WEST BERLIN (May. 7)
Representatives of world Jewry made clear their expectations of a united Germany and were assured at a gathering here that its dark past will never be repeated.
The occasion was the opening Sunday night of a three-day conference of the World Jewish Congress. It is the first time the WJC has met on German soil since its founding in Switzerland in 1936, when Nazism was on the march in Europe.
The principal speakers were WJC President Edgar Bronfman and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The gathering was held at the initiative of West Germany’s Jewish community and drew an audience of prominent Jewish leaders from Europe, Israel and America.
Their presence signaled that Jews are prepared to adjust to the reality of one Germany, if it adheres unswervingly to democratic principles and peace.
But the notable absence of a few Jewish leaders, including members of the World Zionist Organization Executive, sent a different message: that time could not obliterate what Germany did when it was last a powerful united country.
Bronfman emphasized the grip of history when he observed at the outset that “there are many Jews who could not bring themselves to be in this city because of the anguish, the pain that Berlin signifies.”
He said he understood “the intensity of their anger and their bitterness,” but added. “We are here because we have something to say to a united Germany.”
Although they delivered their speeches separately, Bronfman and Kohl engaged in a dialogue of sorts.
PROVE WORLD HAS ‘NOTHING TO FEAR’
Bronfman raised several demands that he said the Jewish people must make of a united Germany.
“The new Germany must forever teach what happened (during the Holocaust), so that the lowest point ever reached in man’s inhumanity to man can never occur again,” he said.
The new Germany must never become a nuclear power, Bronfman said. Nor must it have the means of perpetrating mass killing or destruction through biological or chemical warfare.
It should also not help any third party attain such a capability, he said, alluding to the involvement of West German firms in the construction of a chemical weapons factory in Libya.
“Germany must enact strong legislation to prevent such threats against mankind and against Israel, and vigilantly enforce that legislation. Never, never strengthen the enemies of Israel!” Bronfman declared.
“The path for the new Germany should be clear,” he said. “The Jewish people pray that you will prove that the world has nothing to fear, that you will follow the path away from your worst traditions and toward the best traditions of which you are so capable.
“The great challenge is to build a Germany firmly rooted in peace and respect for universal human values,” he concluded.
In response, Kohl sketched his vision of the responsibilities of a united Germany.
“It remains the duty of all democratic forces to fight without compromise all those who spread anti-Semitic prejudice or decry the Jewish religion and faith,” the chancellor said.
KOHL ASSAILS NATIONALISM
“For us Germans, one of the most important lessons of history is that a democracy must not put itself at the mercy of its enemies, but must actively fight them.”
With respect to German relations with Israel, Kohl stressed that “close, trustful dialogue must remain a key element of the Middle East policy pursued by a united Germany. I personally guarantee this,” he added.
The chancellor directly addressed the question of whether the Federal Republic’s relations with Israel and the way it has dealt with its Nazi past will be continued by a united Germany.
While he answered with a resounding affirmative, he admitted that much educational work must be done in East Germany, so that the people there have a true picture of the terrors and horrors of the Nazi past, instead of the distorted picture created by the former Communist regime.
Kohl also spoke of the dangers of rising nationalism in Europe. He cited “the activities of the anti-Semitic (Russian) organization Pamyat or the riots in Romania against the Hungarian minority” as “proof that we in Europe still have a number of obstacles to overcome.”