Germany, Israel and other nations, including Canada, on Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots that began a campaign to destroy Jewish people in Europe.

With concerts, prayers and ceremonies, participants vowed to honour Kristallnacht victims with renewed vigilance. The Nov. 9, 1938, riots are seen by many as the first step leading to Nazi Germany's systematic murder of six million Jews.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled the riots, in which 91 German Jews were killed and more than 1,000 synagogues damaged, telling Germans that the lessons of the country's past were crucial in confronting a current increase in xenophobia and racism.

"Anti-Semitism and racism are a threat to our basic values — those of democracy and respect for diversity and human rights," Merkel said at a Sunday ceremony in Germany's largest synagogue in Berlin.

In Canada, survivors and their families gathered at a synagogue in Toronto and on Parliament Hill to mark the anniversary.

"it's important to remember, said Robert Rubenstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor, in Toronto. "Not to be vengeful, not to be bitter but to remember in order to learn the lessons."

At Israel's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass, was "the turning point toward the inevitable destruction of a greater portion of the Jewish people in Europe between 1939-1945," adding that Israel "will never forgive or forget" the crimes of the Nazi regime.

Israeli President Shimon Peres issued a statement calling the Holocaust the "worst disaster that ever happened to us."

30,000 Jews sent to concentration camps after riots

Some 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested and sent to concentration camps during the pogrom that left the streets of several German cities littered with shards of glass from the smashed windows of Jewish homes and shops.

Austria — where Kristallnacht claimed 30 Jewish lives — also commemorated the day while German-born Pope Benedict called for prayers for Kristallnacht's victims in "profound solidarity with the Jewish world."

Benedict himself served briefly in the Hitler Youth corps as a young man in Germany.

At Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, survivors, their descendants, academics and the German and Austrian ambassadors to Israel took part in a ceremony that also included a rare musical rendition of a work by German-Jewish composer Robert Kahn, whose music was outlawed by the Nazis.

Yad Vashem also presented a new online exhibit, "It Came From Within… 70 Years Since Kristallnacht," which marks the event with images, historical information and pages of testimony about some of the Jews who died during the pogrom.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, told the gathering in Berlin's Rykestrasse Synagogue that Germans must fight against far-right extremism in all its forms.

"One must be sensitive to the quiet and less-quiet signals of anti-democratic developments in our country," said Knobloch, who lived through Kristallnacht as a girl in Munich, Germany.

The synagogue, a red brick temple built in 1904, survived Kristallnacht because of its location, nestled in an inner courtyard of a densely populated neighbourhood. It reopened last year after two years of painstaking renovation.