Germans row over Shoah event

By Toby Axelrod, July 4, 2008
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A debate over how best to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom has underlined differences between Moshe Kantor, the embattled head of the European Jewish Congress, and Jewish leaders in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

In May, Mr Kantor had announced the formation of the European Forum of Tolerance: The Council of Europe’s Civil Society Representatives, whose first task would be to host a huge commemoration of Kristallnacht in Brussels in November. 

Russian-born Mr Kantor said the forum would “call to global community and political leaders’ attention the need to confront the recent escalation of antisemitism and xenophobia in Europe and all over the world”.

In fact, Brussels was selected after Mr Kantor’s other proposed venues — in Nuremberg, Berlin and Strasbourg — turned him down. The plan backfired badly, according to Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

He said that Mr Kantor had “tried to force us and the German government into his personal ‘Holocaust-show’”.

In August 2007, Mr Kantor had met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and invited him to attend a major Kristallnacht commemoration in Germany, according to a report on Isranet.  And in February of this year, Mr Kantor told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz he was still waiting for Chancellor Angela Merkel to approve his suggestion to bring representatives from across Europe to a venue in Nuremberg.

But Mr Kantor had been warned as early as November 2006 by the World Congress Steering committee that his plans might be rejected.

According to a copy of the minutes of the November 13 2006 steering committee meeting, committee member Pierre Besnainou, at the time president of the EJC, questioned “Kantor’s project of commemorating Kristallnacht in Berlin without the European Jewish Congress having been consulted and without conferring with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.”

And Mendel Kaplan, head of the WJC, said that “any event in Germany should only take place with the agreement of the German community and under the aegis of EJC and WJC”, the minutes continued.

According to Mr Kramer, Mr Kantor told them he wanted to rent out a major concert hall in the heart of Berlin on the eve of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht and “perform a play, in which the guests become ‘inmates’ of the St Louis”, the infamous refugee ship that set sail from Germany in May 1939 and was turned away from many ports, including in Cuba and the US. It returned to Nazi Europe. Mr Kramer said Mr Kantor told Ms Merkel that he would publicly blame her if she did not support the project. Another observer confirmed said that Mr Kantor was livid at Ms Merkel’s refusal.

Both the Central Council and the German government made it clear that “we do not need Mr Kantor and his World Holocaust Forum to teach us how to commemorate” the event, Mr Kramer said, adding that Germany will hold a ceremony at Rykestrasse Synagogue, which survived the pogrom only because the Nazis did not want neighbouring buildings to burn. Mr Kantor’s office did not respond to questions before the JC went to press.

    Last updated: 8:56am, July 4 2008