WEST BERLIN (Feb. 2)
Shimon Peres, the first Prime Minister of Israel to visit the former capital of the Third Reich, used that occasion to appeal to the Soviet Union, whose armies he acknowledged contributed mightily to the downfall of Hitler, to allow those Jews who so wish to leave the USSR and to play a positive role in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
Peres, ending a three-day official visit to West Germany, arrived here last Wednesday from Bonn and was greeted at the city hall by West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen. Later, at a dinner in his honor, he said: “Let me use this rostrum in the city where Nazi leadership had its formidable start and its shameful end–brought about by the Red Army as well–to call upon the new leadership of the Soviet Union not to forget the common suffering of both our peoples…Let those who survived move to their destiny. Let our people go–and come.”
His stay in West Berlin was brief but his itinerary was hectic. From Tempelhof Airport he visited the Israeli pavilion at the Green Week Agricultural Fair, where he stressed Israel’s desire to continue its commercial ties with the European Economic Community (EEC).
He placed a wreath by the tablet commemorating the Holocaust victims at the Jewish Community Center here, remarking that the Center served both as a sign of the continuity of the great Jewish tradition in Berlin and as a viable link to the State of Israel.
He also visited the monument erected in memory of the high-ranking German army officers who, hoping to end World War II and destroy the Nazi regime, attempted to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. All were caught and suffered torture and death at the hands of the Gestapo. That group of officers, Peres said, was a symbol of German opposition to Hitler.
A highlight of his Berlin tour was a visit to the old Reichstag building. Observing the Berlin Wall nearby, Peres referred to the Jews of Eastern Europe. “This physical barrier separates also two parts of the Jewish people,” he said. He added, “No wall can block the hopes of the people to get together and to exchange ideas and views.”
In a paraphrase of President John Kennedy’s famous remark at the same spot more than two decades ago–”Ich bin ein Berliner”–Peres said, “I am from Jerusalem, not from Berlin. I can tell you a lot about an experience of 2,000 years with walls and barriers. Walls come and walls go, but the will of the people prevails.”
MEETING WITH GERMAN STUDENTS
Peres met with a group of German students to answer their questions which ranged from the Arab-Israel conflict to recent manifestations of anti-Semitism in West Berlin and in the Federal Republic. The students mounted an impressive exhibition on the heritage of European Judaism to counter an anti-Semitic incident which had occurred at their school.
They questioned the Premier about the recently produced play by the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder–”Garbage, the City and Death”–in which a character identified as a wealthy Jew was depicted as a villain and exploiter of the poor.
Peres said, “It is primarily a German problem to fight anti-Semitism. Whenever there is anti-Semitism, Germans should be concerned. It is your awareness and reactions that count. Anti-Semitism in itself was never the real problem, but rather the lack of will and resolve of the mainstream groups fighting it.”
Peres was asked by a German student at one point why he had not become the poet he had hoped to be in his youth. “I was not good enough,” he said. “Probably by mistake I became a politician and it became too late to change. My most important concern and desire is to bring peace to the Middle East.”