East Germany Making Overtures Toward Friendship with Jews
Menu JTA Search

East Germany Making Overtures Toward Friendship with Jews

Download PDF for this date

East Germany has embarked on a major effort to appease Jewish communities worldwide, especially in America and in Israel, as a means toward improving its relations with Washington, according to West German officials and independent analysts here.

The West German sources said Sunday that the short term goal of East Germany is to prepare the ground for a possible visit to Washington by the veteran Communist leader Erich Honecker.

Beyond that, they added, East Germany is seeking “most favored nation” trade status with the United States, in hopes of broadening its base of recognition and legitimacy in the West.

West German officials were surprised several weeks ago by an East German announcement of possible reparations for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

West German officials warn against exaggerated expectations in this respect. Nevertheless, they add, the readiness of East Germany to raise the matter in negotiations with Jewish organizations was very significant.


Other important signs of the new trend have been the invitation to an East German delegation to visit Israel. It was sent by the Moscow-oriented Israeli Communist Party, apparently as part of a strategy to improve relations between Jews and East Germans.

East Germany has been consistent in portraying Israel as a state based on violence and aggression toward its neighboring Arabs. The state-controlled East German media have regularly equated Israel with the Nazis since the Palestinian uprising began in the occupied territories.

But at the same time, top East German officials have received Israeli personalities and have gone out of their way to demonstrate good will.

The chief editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz, former Knesset member Gerschom Schocken, was the guest late last year of Klaus Gisy, the minister responsible for handling relations with the ethnic and religious groups in East Germany.

A leading Israeli scholar, Professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University, was invited recently to a series of lectures in East Germany. Avineri, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, helped shape the Israeli policies vigorously denounced by East Germany.


An important new development, according to West German analysts, is the upcoming visit to Washington of Hermann Axen next week. Axen, the chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Volkskammer, the East German parliament, is the highest ranking East German official to ever visit Washington.

West German observers speculate that Axen will include a meeting with Jewish leaders in his Washington or New York itinerary. This, they added, would certainly help East Germany polish its image in America, and possibly place it in a position to pursue more ambitious goals.

West German analysts conclude that for East Germany, reducing tensions with Israel and with the American Jewish community is extremely important to improving relations with Washington.

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