Behind the Headlines the Jews of West Germany
Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines the Jews of West Germany

Download PDF for this date

For all intents and purposes, Jewish life in West Germany should have been extinct. It is not.

Talk to Dr. Hans Lamm, president of the Jewish community of Munich, or to Dr. David Wasserstein, the leader of the B’nai B’rith Menorah Lodge here, and while one never will know truly what races through their minds daily as they walk the streets of this Bavarian capital where 5,000 Jews now live one thing is certain; they want, and work for, an active Jewish community.

And they don’t like to be asked: How can Jews live in Germany?


To them, and to the other 35,000 Jews in West Germany, this is their home. And after travels through West Germany, one comes away with the feeling that Jews here are determined to remain at peace. They will counter neo-Nazism wherever it arises.

Wasserstein is a Jewish leader. He is 34 years old. The members of his B’nai B’rith Lodge are in their twenties and thirties. Nearly all have been to Israel. His children go to the city’s new Jewish day school and members of his lodge attend one of the four synagogues in Munich.

Most of the young people are professionals, middle class, with only one-third native-born. The rest are Israeli, Polish or Russian Jews. Many of those Russian Jews who emigrated from the USSR and who did not go on to Israel but stayed in Europe, settled in West Berlin in the 1970’s.

Wasserstein told me how his B’nai B’rith Lodge has started cultural programs to discuss “Where you are today? Where did you come from?”


They, of course, came from Germany with its past: The Holocaust and the Nazi era, and all that this conjures up for the young and old, the Jew and the non-Jew. It is there, and it is always there; and yet, when one looks at German youth and the young people today in Munich or Dusseldorf, you could sometimes think you were in America.

There is another history, too, the history of the Jews in Germany and Austria before 1933. In the Middle Ages, the German Jews were one of the most creative elements in the religious and ideological spheres of the Jewish people.

And before the Nazi period, Jews contributed much to the theater, literature, the press and industry of Germany. It was a Germany, too, before 1933 which influenced Jews: Marx, Freud and Einstein wrote in German; and they “changed” the world. The major works of the Zionist movement were also written in German.


Thirty-five years after the Holocaust, one walks with Jews and talks to them in this city in which Hitler attempted his beer hall putsch. On a trip to Germany, the past is pervasive; memory can never be overtaken and no one says it should. That’s why perhaps more and more Jews and Israelis are visiting Germany: to remember.

Many come to Munich, for when one talks about tourism to Germany, it is often talk about Munich which is the warm-hearted metropolis, which houses the largest of over 100 German universities, which is famous for its art collections, its theater and the largest museum of science and technology in the world.

Here in Munich is Baroque and Rococo architecture, and the Oktoberfest, and the Nymphenburg Palace, fine buildings of every period, grand boulevards and squares, the Marienplatz. Following Berlin and Hamburg, Munich is Germany’s third largest industrial city.


It is the relations, of course, with the non-Jewish community that Jewish leaders here comment on frequently. They say there is no anti-Semitism because there really are only a few Jews — only 35,000 Jews of a total population of the 61,4 million who live in the densely populated Federal Republic.

Nearly everyone I talked to believes the TV film, “Holocaust,” had a dramatic effect on Germans. Dr. Leo Adlerstein of Dusseldorf says that more films like “Holocaust” must be shown, “because to put it bluntly, “he says, “the population of that horrible era is dying out.” It must be remembered that for a person to have fought in the German Army, or to have been in the Nazi Party, he would have to be about 60 years old or older today.

The younger generation does not have the memory of those horrible years, and not all have the knowledge. Adlerstein notes that when he lectures in high schools throughout the area, he confronts classes which have never seen a Jew.

German Jewish leaders feel that everytime the German public is reminded of the Holocaust, Germam democracy, and men and women of goodwill everywhere will benefit.


Despite shifts in government policy toward Israel, there is still, according to former Israel Ambassador to Germany Yochanan Meroz, Israel’s very special relationship with West Germany which persists among the population. But the future lies with the youth. The older generation often acted favorably for Israel out of a sense of guilt. Soon, the new leaders of West Germany, who were bom at the end of World War II, just won’t remember.

A young German student summed it all up — the hopes riding with his generation — when he said: “We have to show the world that Germany today does not compare with Nazi Germany and that we have a modern democratic system. We want to show that young Germans are just like other young people in the free world. That is the most important thing we have to do here.” (Tomorrow: Part Two)

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund