Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen spoke out Thursday against what he calls the “politics of scapegoating” on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous Nazi pogrom against Jews.
“We can see history as an example of where the politics of scapegoating, incitement, and exclusion can lead,” Van der Bellen said at the site where Vienna’s largest synagogue once stood. “Let us be vigilant that degradation, persecution, and the stripping away of rights may never again be repeated in our country or in Europe.”
Right-wing governments espousing anti-immigrant policies have taken power in several European nations, including Italy, Hungary and Poland.
Ultra-conservative lawmakers have also taken seats in many European parliaments, including Germany, where the Alternative for Germany party is the largest opposition party.
Kristallnacht is German for “Night of Broken Glass.”
Germans and Austrians are remembering the two-days of extreme violence against Jews that began 80 years ago.
The Nazi regime, which had annexed Austria, used the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish student as a pretext.
Brown-shirted Nazi thugs spent two nights smashing the windows of Jewish stores before looting and burning them. Synagogues were set on fire. Jews were beaten in the streets while police stood by doing nothing.
More than 20,000 Jews were shipped off to concentration camps while thousands of others were arrested. The Nazis forced Jews to compensate the government for the damage and cleanup.
At least 91 people were killed, but historians believe the death toll was much higher.
The historians also point to Kristallnacht as the beginning of the Holocaust and Hitler’s efforts to wipe out European Jewry.