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ChristiansĂ­ Guilt Cited in Kristallnacht

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 01, 1998 Issue | Posted 11/1/98 at 1:00 PM

 

BERLIN—Leaders of Germany's Catholic and Evangelical Churches have urged Christians to remember their “common responsibility” for the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, in which Jewish homes and shops were looted in a prelude to the World War II Holocaust.

“This event occurred 60 years ago under the eyes and with the help of a people calling itself Christian,” the Church leaders said in an open letter. “It had its origins in bad will, which is still not a thing of the past even today.”

The letter, published by the Ecumenical Council of Berlin-Brandenburg, appealed to its 26 member Churches to participate in events marking the Kristallnacht anniversary in November.

It added that further steps would also be taken to “stigmatize the roots of Christian anti-Semitism in the teaching and practice of the Churches.”

A total of 276 Jewish synagogues were ransacked and torched by Nazi supporters during the November 9-10 Kristallnacht, which also featured the smashing of Jewish shop windows all over Germany.

The organized action, which followed the assassination of a German embassy official in Paris by a 17-year-old Jewish boy, left 36 Jews dead, although many also died when 20,000 Jewish males were arrested and sent to Buchenwald and other concentration camps.

Although the provost of Berlin's St. Hedwig cathedral, Fr Bernhard Lichenberg, who was beatified by the Pope in June 1997, publicly condemned the atrocities and introduced daily prayers for persecuted Jews, other German Church leaders remained silent.

Fears of renewed hostility toward Germany's estimated 33,000 religious Jews grew following the late 1994 firebombing of a synagogue in Lubeck, where arson attacks have also occurred on several Christian Churches.

Catholic and Evangelical Church leaders, who have issued previous joint statements on social and moral issues, attended the reopening of Germany's best-known synagogue in Berlin, following its partial renovation in May 1995.

In November 1997, Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meissen also became Germany's first Catholic ordinary to organize parish collections for rebuilding his city's nineteenth-century synagogue, which was one of 76 in Germany completely destroyed on Kristallnacht.

During his June 1996 German pilgrimage, the Pope called on German Christians to wage a “common struggle” against anti-Semitism with the country's surviving Jews, whose numbers have doubled to 130,000 in the 1990s through immigration from the former Soviet Union.

In its open letter, co-signed by Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky of Berlin, the Ecumenical Council said Germans should remember the “common responsibility of Churches and Christians” for the Kristallnacht events.

“Churches can neither stay silent towards nor accept the ever-growing threat of violence against our foreign-speaking neighbors,” the Catholic and Evangelical leaders added.

“We need decisive action against every ideology which finds form in anti-Semitism and discrimination against races or nations.”

In neighboring Austria, which has faced similar anti-minority tensions, the 60th anniversary of the “Rosary Service,” which marked the last open anti-Nazi protest by Catholics, was commemorated in mid-October by a Mass at Vienna's St. Stefan cathedral.

In his homily, Christoph Cardinal Schˆnborn said the participation of thousands of young Catholics at the 1938 service had helped defend the Austrian Church against charges of supporting Nazi policies.

He added that the service, seven months after Austria's annexation to the Third Reich, had been a “stirring experience” for all Austrian Catholics, especially those who witnessed it directly.

Hitler Youth activists attacked the nearby Vienna residence of Theodor Cardinal Innitzer after the “Rosary Service,” killing a priest and desecrating a painting of Christ. (Jonathan Luxmoore)