Jewish students in Berlin on Wednesday marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," when Nazis terrorized Jews throughout Germany and Austria.
Some 30 students from the Jewish Traditional School lit candles and recited prayers at their school as Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal urged them to jointly overcome Germany's past by building a secure future for Jews in the country.
"This is the city where the Holocaust was planned and executed from," said Teichtal, a community rabbi and the head of the Jewish outreach group Chabad in the German capital.
"What better answer is there than that, in this very city, the students of the Jewish school from Berlin should jointly pray and light candles showing that the answer to darkness and the evil of the past is to create education for the present and the future," he said.
Eighty years ago this week, on November 9, 1938, the Nazis killed at least 91 people, burned down hundreds of synagogues, vandalized and looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and arrested up to 30,000 Jewish men, many of whom were taken away to concentration camps.
On Wednesday, students assembled under a maple tree in front of their school building. They prayed in Hebrew and German and lit six white candles to commemorate the synagogues that were burned down, as well as the 6 million people who perished in the Holocaust.
"I lost a big part of my family ... my great-grandparents, their siblings, and therefore it is all very special for me," said 15-year-old student Clara Eljaschewitsch. "It is sad ... I think a lot about it."
Kristallnacht — which got its name for the shattered glass from Jewish-owned store windows that covered German streets — is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. Still it would be years before the Nazis formally adopted their "Final Solution" for the Jews of Europe, which would evolve into a policy of mass murder.
Teichtal also condemned the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last month in which 11 people were gunned down in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
"It's a terrible shock ... for the Jewish community worldwide. And it shows once again that the ugly head of anti-Semitism can show itself anywhere in the world and we have to actively combat it," he said.
Berlin's top security official took a step in this direction on Wednesday, banning a far-right protest planned for Friday, the exact anniversary of Kristallnacht.
In explaining his decision, state interior minister Andreas Geisel said such a demonstration would "in a blatant way negate the moral and ethical significance of this memorial day," the German news agency dpa reported.
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