In recent years across Germany on November 9, people have got on their knees to polish "Stolpersteine" (stumbling stones) -- coaster-sized brass plaques embedded in pavements bearing the names of Jewish victims in front of their former homes

Berlin (AFP) - Germany will Friday remember victims of the Nazi pogrom that heralded the start of the Third Reich’s drive to wipe out Jews, at a time when anti-Semitism is resurgent in the West.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will join Jewish leaders at Germany’s biggest synagogue to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass.

Steinmeier will make a speech at the Bundestag marking one of Germany’s darkest days, but also two other momentous events in the country’s history that also fell on November 9 – the end of the imperial government in 1918 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The grimmest of the three dates was that in 1938, when Nazi thugs murdered at least 90 Jews, torched 1,400 synagogues across Germany and Austria, and destroyed Jewish-owned shops and businesses.

The pretext for the coordinated action was the fatal shooting on November 7, 1938, of a German diplomat in Paris by a Polish Jewish student.

In what they labelled their retaliation, the Nazis rounded up and deported at least 30,000 Jews to concentration camps. In addition, they made the Jews pay “compensation” for the damage caused to property.

The brutal rampage marked the point at which local persecution of Jews became systematic, culminating in the Holocaust that claimed some six million lives.

- ‘Neo-Nazis emboldened’ -

In recent years across Germany on November 9, people have got on their knees to polish “Stolpersteine” (stumbling stones) – coaster-sized brass plaques embedded in pavements bearing the names of Jewish victims in front of their former homes.

But in Berlin last year, 16 plaques were dug up and stolen just before the Kristallnacht anniversary, in a sign of a resurgence in anti-Semitism.

Nazi thugs murdered at least 90 Jews, torched 1,400 synagogues across Germany and Austria, and destroyed Jewish-owned shops and businesses. A photo of a synagogue in flames is on display at Berlin's Topography of Terrors museum

On the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known in Germany as Reichspogromnacht, far-right militants were planning a demonstration in Berlin, forcing authorities to step in with a ban.

“The idea that right-wing extremists are going to march through the government district in the dark with the burning candles is unbearable,” said Berlin’s interior minister Andreas Geisel.

“We must not tolerate open right-wing extremism under the cover of freedom of speech.”

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, noted the deteriorating situation across the West.

“It would be impossible to mark this seminal event in Jewish history without noting the frightening climate of anti-Semitism and xenophobia currently spreading across Europe and the United States,” he told AFP.

“The far right is gaining power at an alarming speed, and neo-Nazis are feeling emboldened to march in the streets shouting hateful slurs and advocating the most dangerous brands of nationalism and hatred.”

- ‘Our duty’ -

In Germany, the far-right AfD party is now the biggest opposition party in parliament, even though its key members have challenged the country’s culture of atonement over World War II and the Holocaust.

Across the Atlantic, the United States suffered its worst anti-Semitic attack late last month when 11 people were gunned down at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner on fighting anti-Semitism, acknowledged that the “discourse in society is coarsening” but stressed that “our democracy today is stable, strong. It’s completely different from the situation in 1938 or the Weimar Republic”.

He added however: “At the same time, these values need to be brought back to the fore, and defended.”

Lauder also called on the population to remain watchful.

“In November 2018 we are not at the precipice of another Kristallnacht,” he said, “but it is all of our duty to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”