Police said Friday that rioting neo-Nazis tore up wreaths and scattered candles in an eastern German town on the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht — a prelude to the Holocaust that saw thousands of synagogues and homes destroyed.
Police said they made 16 arrests after the group destroyed the wreaths at a memorial stone Thursday night at the site where Frankfurt an der Oder’s synagogue stood before it was burned down by the Nazis on Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass.
The vandalism came amid fears that far-right extremism is entrenched in parts of Germany and growing in others.
Those detained were between 16 and 24, police said. Some of the youths shouted the Nazi-era chant “Sieg Heil” as officers moved in to arrest them, police said. Prosecutors were also investigating whether members of the group displayed Nazi symbols, which is a crime in Germany.
On Nov. 9, 1938, Adolf Hitler’s Nazis attacked Jewish homes and businesses throughout Germany. Thousands of synagogues and homes were burned, and some 90 Jews were murdered. Shortly afterward, 30,000 were deported to concentration camps where many later died.
Neo-Nazis remain a fringe group in Germany, but recent electoral successes by the far-right National Democratic Party, which has won seats in two state legislatures, have revived concern and led for more effective measures against extremism.
In an address at the dedication ceremony of a new Munich synagogue Thursday, President Horst Koehler called on Germans to stand together in the fight against extremism.
“It’s up to each and every one of us, always,” Koehler said, calling for increased and long-term funding for programs to counter extremism.
Days earlier, a survey by the University of Leipzig indicated that right-wing extremism is widespread in Germany, with nearly 27 percent respondents harboring anti-foreigner views — and 8.4 percent of the 4,900 polled holding anti-Semitic views.