BERLIN – Sixteen suspected neo-Nazis were arrested in an east German city after tearing up wreaths and scattering candles that were placed at a memorial to mark the anniversary of the 1938 destruction of the city's synagogue, police said Friday.
The incident, which happened on the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, comes amid fears that far-right extremism is entrenched in parts of Germany and growing in others.
Police in Frankfurt an der Oder said the group tore up floral wreaths placed earlier Thursday at a memorial stone marking the site where the synagogue stood before it was burned down on Kristallnacht. Some of the youths shouted "Sieg Heil" — a common chant at Nazi-era political rallies — as officers moved in to arrest them, police said.
Those detained were between 16 and 24 years old, they said. Prosecutors have launched an investigation into suspicions that members of the group displayed banned Nazi symbols.
Brandenburg governor Matthias Platzeck said the incident was an "intolerable provocation."
"Anyone who attacks wreaths and candles in memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust shows that he has learned nothing from the greatest catastrophe in German history," Platzeck said.
Frankfurt an der Oder's mayor and residents repeated the memorial ceremony for the synagogue on Friday morning to show their rejection of the violence.
Meanwhile, a city court banned a planned neo-Nazis march on Saturday to a cemetery for German soldiers killed during World War II.
Thursday's incident comes days after the release of a University of Leipzig survey that indicated right-wing extremism is widespread in Germany. The university said 26.7 percent of respondents to a variety of questions harbored anti-foreigner views — and that 8.4 percent of the 4,900 polled held anti-Semitic views.
In an address at the dedication ceremony of a new Munich synagogue Thursday, President Horst Koehler called on Germans to stand together in the fight extremism.
"It's up to each and every one of us, always," Koehler said. He also called for increased and long-term funding for programs to counter extremism.
On Nov. 9, 1938, Adolf Hitler's Nazis attacked Jewish homes and businesses throughout Germany in a prelude to the Holocaust. Thousands of synagogues and homes were burned, and some 90 Jews were murdered; 30,000 were deported to concentration camps shortly afterward where many later died.
Neo-Nazis remain a fringe group in Germany, but recent electoral successes by the far-right National Democratic Party, which has won seats in two state legislatures, have revived concern and led to calls for politicians to do more to counter them.