Jews Are 'Our Big Brothers,' Pope Says at Kristallnacht Commemoration

Obama, Merkel and thousands of ordinary Germans among those commemorating the 75th anniversary of the 1938 pogrom.

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Pope Francis commemorated Kristallnacht at a mass in front of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, describing the Jewish people as the "big brothers" of his Roman Catholic flock.

Riots organized by German authorities on November 9-10, 1938 killed 91 Jews and destroyed 267 synagogues. The rioting was followed by the deportation of 30,000 Jews to concentration camps.

The attacks, which came to be known as the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) anticipated the mass slaughter of European Jewry launched three years later.

Kristallnacht marked a step towards the Holocaust and should not be forgotten, the pope said: "We renew our closeness and solidarity to the Jewish people, our big brothers, and pray to God that the memory of the past and of the sins of the past helps us to be always vigilant against every form of hate and intolerance."

Pope Francis, who co-authored a book on inter-faith dialogue with Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, has pledged good relations with Jews. His election last March was welcomed by the world's Jewish associations.

Obama: 'The tragic consequences of silence'

In the United States, President Barack Obama said that the lesson of Kristallnacht was to speak out against anti-Semitism and intolerance. In a statement marking the 75th anniversary of the pogrom, the president said that Kristallnacht foreshadowed the systematic slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other innocent victims."

Seventy-five years later, Obama said, Kristallnacht "now signifies the tragic consequences of silence in the face of unmitigated hatred. As we mark this anniversary, let us act in keeping with the lessons of that dark night by speaking out against anti-Semitism and intolerance, standing up to indifference, and recommitting ourselves to combating prejudice and persecution wherever it exists.

Kristallnacht was commemorated in Germany with candle-light vigils in many cities and towns. People listened to Jewish survivors share memories and met at Jewish cemeteries to remember the victims of the pogrom.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Kristallnacht "was an event that humiliated Jews in an unbelievable way ... a real low point in German history had been reached."

She added, "Unfortunately, later on German history developed in an even more dramatic way which eventually ended in the Shoah (Holocaust.)" The chancellor also called on Germans to never forget the past.

Across Berlin, guided groups of residents walked through their neighborhoods, noting sites where Jewish stores, schools and other locations once stood before being destroyed by the Nazis and their supporters.

A Bruenn JR shop, a Jewish-run store after it has been vandalized by Nazis and its frontwall inscripted with anti-Semitic graffiti after Kristallnacht. Credit: AFP

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