Kristallnacht remembered amid growing extremism in Germany

FRANKFURT — Among the hundreds of events in Germany Sunday that commemorated Kristallnacht was the opening of an exhibit devoted to Jewish Holocaust victims at the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The exhibit, at the site near Berlin, went up amid concerns that right-wing extremism is growing among German youth.

Kristallnacht, the nationwide outbreak of Nazi-organized terror against the country's Jews, Jewish property and synagogues, occurred Nov. 9-10, 1938.

Sunday's commemorations ranged from official events with speeches by state and local politicians to wreath-laying at cemeteries and street demonstrations against racism and anti-Semitism.

Speaking at the ceremony at Sachsenhausen, Ignatz Bubis, the leader of Germany's Jewish community, said he was appalled at the ease with which racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideology is spreading nowadays.

He told a group of visiting dignitaries, including some 60 survivors of Sachsenhausen, that there are still people who "wish to deny past events and forget what has happened."

The Sachsenhausen barracks that contains the exhibit was damaged five years ago in an arson attack by an extremist youth.

Bubis said 15 percent of younger voters chose right-wing, extremist parties in recent state elections in Hamburg, in northern Germany.

"These are signs we should not overlook," he said.

As if to emphasize his point, unknown assailants sprayed paint on five of seven memorial markers at a site in Bavaria, which was formerly a branch of the Dachau concentration camp.

Members of a citizens' association that maintains the memorial called the spraying a "desecration" of the memorial. A spokesman said the group suspects that right-wing, extremist assailants were responsible for the attack, especially because of the symbolic nature of the yellow paint used to spray the memorial.

Local police, however, said they did not believe the vandalism was meant to desecrate Holocaust victims.

The Sachsenhausen museum exhibition, meanwhile, presents the history of the concentration camp, focusing on the fates of individual prisoners.

Many of the 800 objects displayed were donated by former inmates. Fragments of 500 shoes and other leather goods recently found on the grounds of the camp are also displayed.

The exhibition attempts to correct the historical distortions of the previous exhibit, which was assembled before German unification in 1990, when Sachsenhausen was part of communist East Germany.

The former exhibition, titled "The History of the Anti-Fascist Resistance Fight and the Suffering of the Jewish People," emphasized communist resistance and touched only superficially on the Holocaust.

Israel's ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, who also spoke at the ceremony, commended the willingness of a majority of Germans to speak out against anti-Semitism and racism.

Tens of thousands of Germans did just that on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

In the city of Frankfurt an der Oder in eastern Germany, some 3,000 people lit candles and formed a human chain across the German-Polish border crossing. The demonstration was organized by dozens of local political groups, under the motto "Lights Instead of Violence," to protest repeated attacks by neo-Nazis on foreigners in the city.