West Germany, its conscience still haunted by the Nazi past, is staging hundreds of solemn ceremonies to observe the 50th anniversary of a pogrom that foreshadowed the mass extermination of European Jews.
On Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi mobs burned and wrecked more than 1,000 synagogues and Jewish shops. They murdered scores of Jews and arrested 20,000 across Adolf Hitler's Germany.The pogrom became known as the "Night of the Broken Glass" or, simply, "Crystal Night."
It was the first outburst of random terror against Jewish citizens in the Third Reich. In retrospect, it was the harbinger of the genocide to come in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, historians say.
A half century later, a nation still grappling with collective guilt over the Nazi era has organized hundreds of memorial services, seminars and exhibits to ponder the meaning of "Kristallnacht," as it is known in German.
Most of the events will take place on Nov. 9-10, including a ceremony in Frankfurt's restored synagogue with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsaecker and the cream of the country's remaining Jewish community. A special session of parliament in Bonn is also slated.
"No one could imagine a year ago how much would be done for this anniversary in so many communities," said Eckhard von Nordheim, a Protestant minister who heads the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation in West Germany.
"The most positive sign is that hundreds of smaller towns have prepared exhibits to show what happened in their own community, whether the local synagogue was burned down or forcibly sold," Nordheim said in an interview.
"The younger generation can much more readily appreciate the pogrom's impact this way than from the usual newsreel."
Nordheim said the anniversary had also led to a marked increase this year in school visits to synagogues, former concentration camp sites and other memorials to victims of Nazism.
Last week, five victims of "Crystal Night" attacks met a group of high school students in Bonn to speak of their harrowing past and about living among Germans today.
"The loneliness of the Jews at that time had such a quality of finality that it hasn't really been overcome even today," Gad Beck, one of the pogrom survivors, told the gathering, organized by the opposition Social Democratic Party.
West Germany's political parties have urged citizens to take part in "Crystal Night" ceremonies to honor all victims of Nazi persecution and underline Bonn's pledge never to let such crimes recur.
There were about 550,000 German Jews when Hitler took power in 1933. Today there are some 30,000 in West Germany, most in West Berlin, Frankfurt and a few other large cities.
More than a dozen new synagogues have been built with government funding in the post-war era and others gutted by "Crystal Night" hordes have been restored.
Countless synagogues in rural regions where Jews no longer live were converted into warehouses or barns or have been turned into private homes.
West German Jews today lead secure lives in a country that has outlawed any public expression of Nazism. But their numbers are so few that most West Germans have never met one, and the persistence of anti-semitic stereotypes among a minority of West Germans angers the Jewish community.