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5 Oct, 2014 16:38

Synagogues ‘hire armed guards’ as anti-Semitic mood grasps Germany

Synagogues ‘hire armed guards’ as anti-Semitic mood grasps Germany

A surge of anti-Semitism in Europe, sparked by Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza, has forced synagogues across Germany to place armed guards at its doorsteps ahead of Yom Kippur celebrations, according to media reports.

Yom Kippur – or Day of Atonement – is the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. This year it is celebrated from sunset on October 3 until nightfall on October 6.

However, German Jews are finding it difficult to get into the festive spirit, following anti-war rallies this summer which brought back memories of the Nazi area. Chants such as “Jew, Jew! Cowardly pig,” could be heard at the demonstrations.

“We haven't had this dimension at all before,"
Deiter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told CBS News. “When you imagine in German streets, people here chanting – a roaring mob chanting – Jews to be gassed, to be slaughtered, to be burned.”

Following the demonstrations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that every Jewish institution would be protected by police.

“Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society,”
Merkel said during a speech at a pro-Jewish rally in September, as quoted by Time magazine.

“That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we will not accept,” she added.

In July, petrol bombs were thrown at a synagogue in Wuppertal and a man wearing a yarmulke was beaten in the streets of the German capital of Berlin.

Security fears also forced football authorities to cancel a friendly match between Germany and Israel to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties.

German police watches demonstrators during a Muslim protest against the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in Berlin, July 25, 2014. The protest took part on the annual "al-Quds Day" (Jerusalem Day) rally against the Israeli occupation of the city of Jerusalem (Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch)

However, Graumann believes the war in Gaza wasn’t the cause of the rise of anti-Semitism, stating that it was only a “pretext” to release the mood that already existed in German society.

“It is cited as a reason for that, but I don't think it's a reason,” he stressed. “It's an occasion to let it out."

Israel launched a 50-day military operation in the densely populated Gaza area this summer, which saw over 2,100 Palestinians – mainly civilians – killed and some 18,000 homes destroyed.

Meanwhile, anti-Semitic rhetoric is now coming not only from Muslims – especially those who recently arrived in the country – but ethnic Germans as well.

Monika Schwartz Friesel of Berlin's Technical University made this discovery after studying thousands of anti-Semitic emails received by German-Jewish institutions.

"We saw that more than 60 percent of the writers, who clearly evoke anti-Semitic stereotypes, come from the middle of society and many of them are highly educated," she told CBS News.

Germany’s 200,000-strong population of Jews is “worried” by the recent developments, Graumann said.

“And many Jews here ask the question: 'Has our Jewish population a future in Germany?' I haven't heard that question for many, many years,” he stressed.

The Jewish population in Germany was reduced from over 500,000 to just 30,000 following the Holocaust masterminded by the Nazis, who came to power in the country in 1933 and were overthrown in WWII.