West Germany makes a national gesture of atonement on Wednesday, 50th anniversary of Nazi violence that launched millions of Jews on a course to death in concentration camps.
The November 9-10 rampage of destruction in 1938 that became known as the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) is to be remembered with remorse in hundreds of ceremonies, exhibits, literary readings and concerts from national to village level.A countrywide televised ceremony with West German government leaders, Jewish community leaders and Christian churchmen will be held in a Frankfurt synagogue, restored from the rubble to which it was reduced a half century ago.
In the Kristallnacht, 91 Jews throughout Hitler's Third Reich were murdered; 26,000 were routed from their homes and shipped to concentration camps, and thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned, smashed and looted.
The state-orchestrated violence by Nazi storm troopers was the decisive trial run for the totalitarian machinery that eventually carried out the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews in Nazi extermination camps during World War II.
Controversy hung over Wednesday's atmosphere of solemn remembrance.
A speech by Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the synagogue service was expected to be met with demonstrations by young Jews who bitterly recall his ceremonial visit to a military cemetery containing the graves of Nazi SS men in 1985.
Jews worldwide were disturbed by Kohl's trip to the Bitburg graveyard as well as by a comment in Israel in 1984 suggesting that post-war generation Germans should not have to shoulder a moral burden for Nazism.
In occasional speeches since Bitburg, Kohl has emphasized a need for atonement. Many young German Jews, however, doubted his sincerity and said he should not speak in a synagogue.
In West Berlin on Tuesday, hundreds of people led by national Jewish community leader Heinz Galinski and former Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt staged a silent march of remembrance for Kristallnacht victims.
In East Berlin, the East German parliament held a special commemorative session and Communist Party leader Erich Honecker awarded medals of honor to East German and foreign Jews. On Wednesday, East German Jews are to mark the occasion with a special memorial gathering in the ornate German Theater.
In a speech after the march, Galinski - who lost his entire family to the Nazis and survived the Auschwitz camp himself - said it was his duty to counter fading memories to ensure Nazi-type crimes never recurred.
He said many Germans had been indifferent to storm trooper terror unfolding in their neighborhoods 50 years ago - an historical burden of shame central to the theme of many special events recalling the pogrom.
"Therefore we make warnings time and time again and will never tire of doing so," Galinski said.