As Wall Crumbles, E. Berlin’s Jews Set to Meet with West Berliners
Menu JTA Search

As Wall Crumbles, E. Berlin’s Jews Set to Meet with West Berliners

Download PDF for this date

As a direct outgrowth of the opening of the Berlin Wall last week, a group of some 30 members of the Jewish community of East Berlin will pay an historic visit Wednesday to their counterparts in West Berlin.

The group was invited by the mayor of West Berlin, Walter Momper, according to Dr. Peter Kirchner, the head of the Jewish community of East Berlin.

In a telephone conversation with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the 54-year-old Kirchner, who has been head of East Berlin Jewry for 18 years, said the group will make a sightseeing tour of West Berlin and its Jewish institutions.

The events of the last week, including the destruction of the Berlin Wall as a barrier between the two people, have created an unprecedented opportunity for the East German Jewish community to be connected with West German Jewry, Kirchner said.

“We have had contact in the last 10 years with Jewish communities in other European communities,” said Kirchner, who attributed the ties to membership in the World Jewish Congress and particularly the European Jewish Congress.


“We have good contact with Jewish communities in England and Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. But with the other part of Germany, it has been very bad,” Kirchner said, speaking in a mixture of English and German.

There now seem to be opportunities to redress the matter, according to Kirchner, a neurologist who himself has traveled to West Berlin to participate in seminars on the psychological effects on survivors of the Holocaust.

Kirchner said he had attended a medical board meeting last week “about psychiatric problems of survivors, when the wall was opened. When I came back to the wall, there were many people,”

Kirchner was able to provide exact figures for the number of Jews living in East Berlin and other Jewish communities, as well as estimates of Jews who are not officially affiliated with the Jewish community.

According to Kirchner, there are only 203 Jews registered with the Jewish community in East Berlin, with an estimated 200 more in the rest of East Germany.

However, he estimated that there are about 3,000 Jews living in East Berlin, most of them Communists who are not involved in Jewish activities. He estimated another 2,000 live in the rest of the German Democratic Republic.

A growing number of the children and grandchildren of these people have been presenting themselves to the Jewish community, expressing a desire to identify and participate as Jews, Kirchner said.

Kirchner said that while most of the Jews are Germans who returned there after the war, there are also some who came from the United States and Britain.

“Most are Communists who came back after the war to rebuild a new German state, the GDR,” said Kirchner. He said there were “more than 200 people from Jewish families where the grandparents left before the war.

“In the last year, the children and grandchildren of these persons come to this community to see what it’s like. We have met with them,” he said, as recently as this past Saturday.

He said he felt “no fear at this time, but we think about what will be in the future.”

While conceding that “there has been no great anti-Semitism in the past year,” Kirchner did cite the desecration of the wall of the Jewish cemetery, which he said was reported in the newspaper, a heartening sign since such incidents were not publicly mentioned in the past.

Kirchner said the Jews were wary of the growth of the Republican Party in West Berlin, a neo-Nazi group led by a former member of the SS, and feared that the group would spread to the East with the opening of the wall.

However, he said he believes the East German government “will also be in the future an anti-fascist government, with no anti-Semitism and neo-fascism in our country, I hope.”

Jews will also most likely remain where they live in East Germany, according to Kirchner.

“Only some went to West Germany, some to Israel,” said Kirchner, speaking about the past year, when only two young people visited Israel.

“I think that in the future, most will remain in East Germany, in East Berlin. But they can go to visit Israel; that is new.To see the Holy Land and new countries.”

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