, "which will highlight acts successfully promoting tolerance." The ECTR will also be awarding an annual Medal of Tolerance, with the first such decoration awarded to King Juan Carlos I of Spain for his "lifetime achievements in promoting tolerance and democracy." (The king did not attend the ceremonial dinner in Brussels in which the award was to be delivered to him.) In what was perhaps a sign of the spirit of tolerance, EJC officials noted that several Arab ambassadors to the European Union, including representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco, attended the European Parliament ceremony marking 70 years since Kristallnacht, which featured speeches and testimonies regarding Jewish suffering during the Nazi era. One participant, Dr. Mahmoud Karem, Egypt's Ambassador to NATO, told The Report that "no Arab country has ever denied the Holocaust. It was a terrible event in history that deserves to be remembered. [Iran's President] Ahmadinejad may deny it, but Iran is not an Arab country." The threat of Iran was repeatedly raised at the Kristallnacht commemoration in Brussels, especially by Kantor who also established and finances the Luxembourg Forum, a panel of 43 experts on world nuclearization and sees a parallel between the events of the 30s and current events. Speaking at a press conference, Kantor pointed out that Adolf Hitler used Kristallnacht as a testing ground to gauge public reaction in Germany to attacks against Jews, and was encouraged by the German public's acquiescence. Extract from a story in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.