Fears of Kristallnacht showdown loom over Prague

Simona Holecová and Jana Mračková
25. 10. 2007 2:00
Neo-Nazis plan to march in Jewish Town on November 10

Prague - Young Neo-Nazis marching through the old Jewish Quarter of Prague on November 10 - that might be a picture of the Czech capital exactly 69 years after the massive pogroms of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, swept through Hitler´s Germany in a gloomy prelude to the Holocaust.

What the Prague city hall originally tolerated as a protest against Czech military involvement in Iraq (September) and later forbade (early October) suspecting the protest was actually a thinly-veiled Neo-Nazi march, the Prague City Court (October 20th) allowed again due to a technical mistake on the part of the authorities banning the march.

Mr. President, please step in

On Tuesday, October 23rd, the world reknown Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Czech president Václav Klaus to prevent the Neo-Nazi march.

"To do otherwise would taint the Czech Republic's history of courage and fortitude in the face of Nazism and its proud commemoration of its Jewish past," reads an appeal signed by Shimon Samuels, Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director for International Relations.

It is politically and morally unacceptable, says president Václav Klaus
It is politically and morally unacceptable, says president Václav Klaus | Foto: Ondřej Besperát, Aktuálně.cz

Václav Klaus showed understanding towards the petitioners and released a statement on Wednesday saying he is "worried by the attempts of extremist political groups to organize a provocative march through the historical Prague Jewish Quarter on the day of the tragic anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass."

Mr. Klaus further urged all responsible authorities "not to allow this politically and morally unacceptable action to happen as it would dishonor the memory of the victims of Nazi crimes and cannot be tolerated under the pretext of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly".

Organizer with Neo-Nazi links

The march is organized by Erik Sedláček as a march against Czech military involvement in Iraq. Experts and anti-fascism activists however consider this a mere cover-up.

26-year-old Sedláček is known to have connections to Neo-Nazi groups, including the most radical Národní Odpor (National Resistance).

Mr. Samuels from the Simon Wiesenthal Center noted in his letter to Klaus that "hundreds of synagogues across the Reich were destroyed, and thousands of Jews were arrested, beaten, many murdered, on that date in 1938. Czech Neo-Nazis intend to glorify that occasion by demonstrations around the synagogues and the Old Jewish cemetery, ostensibly on the pretext of freedom of assembly".

Members of the National Resistance marching
Members of the National Resistance marching | Foto: Tomáš Adamec

Young right-wing extremists attempted to organize a similar protest in 2006, stating the same camouflage reason. When Prague officials banned the march, the organizer went to the court and won.

Ready for a showdown

Now the group seems to follow the same strategy. But various groups of alarmed citizens are getting ready for a showdown.
"Take buckets of water and get ready to put out the fire," the Czech weekly Reflex invites their readers to come to the Jewish Quarter on the date of the march and form emergency fire fighter groups.

"When a Nazi comes with his torch close to a synagogue, it can hardly be expected that he just uses it for light." says Jiří X. Doležal, a Czech journalist who has written extensively about the right-wing extremists in the Czech Republic.

Not to be outdone, the Prague Jewish community announced plans to organize a gathering nearby which would commemorate all victims of the Night of Broken Glass on the same day.

"I hope that everything ends peacefully. It will be the day of Sabbath, after all," said František Bányai, the community leader. He also invited everybody who does not tolerate evil and violence to join in.


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