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Kristallnacht anniversary: Controversial Jewish speaker sparks Jewish ire in Germany

Kristallnacht commemorations in Germany tonight will include a speech in Frankfurt by Alfred Grosser, a prominent Franco-German intellectual who escaped the Nazi regime in 1933 and has become a critic of Israel.

By Staff Writer / November 9, 2010

A worker cleans shelves that hold folders containing files on Jews killed during the Holocaust, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, in this May 2 file photo, in Jerusalem.

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A controversial Jewish critic of Israel speaks tonight in Frankfurt on the anniversary of the 1938 Nazi Kristallnacht, or “night of broken glass,” sparking outrage in the Jewish community, but symbolizing for many Germans that the past is further behind them.

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Alfred Grosser, a prominent Franco-German intellectual who escaped the Nazi regime in 1933, is known for his work on postwar reconciliation -- but has in his eighth decade become a serious critic of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.

He has equated Gaza to a concentration camp, calls for full equality of Arabs and Jews in Israel, has said that Germany should be more critical of Israel, and argues that Israeli policies are most responsible for “promoting anti-Semitism globally.”

Frankfurt mayor Petra Roth invited Mr. Grosser to speak at the Nov. 9 event at St. Paul’s Church as guest of honor for the anniversary of the Nazi ransacking of Jewish temples that left smashed glass on the street outside many Jewish places of worship. Kristallnacht is often remembered as the most visible start of violent Jewish pogroms that led to the Holocaust, the systematic eradication of Jews in Europe.

Grosser himself has hinted that Frankfurt city officials wanted a speaker who wouldn’t ritualistically speak on a subject Germany is well-acquainted with. But the German Council of Jews protested angrily that Grosser’s invitation be revoked, arguing his credentials and attitude are inappropriate for the occasion.

Jewish leaders say they will attend Grosser’s talk, but walk out if he raises the subject of Israel.

'Could be an interesting evening'

“Trouble is brewing in Frankfurt,” is how Der Spiegel played it last week. Yet in a sense, analysts say, the matter-of-fact press analysis and lengthy interviews with Grosser is evidence of change and more openness about Germany’s most sensitive subject. “It could be an interesting evening,” as Der Spiegel summed up.

Grosser’s invitation in this view is another example of Germany becoming a “normal nation.” More than 65 years after the war, Germans believe they have faced the Holocaust; they built a vast memorial in the center of Berlin. Unification brought a new era. Last week, the first postwar female rabbi was ordained in Germany. In October, the first public Hitler exhibition opened in Berlin that steadily reminds you “that Hitler was a Bad Thing,” as political author Timothy Garton Ash points out.

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