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Leader of Berlin Jewish Community Released from Communist Prison

Fritz Katten, who was vice president of the Berlin Jewish Community and president of the Berlin Mizrachi Organization when the Communists arrested him seven years ago on trumped up political charges, was released from an East German prison today. He immediately rejoined his wife, the manager of a Jewish old age home in Dusseldorf, West Germany.

Katten, a 58-year-old Orthodox Jew, was born in a small town in Hesse, where his grandfather was president of the local Jewish community. He settled in Berlin as a young man and was unable to emigrate when the Nazis came to power. During the war he was drafted for forced labor. When the deportations to death camps in the East began, he managed to go into hiding with his wife and son. As one of about 2,000 Jews who lived underground in Berlin, he survived until the Red Army marched into the city in 1945.

He immediately helped set up the Jewish community organization, whose vice president he became. His labors on behalf of Nazi victims came to the attention of the authorities who prevailed upon him to become vice president of the Berlin police. Confident he was helping to fashion a better Germany, Katten accepted the post and joined the Social Democratic Party.

By coincidence, he was a resident of what became the Soviet sector of the city. In 1948, the Soviets arrested him, in large measure because of charges that he had used the authority of his office with the police department to facilitate Joint Distribution Committee relief shipments to Jewish communities. When he was released, shortly thereafter, friends urged him to move to West Berlin. He refused, insisting that he wanted to clear his name first. Then, in April, 1949, he was re-arrested and sentenced to 25 years on trumped up charges of “espionage.”

The release of Mr. Katten brings to mind another prominent member of the post war Berlin Jewish Community, Erich Nelhans. Mr. Nelhans served as president of that community. It has been several years since word has been received of his where abouts. During the war he had escaped from a deportation train and succeeded in hiding until the collapse of the Nazi regime. A religious Jew, he was charged with aiding Polish Jews in the Red Army who had approached him for help in getting to Palestine to fight in the Haganah. A Soviet military tribunal sentenced him to 15 years in jail. Already broken in health as a result of Nazi persecution, he was sent to a Siberian labor camp and it is feared he may have perished there. He was last seen in Vorkuta in 1952.

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