BERLIN -- Hundreds of thousands of Germans turned out fo candlelight vigils and other anti-racist observances yesterday on the 60th anniversary of the day Adolf Hitler became chancellor.
The anniversary came as Germans were asking themselves disturbing questions about their future. Violence against foreigners and acts of anti-Semitism have darkened the political landscape, and yesterday's demonstrations were quiet and reflective.
The largest was in Berlin, where more than 100,000 people joined a candlelight vigil linking the eastern and western sections of the city. Demonstrators stood along the same route where jubilant Nazis marched in a torchlight parade 60 years ago to celebrate their triumph.
One organizer of the vigil, Martin Buchholz, a cabaret performer, described it as "a sign of our outrage and our sadness."
"We consciously chose the symbol of lighted candles on this day of the Nazi torchlight parade, thereby showing our repudiation of that flaming madness," he said.
Demonstrations were held in many other cities, including Bonn, Munich, Hanover, Dresden, Augsburg, Bremen, Potsdam, Leipzig, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Kiel, Magdeburg and Rostock.
President Richard von Weizsaecker joined the vigil in Rostock, where last year rightists laid siege to a home for asylum-seekers while a crowd cheered. The police declined to intervene, and a legislative commission is investigating the episode.
German and foreign performers gathered in Hamburg for a "Gala Against Racism" scheduled for tonight. Among the foreigners expected at the event are Roger Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave.
Yesterday's Berlin demonstration was perhaps the most inspirational. Participants lighted their candles punctually at 6 p.m., and, at the same moment, searchlights that normally illuminate the Brandenburg Gate and other major monuments along the route were turned off for five minutes. A giant candlelight sign with the motto "Never Again" shone over the crowd.
Although most of yesterday's vigils were organized by private citizens and local civic groups, many political leaders took part. Chancellor Helmut Kohl did not appear, but in a statement he recalled that the Nazis had inflicted "immeasurable suffering."
Answering a question that many Germans and foreigners are asking, Mr. Kohl asserted that the present situation in Germany was not comparable to the one that faced the weak Weimar Republic in the early 1930s.
"Unlike the Weimar Republic, the democratic Federal Republic of Germany is supported by an overwhelming majority of citizens," he said. "That is shown by the fact that millions of people have demonstrated against extremism and hateful violence."
In the past two months, more than 3 million Germans have taken to the streets for such demonstrations. There has been an evident change in the political climate, and although attacks on foreigners have continued, they appear to be declining.
Nonetheless, disturbing and embarrassing episodes continue to raise questions about the views of individual Germans. Hans-Joachim Sewering was forced to step aside last week as president-elect of the World Medical Association after it was charged that he had sent handicapped patients to their deaths when working at a hospital in Dachau in the 1940s.