BERLIN — Germans across the country on Saturday commemorated the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the night of broken glass — during which the Nazis staged a wave of attacks on Jews in Germany and Austria.
On Nov. 9, 1938, hundreds of synagogues were burned, numerous homes and Jewish-owned stores were ransacked, some 1,000 people were killed and more than 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.
The attacks marked the beginning of the state-organized, violent persecution of Jews which ended in the murder of six million European Jews by the end of the Third Reich in 1945.
Germans in many cities and towns held candle-light vigils, listened to Jewish survivors share memories and met at Jewish cemeteries to remember the victims of Kristallnacht during Saturday's commemorations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the night of broken glass "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" — or 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.
Several Berliners came together to polish some of the city's 5,000 Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks, which identify by name individual victims of Nazis in front of their former homes. The cobblestone-sized brass plaques are inserted on sidewalks and called stumbling blocks because one unexpectedly trips over them —figuratively speaking — while strolling through the city.
"We have organized 16 groups who are out today cleaning the stumbling blocks and we are hoping to turn this into an annual event in the future," said the coordinator of the tours, Silvija Kavcic.
Despite the many positive activities, some speakers sounded a note of caution, reminding their listeners that anti-Semitism is still a problem in Europe.
A poll of European Jews released Friday found that more than three-quarters of those questioned believe anti-Semitism is surging in their home countries and close to one-third have considered emigrating because they don't feel safe.