Neo-Nazis Attack Synagogue Memorial Stone: 'Sieg Heil!' on Anniversary of Pogrom Against Jews
German neo-Nazis shouting "Sieg Heil" tore wreaths and candles off a Jewish memorial on Thursday, the 68th anniversary of the "Night of Broken Glass" in 1938 when Jews across the country were beaten up or murdered and had their homes and stores wrecked. Anti-Semitism remains alive in Germany, President Horst Köhler warned.
Police place flowers back on the synagogue memorial stone after arresting right-wing extremists who attacked it.
Police arrested 16 youths aged between 15 and 24 who shouted "Sieg Heil" and ripped freshly laid wreaths off the stone. "They were known members of the far right scene," a police spokesman said. Police guarded the site during the night to prevent any further unrest.
The synagogue was burned down 68 years ago during "Reichskristallnacht" (Night of Broken Glass), when hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, Jewish homes and stores were ransacked and Jews were attacked and beaten to death across Germany and in parts of Austria.
While attacks by neo-Nazis on Jewish sites are not uncommon, Thursday's incident was widely reported in the German media because of its timing, and politicians condemned it.
"People who tear off flowers and candles placed in memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust show that they have learned nothing from the greatest disaster in German history," said Matthias Platzeck, prime minster of the state of Brandenburg which Frankfurt an der Oder belongs to. "We mustn't tolerate such excesses here in Brandenburg."
President Horst Köhler, who attended the consecration of a new synagogue in Munich on Thursday, had warned in his speech at the ceremony that anti-Semitism was still alive in Germany.
"Still today our dream of a normal Jewish life in Germany clashes with the reality that there is open and latent anti-Semitism and the number of violent acts motivated by right-wing extremism is rising," Köhler said in the speech.
"It is all our duty to get involved and act to prevent people being abused, injured or even murdered due to their religion, origin or appearance," he added.
The site of Munich's new synagogue is near the building where Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels delivered a speech that paved the way for the November 9-10 Kristallnacht. Munich's old main synagogue in the Herzog Max Strasse had been demolished in June 1938 and two other houses of worship were destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht.
Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, told Die Welt newspaper: "…it's the duty of the whole country -- not just the Jews -- to fight anti-Semitism which exists in the whole of Europe. Mankind simply isn't learning. But amid all the concern I have to say: it's not the anti-Semitism of the Nazis."
The anniversary coincided with the publication of a survey indicating that far-right views remain firmly anchored across German society. Commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, the survey of 5,000 people tested people's views on a number of far-right and xenophobic statements including this one: "The Jews are more prone than other people to use nasty tricks to get what they want." Some 15.8 percent of western Germans and 6 percent of eastern Germans said they agreed with that statement.
The far-right National Democratic Party, which declared solidarity with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this year after he questioned the Holocaust and said Israel should be wiped off the map, was quick to claim that the survey confirmed that its views were becoming mainstream.
The party is holding its annual congress in Berlin at the weekend under the slogan "From the Center of the People."
"The motto … has been confirmed in a refreshing way by the current survey results. Germany, we're coming!" the NPD said in a statement.
The NPD, which calls for the repatriation of foreigners and opposes immigration, made headlines in September when it won 7.3 percent in Chancellor Angela Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in a regional election on Sunday, clearing the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the assembly.
It is now represented in two of Germany's 16 regional parliaments, both of them in the economically depressed east. Its nationwide poll ratings remain marginal, however.
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