Neo-Nazis rampage at Kristallnacht memorial

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German politicians reacted with shock and outrage yesterday after right-wing extremists chanting "Sieg Heil" desecrated a memorial to the thousands of Jews whose synagogues were sacked and plundered during the Nazi's infamous anti-Semitic Kristallnacht pogrom in the 1930s.

Police in Frankfurt an der Oder, on Germany's border with Poland, said a gang of 16 neo-Nazis aged between 16 and 24 went on the rampage at a stone monument marking the spot where the town's synagogue was burnt down in 1938, after a memorial service.

"The gang invaded the memorial site soon after the ceremony was over. They hurled wreaths into the air and trampled on candles and flowers that had been put down only minutes earlier ," a witness said.

Police said the gang's members chanted the Nazi party slogan, "Sieg Heil", as they intervened to arrest them. Yesterday the 16 youths remained in police custody. A police spokesman said that the culprits were "known members" of eastern Germany's burgeoning neo-Nazi movement.

The attack, which was believed to be the first time that neo-Nazis had desecrated a Kristallnacht memorial on the anniversary of the pogrom, provoked an angry reaction from politicians yesterday.

Matthias Platzeck, the Social Democrat Prime Minister of Brandenburg, said the monument's desecration was an unpardonable act which showed that outrages perpetrated by neo-Nazis had plunged to new depths.

"People who attack bunches of flowers and candles laid as tributes to the millions who perished in the Holocaust have learned nothing from the greatest catastrophe in German history," he said

Martin Patzelt, Frankfurt an der Oder's mayor, described the incident as "deeply shocking" and called on townsfolk to attend a silent vigil at the memorial yesterday to demonstrate their feelings of outrage.

The attack on the memorial occurred only hours after a new synagogue, considered Europe's largest Jewish centre, was opened in the heart of the Bavarian capital, Munich, on Thursday at a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the Kristallnacht.

The huge square building was hailed by Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, as a sign that Jews were "again part of German society". She added: "There is a vitality in the Jewish community. It is coming back to Germany and becoming visible again."

But Horst Koehler, the German President, admitted during his speech at the opening: "Our dreams of normal Jewish life in Germany run up against a reality in which there is open and latent anti-Semitism and where right-wing violence is growing."

Government crime figures show a 20 per cent increase in far-right attacks in the first six months of this year. Germany's neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, which has already entered parliament in the eastern state of Saxony, won further seats in Chancellor Angela Merkel's home state in the north-east last September.

A survey conducted by Germany's Freidrich Ebert Foundation earlier this month showed that 39 per cent of Germans felt that their country was suffering a dangerous invasion of foreigners, that 18 per cent thought that Jews had too great an influence and that 15 per cent wanted the return of a "strong leader".

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