By: Fern Sidman
In the city of Bielefeld in Western Germany on Saturday, thousands of people gathered to participate in a counter-protest against a neo-Nazi demonstration on the 81st anniversary of the commemoration of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazi Germany launched an anti-Jewish pogrom.
The neo-Nazi march was attended by approximately 230 people and was organized by the “Die Rechte” pary, an extremist group. The neo-Nazi protestors were calling for the release of a 91-year-old woman named Ursula Haverbeck, who is a confirmed denier of the veracity of the Holocaust and has been sentenced several times.
The counter protest was organized by Bielefeld’s “Alliance against the right” and which took place under the motto: “Fascism is not an opinion, it’s a crime.”
Kristallnacht, literally, “Night of Crystal,” is often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” The name refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938.
Kristallnacht owes its name to the shards of shattered glass that lined German streets in the wake of the pogrom—broken glass from the windows of synagogues, homes, and Jewish-owned businesses plundered and destroyed during the violence.
The rioters destroyed hundreds of synagogues and Jewish institutions throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Many synagogues burned throughout the night in full view of the public and of local firefighters, who had received orders to intervene only to prevent flames from spreading to nearby buildings. SA and Hitler Youth members across the country shattered the shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments and looted their wares. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions.
The pogrom proved especially destructive in Berlin and Vienna, home to the two largest Jewish communities in the German Reich. Mobs of SA men roamed the streets, attacking Jews in their houses and forcing Jews they encountered to perform acts of public humiliation. Although murder did not figure in the central directives, Kristallnacht claimed many Jewish lives between 9 and 10 November. The official figure for Jewish deaths, released by German officials in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, was 91, but recent scholarship suggests that there were hundreds of deaths, especially if one counts those who died of their injuries in the days and weeks that followed the pogrom. Police records of the period also document a high number of rapes and of suicides in the aftermath of the violence.
Counter protestors on Saturday in Germany expressed criticism against local officials for granting the neo-Nazi group permission to demonstrate on the anniversary. Demonstrators formed a human chain around Bielefeld’s synagogue and held a vigil there while the right-wing extremist protesters marched through the city.