Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Germany on Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday to demonstrate in support of democracy and against the rise of a far-right party, the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which is on track to make political gains in state elections this year.

In towns and medium-sized cities like Düsseldorf, Kiel, Mannheim and Osnabrück, demonstrators held aloft signs that read: “There’s no Alternative to Democracy,” “Kick out Nazis” and “Voting for the AfD is so 1933,” a reference to the period in which the Nazis rose to power.

In Germany, Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet army, is associated with the pledge “Never again.” That vow has taken on a new resonance amid the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel, a rise in antisemitic incidents in Germany, and the likelihood that a far-right party with extremist elements will gain further political power.

“I always thought that our next generation would live even more openly, more tolerantly, without fear and concerns,” said Dursiye Ayyildiz, who leads an organization that speaks out for migrants in Kiel and addressed the crowd there. “However, I can see that right-wing ideas are unfortunately being passed on — and that worries me for the next generation,” she said.

Millions in Germany have rallied in cities like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, and in smaller towns, in the past several weeks since the news emerged that a group of AfD officials had met with neo-Nazis and other far-right figures at a hotel in Potsdam to discuss the possibility of a mass deportation from Germany of millions of immigrants and others deemed to be foreigners.

On Friday night, activists lit candles to spell out the phrase “Never again is now,” in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. And Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his weekly video address, “January 27 calls out to us: Stay visible! Stay audible!” adding, “Against antisemitism, against racism, against misanthropy — and for our democracy.”

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