Germans march against hate on Kristallnacht anniversary

BERLIN - Thousands of Germans demonstrated in various cities Thursday against a recent surge of neo-Nazi violence, forming miles-long human chains on the 62nd anniversary of an infamous anti-Jewish pogrom.

Many more were expected at a march in Berlin to protest the worst wave of hate crimes since just after German reunification in 1990.

Wolfgang Thierse, president of parliament, called on Germans earlier Thursday to acknowledge that they looked away from Nazi crimes against the Jews and even benefited from the oppression.

''Only when we understand what happened and how it happened will we be in a position to draw on the lessons of our past,'' he told lawmakers at the Reichstag, drawing applause.

The march in Berlin commemorates the Nov. 9, 1938, Kristallnacht pogrom, also known as the ''Night of Broken Glass.'' Historians consider Kristallnacht the loudest warning sign of the then-imminent Holocaust.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was to lead the march. Accompanying him on a path from prewar Berlin's main synagogue to the Brandenburg Gate were to be leading German political figures and personalities, including tennis greats Boris Becker and Steffi Graf.

The Nov. 9 anniversary is particularly poignant for Germans, recalling both the country's painful Nazi past and one of its greatest triumphs, the fall of the Berlin Wall 11 years ago that made reunification possible. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has suggested making it Germany's national holiday instead of the Oct. 3 Unity Day that marks when the two German nations combined.

''Nearly no other day unites the sorrow, joy and upheaval of the German people,'' said Angela Merkel, head of the opposition Christian Democratic party.

But the Wall anniversary is getting overshadowed this year by the neo-Nazi debate, revived by a still-unsolved bomb attack in the western city of Duesseldorf in July that injured 10 immigrants, six of them Jews.

At least three people have died in hate attacks this year. Officials have warned that the neo-Nazi scene is becoming more violent and the number of reported anti-Semitic crimes are on the rise.

In the northern city of Bremerhaven, more than 20,000 people formed a 7.5-mile-long human chain running through the entire northern city. In western Gevelsberg, 9,000 students marched against the extreme right, and in Duesseldorf 1,500 people walked in silent protest. In Munich, citizens were invited to the site of the former main synagogue for a reading of the 952 names of that city's deported and killed Jews.

Spiegel said before the Berlin march that the recent violence against foreigners and Jews reminded him of pictures from 1938.

''I couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the new century that further attacks on synagogues in Duesseldorf, Berlin or Erfurt could happen,'' he said at the synagogue in the western city of Muenster.

Politicians are also taking the fight against neo-Nazis from the streets into the courtroom.

The German Cabinet on Wednesday decided to pursue a ban in the country's highest court against the far-right National Democratic Party, which officials have accused of taking on Nazi-like characteristics. The upper house of parliament is expected to approve the ban proposal Friday.

German President Johannes Rau and Paul Spiegel, the leader of Germany's Jewish community, were to be the main speakers at the Berlin rally, to conclude with Berlin's Staatskapelle orchestra playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony conducted by director Daniel Barenboim, an Argentinian-born Jew.


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