Muslim women, wearing skullcaps over their hijabs, joined Germans of various faiths to protest against a recent antisemitic attack in Berlin, amid fears about growing antisemitism in the country.
The “kippah march” on Wednesday was triggered by the daytime assault last week of two young men wearing skullcaps in an upscale neighbourhood in the German capital.
The attack, in which a 19-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker is a suspect, drew outrage in Germany and sharp condemnation by Angela Merkel.
It is the latest of several antisemitic incidents that have many Jews wondering about their safety in a country which has tried to atone for the Nazis' killing of 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust.
In Berlin, more than 2,000 people — including Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists — put on kippahs in a show of solidarity.
The yarmulkes were of all varieties — silky and knitted, leathery, embroidered and patterned. Holding them so the wind wouldn't blow them away, both men and women cheered when Berlin mayor Michael Mueller told them, "Today, we all wear kippah. Today, Berlin is wearing kippah."
Jewish community leaders said it was the biggest such display in public since before the Second World War.
The rising tensions have come at a time when Germany is grappling with an influx of more than 1 million mostly Muslim migrants, along with the rise of a nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany, which was elected to parliament last year. Its leaders are known for their openly anti-Muslim stance, but their antisemitism is less apparent.
Across Europe, antisemitism has been on the rise in recent years, and thousands of Jews — mostly from France — have moved to Israel.
Elard Zuehlke, a 26-year-old non-Jewish Berliner, said he came to the rally in front of the city's synagogue on Fasanenstrasse because "it cannot be that in Germany there is any kind of antisemitism — not in schools, not in public, not at work, not in politics, nowhere."
"This cannot be happening. Germany has to live up to its special responsibility," he said.
Reinhard Borgmann, a 65-year-old Jew who lost several great-uncles in the Holocaust and whose mother only survived because she hid from the Nazis, said he was pleased that dozens of organisations had turned out to support the demonstration.
"As Jews, we want to be able to move freely, whether with kippah or without," Mr Borgmann said. "We want to be able to practice religion in peace and not be discriminated against and not live in fear. And this event tonight is a sign and an important one."
Three people who protested separately against antisemitism in the Arab immigrant neighbourhood of Neukoelln ended their demonstration earlier after a one person took away their Israeli flag, police said.
Beyond that, hundreds of people also rallied in Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Potsdam.
In last week's attack in Berlin, the 21-year-old victim, an Arab Israeli who said he wore the kippah in a show of solidarity with his Jewish friends, caught the assault on video, which quickly went viral. It showed a young man whipping him violently with a belt while shouting "Yahudi!" — Jew in Arabic.
Germany's main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, sparked tension within the Jewish community Tuesday when he said he would advise people visiting big cities against wearing Jewish skullcaps.
The RIAS group that tracks antisemitism said there were 947 antisemitic incidents last year in Berlin, including 18 attacks and 23 threats last year.
In all of Germany, authorities say there are a high volume of antisemitic incidents reported, with the equivalent of nearly four per day in 2017. There were 1,453 antisemitic incidents, compared with 1,468 incidents in 2016 and 1,366 in 2015.
Mr Schuster's comments on hiding the skullcap drew sharp criticism from other Jewish leaders, who say Jews should wear a kippah to show they are not afraid.
"Jewish identity is not something we should hide," said Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal. "We have to be proud of who we are and at the same time fight antisemitism."
For years, many Jewish men in Germany and across Europe who wear the kippah as a symbol of their devotion to God have been hiding their skullcaps under baseball hats when they are in public.
Antisemitism has existed in Europe for hundreds of years, often fanned by Christian churches who have blamed Jews for the killing of Jesus. In recent decades, however, Muslim immigrants have added a new strain by holding Jews responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We also have new phenomena (of antisemitism in Germany). We have refugees now, for example, or people of Arab origin who are bringing a different type of antisemitism into the country," Ms Merkel told Israeli TV this week. "In the new government, we have for the first time appointed a commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and in the fight against antisemitism."
The new commissioner, Felix Klein, starts his job in early May.
The decision followed a recommendation by experts and came amid concerns over the bullying of Jewish children in schools in recent months and the burning of Israeli flags during a recent pro-Palestinian protest in Berlin.
Earlier this month, a rap band that included cynical references about the Auschwitz death camp in its lyrics won the Echo award, Germany's most important music prize, drawing strong criticism from other artists and government officials. After several past winners said they would return their awards, the German music industry behind the Echo said Wednesday it would scrap the prize in its current form.
Neighbouring France also has witnessed virulent antisemitism in recent years, notably in two Islamic extremist attacks targeting a Jewish school and a kosher supermarket. More recently, authorities say antisemitism was a motive for the stabbing death last month of an 85-year-old Parisian woman, a killing that shocked France.
Thousands of French Jews have left for Israel in recent years, but France still has the highest Jewish population in Europe, about half a million.
Around 200,000 Jews live in Germany, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That's fewer than half of the 500,000 Jews who lived in the country before the Holocaust.
Some 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust, making it Europe's largest Jewish community, and the second-largest in the world. There are no exact numbers today because many people with Jewish roots do not register. Estimates are in the thousands.
Poland witnessed a startling wave of antisemitic comments earlier this year by government officials amid a dispute with Israel over a new Polish law. The law criminalizes blaming Poland for Holocaust crimes. The antisemitic rhetoric, unprecedented in Poland in 50 years, deeply shook the country's tiny Jewish community.
Despite the rhetoric, Poland is still considered one of the safest countries in Europe for Jews, with violence extremely rare. With no radical Muslim population and no left-wing antisemitism, Jews in Poland have to worry only about the extreme right, which is small but growing more emboldened.
Additional reporting by AP
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