History: How then? On the 85th anniversary of the pogrom night against Jews

The Pestalozzistrasse synagogue in Berlin-Charlottenburg is located in the backyard of an inconspicuous clinker brick building.

History: How then? On the 85th anniversary of the pogrom night against Jews

The Pestalozzistrasse synagogue in Berlin-Charlottenburg is located in the backyard of an inconspicuous clinker brick building. On November 9, 1938, this was their protection from arsonist Nazi gangs - the Jewish church was too close to residential buildings to be burned down without consequences. This is how it survived the Nazi pogrom night. 85 years later, police barriers protect the entire width of the building. The grilles are new.

The many anti-Semitic incidents in Germany since Hamas' attack on Israel are fueling fear among Jews. When strangers painted Stars of David on the houses of Jewish Berliners, many were reminded of the public marking of the Nazi era. After an attempted arson attack on a synagogue in Berlin-Mitte in mid-October, the chairman of the Jewish community, Gideon Joffe, said: "85 years after Kristallnacht, synagogues in Germany's capital are set to burn again." Is it really that time again? Does this historical parallel exist?

"Thoughts of the past accompany me every day"

"Yes and no," says the President of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster. "Yes, it was an arson attack on a synagogue that addresses historical trauma and that is real. No, because in 1938 the whole thing was a state-controlled pogrom. Thank God there is no talk of that in Germany today. There is no political side today very clear statements for Israel and for Jewish life in Germany; the state provides the best possible protection for Jewish institutions. That makes the essential difference."

This difference is real - community chairman Joffe also sees it that way. “The external conditions are of course not comparable to 1938,” he says. "We have the political leaders on our side. But the feeling of distress in the Jewish community is still there." The German state, which has declared war on anti-Semitism, does not always manage to make this clear to everyone.

Especially around November 9th, she had feelings that she had never known before, reports a young Jewish Berliner who did not want her name published. In response to questions about this historic date, she sends a moving text. “It was less than 100 years ago that Jews were murdered, expelled, disenfranchised and humiliated in factories,” she writes. "Suddenly it flares up again: thoughts of the past accompany me every day, whether I like it or not."

In 1938, Heydrich gave detailed instructions

The wave of anti-Jewish violence in 1938 was long in the making by the National Socialists - the discrimination, disenfranchisement and persecution of Jews began immediately after they came to power in 1933. The official reason was the assassination attempt by 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan on the German embassy councilor Ernst Eduard vom Rath in Paris on January 7th. November. The background to this act was the deportation of 17,000 Polish Jews to the German-Polish border, including Grynszpan's parents. Vom Rath died of his injuries on November 9th.

The leadership of the NSDAP - gathered in Munich in memory of the failed Hitler Putsch of November 9, 1923 - then gave the starting signal. "Due to the assassination attempt against Leg. Secretary v. Rath in Paris, demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected throughout the Reich tonight - November 9/10, 1938," SS group leader Reinhard Heydrich telegraphed under the headline "Flash, urgent, present immediately!" to all departments.

The SS man gave detailed instructions as to the rules according to which these so-called demonstrations should take place, "for example, synagogue fires only if there is no risk of fire in the area" and "Jews' shops and apartments may only be destroyed, not looted." If these requirements are adhered to, “the police cannot prevent the demonstrations that are taking place, but rather only monitor compliance with the guidelines.” As a result, according to the German Historical Museum, more than 1,300 people were killed, 1,400 synagogues were demolished, 7,000 shops were robbed and 30,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps.

Star of David next to the doorbell sign

Of course the situation is different in the Federal Republic today, that's what Jonah Sievers, the rabbi of the Pestalozzistrasse synagogue, also says. But he also sees something new and frightening, especially in the houses marked with the Star of David. He knows of a case in which the sign was placed right next to a Jewish resident's doorbell. The message is: We know where you live, you are not safe here.

“This highlighting of Jews, this public marking reminds you of times that have to do with November 9th,” says Sievers. "Of course they are not parallel. But the symbolism and what it is supposed to achieve is identical. And that will certainly make this November 9th different from the years before."

In his own words, the rabbi himself rarely wears a yarmulke in public to avoid hostility. “You have to be careful, you can’t be naive,” says Sievers. On the other hand, he sends a clear message in pastoral care in his community. "There's a well-known song that says: 'The whole world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid.' You have to take it seriously, but you can't let fear define you."

"To me it all sounds like 'Never again normal'"

This is not easy for many people. The young Jewish Berliner writes that she remembers the police with machine guns in front of her elementary school after the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001. This guarding is normal. “What is not normal is that Jews are now constantly and everywhere at risk,” she writes. "I've never turned around in the street or started whispering." Now there is a fear of identifying oneself as a Jew. But also the fear of talking about the Middle East conflict, "because I fear that I will have to endure how violence against Jews is relativized and justified."

The fact that bars are now sealing off the Pestalozzistrasse synagogue feels terrible, she adds. "What is the value of protection if everyone is against you? What good are the barriers for me if they are the only way that I can be the person I am? How are we as a society in Germany supposed to cope with this as a whole? For "Everything sounds to me like 'Never again normal'."