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Jewish Ex-refugees Return to Visit German Hometowns

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Jews from all over the world who fled Nazi persecution in Germany a half century ago are returning for visits to their old home towns, often as guests of the local municipalities.

They come in groups, whether out of nostalgia or curiosity, and are warmly welcomed by the authorities who are ever conscious of West Germany’s image.

That image was recently overshadowed by an ugly manifestation of anti-Semitism that infuriated a group of 16 Jewish guests.

The group was staying in Wesel, in northern Germany, and went to visit the neighboring town of Xanten. There they found, on the walls of the regional museum and two schools, banners with the legends, “This way to the gas chambers” and “Auschwitz was too small.”

The visitors were prepared to leave Germany immediately. Mayor Heinz Trauten of Xanten and another town official, Alfred Helters, begged them to stay.

Both urged their guests not to think the graffiti reflected local feelings. But the Jews canceled a reception in Xanten and returned to Wesel.

There, Mayor Volker Haubitz offered an apology. He said the incident jeopardized what was meant to be a gesture of understanding and reconciliation.

Elsewhere, the homecomings have gone off without incident. About 570 Jewish guests from as far away as Australia, Israel and California visited Karlsruhe in October.

In November, 300 more came and were greeted by Mayor Gerhard Seiler. He said the idea was to re-establish contacts between people who may not have seen each other since they fled Germany.

The weeklong program includes sightseeing, cultural events and visits to Jewish cemeteries.

About 200 Jewish visitors attended the inauguration of the new synagogue in Darmstadt. Another 17 Jews, former citizens of Muelheim-Ruhr, spent a week there.

The town of Hamm also invited former Jewish residents after tracing them to Argentina, South Africa and other distant countries.

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