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EUR: Concert to mark 70 years since Nazi pogrom

08 Nov 2008 3:15 AM
By Melissa Eddy

BERLIN, Nov 7 AP - The question troubles officials, academics and rabbis alike: how to commemorate a night of terrible carnage and fear that became known as Kristallnacht, or The Night of the Broken Glass?

It vexed British star violinist Daniel Hope six months ago, and slowly an idea unfolded: a concert of world-class classical, pop and jazz musicians donating their time and energy to honour the victims and send a message of hope for civil courage.

The concert takes place on Sunday night on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi-incited mass riots that left more than 91 Jews dead, damaged more than 1,000 synagogues and left about 7,500 Jewish businesses ransacked and looted.

The idea was sparked by a book that Hope happened upon in a Singapore airport bookshop detailing the two-day organised destruction of Jewish lives, property and history across Germany that began on November 9, 1938.

"It became very clear to me that I had not really grasped the full horror of Kristallnacht," Hope, 34, told AP. "I thought it was just about smashed glass. I hadn't realised on that day there had been so much carnage."

Hope, who lives in Amsterdam, began making calls to find out what kinds of events were planned in Germany to mark the anniversary.

"I was amazed to find out that there was nothing. Nothing other than the official ceremony," he said.

Within three months, Hope had secured support for his concert from German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Something just had to be done," said Hope, who has German Jewish roots.

Hermann Simon, the director of Berlin's restored, gold-domed Neue Synagogue, firmly believes acts of commemoration are crucial to preventing a repeat of the destruction that gutted the city's landmark, central Jewish house ofworship. Yet he acknowledges the how remains a challenge.

"It's difficult to know how to commemorate a day of tragedy," Simon said. "We have to find a way; we need a new approach, but what is the right way?"

German children begin learning in the middle-school years about the Nazis' attempt to destroy European Jewry that effectively began with Kristallnachtand culminated in the systematic murder of 6 million Jews by 1945.

About 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested in the Kristallnacht pogrom and sent to concentration camps.

One of the most effective teaching tools is survivor testimony. Yet these special teachers are slowly dying out, taking with them their unique abilityto make history "real" for future generations.

A main commemoration ceremony attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany - herself a Kristallnacht survivor - is to be held on Sunday in a restored Berlin synagogue. Other cities and Jewish communities across the country also have plans to mark the day.

Yet some worry that these events fail to reach younger generations. Simon said: "We need something new, something thrilling."

Knowing that traditional concert halls would be long booked out, Hope sought a more interesting space and on Sunday night will play the first-ever concert in the former departure area of Berlin's recently closed Tempelhof Airport.

He has commitments from a dozen leading artists, ranging from 83-year-old German-born pianist Menahem Pressler to chart-topping pop group Polarkreis 18, to big band crooner Max Raabe.

All proceeds will go toward the Freya von Moltke Foundation to promote international exchange in Krzyzowa, Poland.

"I'm thrilled that we can commemorate and remember the victims of one of the most horrendous acts in world history," Hope said. "It is a wonderful chance for everybody to think about things, about the situation we are in, to keep talking about things. ... Not doing something is the worst thing anyone can do."

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