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E. Germany to Return Jewish Property, but Community Not Sure It Wants It

The East German government is reported ready to give back to the Jewish community buildings that were confiscated by the Nazis more than 50 years ago, but the gift may prove more a headache than a favor.

There are many obstacles to the proposed restoration of property to Adas Israel, an Orthodox community that was separate from the mainstream Jewish community in pre-war Berlin and still retains its unique identity. The still existing Adas Israel hopes it can revive itself in the liberal climate that now prevails here.

Mario Offenberg, a leader of Adas Israel, welcomed the authorities’ decision as a turning point in East Germany’s attitude toward the congregation.

Some former community members campaigned for five years to re-establish the former Orthodox community in Berlin, arguing that it would be morally reprehensible to in any way allow the shutting down of the community by the Nazis to be the final verdict of history.

But the community has decreased considerably since the Holocaust, and its present leaders see no need or even possibility to maintain a separate group. The community lacks recognition and funds, and it is questionable that it could support itself, even with its former premises restored.

In pre-war Berlin, there were three kinds of Jewish congregations: the Reform, or Liberal; Adas Israel; and the more Hasidic groups. Adas Israel had its own cemetery. The government recognizes the community’s special status, even now.

MEMBERSHIP OF 200

Adas Israel claims a membership of 200, which may be generous. But it says many more Jews will join once the community is re-established.

It applied for funds from the West Berlin municipal authorities, but was rejected in its appeal by Heinz Galinski, veteran leader of the entire West German Jewish community.

Galinski and his associates say there is no need to structure Jewish life in Berlin on the pre-war model.

They stress that their community accepts all Jews, who are free to participate in the democratic process of choosing their representatives.

But the Adas Israel people don’t agree. They charge that the established community has neglected their needs, concerns and traditions and is not even willing to memorialize those victimized by the Nazis. They also point to the pluralism in many Jewish communities around the world, notably in the United States, where different trends exist side by side.

A prominent Jewish activist who asked not to be named said that, to the best of his knowledge, not a single member of Adas Israel lives in East Berlin. Moreover, he said, the situation is hardly comparable to what existed before the war.

Berlin is still divided between two countries, even though the Wall has been practically obliterated. The number of Jews living in both parts of Berlin is very small, compared to the hundreds of thousands who lived there before the Nazi persecution. In 1932, there were about 172,000 Jews in Berlin. Now, about 6,200 live in Berlin, of whom 6,000 live in the West.

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