Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kristallnacht Redux: Broken Glasses in Berlin

Seventy-five years ago, Synagogues burned, and Jewish-owned stores in Austria and Germany were smashed by SA thugs; the owners threatened and beaten, some of them hauled off to camps. About a hundred were killed. The night came to be known as "Kristallnacht", the night of the broken glasses. It was the beginning of the end.

This year, the Handelsverband Berlin-Brandenburg, the main association of Berlin and Brandenburg retailers in collaboration with the city government of Berlin has called for an unusual commemoration of the anniversary of Kristallnacht: On Saturday, stores at Kurfürstendamm and other major streets and places in Berlin will cover their storefront windows with specially prepared black foil. It will look as if they had been smashed, from the outside. Kurfürstendamm, the main shopping mile with a lot of Jewish-owned businesses, was the center of Kristallnacht in 1938. So this is apt.

KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz, Berlin's biggest department store, will participate, Kaufhof at Alexanderplatz, the giant book store Dussmann at Friedrichstrasse, and probably also H&M, as well as bakeries and drug stores at Hackescher Markt, another center of Jewish-owned retail in Berlin before 1938. Kulturprojekte Berlin, the organization in charge of the commemoration, wants to reach out to passer-bys and tourists, as well as store clerks, to inform them, and to set a visible sign. The action is endorsed by the representatives of the Jewish Community in Berlin.

Today, the Jewish Community in Berlin is coming back. Berlin has a dozen synagogues from liberal to conservative, Israeli-owned hummus shops and old-fashioned kosher restaurants, Jewish Film Festivals and Cultural Days; organizations like the American Jewish Congress and the Lehrhaus of the Lauder Foundation have offices in the German capital. Jewish immigrants like Wladimir Kaminer are writing bestselling books about Berlin. The Jewish community is now nearly a third of what it used to be before World War II, between 30.000 to 50.000 people, mostly from Russia, among them about 18.000 Israeli immigrants—and quite some infighting is going on. And institutions like the Jewish Museum are making headlines when they are telling you, "Everything you always wanted to know about Jews".

You can read this, and more, in the Berlinca book Jews in Berlin, written by three famous Jewish Berliners, Andreas Nachama, Julius H. Schoeps, and Hermann Simon, and updated in 2013.

by Eva C. Schweitzer

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