Image: Synagogue in Berlin
Michael Sohn  /  AP
This Jan 19, 2008, file photo shows an exterior view of the 'Neue Synagoge' (New Synagogue) in Berlin. On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi-incited mass riots left more than 91 Jews dead and damaged more than 1,000 synagogues.
updated 11/9/2008 4:07:56 PM ET 2008-11-09T21:07:56

"We must not be silent" about condemning anti-Semitism, German chancellor Angela Merkel declared Sunday as Germany and Israel commemorated the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against Jews.

With concerts, prayers and ceremonies, participants vowed to honor Kristallnacht victims with renewed vigilance. The riots are seen by many as the first step leading to the Nazis' systematic murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.

Merkel recalled the Nov. 9, 1938, riots in which more than 91 German Jews were killed and more than 1,000 synagogues damaged, telling Germans that the lessons of the nation's past were crucial in confronting a current increase in xenophobia and racism.

"Anti-Semitism and racism are a threat to our basic values — those of democracy and respect for diversity and human rights," Merkel said at a ceremony in Germany's newly renovated largest synagogue.

At Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Kristallnacht — Night of the Broken Glass — was "the turning point toward the inevitable destruction of a greater portion of the Jewish people in Europe between 1939-1945," adding that Israel "will never forgive or forget" the crimes of the Nazi regime.

Israeli President Shimon Peres issued a statement calling the Holocaust the "worst disaster that ever happened to us."

Some 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested and sent to concentration camps during the pogrom that left the streets of Germany littered with shards of glass from the smashed windows of Jewish homes and shops.

Germany's southern neighbor Austria — where Kristallnacht claimed 30 Jewish lives — also commemorated the day, while German-born Pope Benedict XVI called for prayers for Kristallnacht's victims in "profound solidarity with the Jewish world."

Benedict himself served briefly in the Hitler Youth corps as a young man in Germany.

At Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, survivors, their descendants, academics and the German and Austrian ambassadors to Israel took part in a ceremony that also included a rare musical rendition of a work by German-Jewish composer Robert Kahn, whose music was outlawed by the Nazis.

Yad Vashem also presented a new online exhibit, "It Came From Within ... 70 Years Since Kristallnacht," marking the event with images, historical information and pages of testimony about some of the Jews who died during the pogrom.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, told the gathering in Berlin's Rykestrasse Synagogue that Germans must fight against far-right extremism in all its forms.

"One must be sensitive to the quiet and less-quiet signals of anti-democratic developments in our country," said Knobloch, who lived through Kristallnacht as a girl in Munich, Germany.

The synagogue, a red brick temple built in 1904, survived Kristallnacht because of its location, nestled in an inner courtyard of a densely populated neighborhood. It reopened last year after two years of painstaking renovation.

A memorial concert in Berlin was being held later Sunday to mark the anniversary.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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