NEW YORK (Jun. 11)
East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere, on his first visit to the United States, met Sunday with representatives of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and extended an invitation to begin negotiations before the end of the month on reparations for victims of Nazism.
“We consider the extension of the invitation as a good and serious beginning,” said Saul Kagan, executive director of the Claims Conference. He said that meetings are being scheduled for the last week of June.
Kagan and Israel Miller, president of the Claims Conference, met with the prime minister prior his appearance at a World Jewish Congress banquet in his honor.
“The burden of the past weighs heavily on the Germans,” de Maiziere said in his an address at the banquet, which was sponsored by Edgar Bronfman, WJC president.
Bronfman had invited the East German leader when they met at ceremonies in May in both halves of Berlin, commemorating the end of World War II.
In his speech, de Maiziere remained true to the April 12 declaration of East Germany’s first freely elected, non-Communist government, which admitted the German Democratic Republic’s responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust and promised to institute just compensation for material losses.
The East German leader maintained that “we can never come to terms” with responsibility for the Holocaust. “We shall never be able to provide ‘compensation’ in the real sense of the word,” he said.
OFFERS AID TO JEWISH COMMUNITY
He called the issue of reparations “a matter near our hearts,” and called for “specific negotiations on indemnification” as soon as possible.
He also pledged to offer East German Jews “all possible assistance” to rebuild the Neue Synagogue in East Berlin, once the greatest synagogue of Berlin Jewry, whose empty shell stands on Oranienburgerstrasse, in hopes of becoming a museum.
De Maiziere also guaranteed Jewish rights in a united Germany.
The East German leader, who heads the GDR’s Christian Democratic Party, said, “No one needs to have misgivings or even fears of a unified Germany.”
“Germany today is totally different from Germany between 1933 and 1945,” he affirmed. A united Germany will have international alliances, and will work within a European framework, rather than on an isolated, nationalistic basis, he said.
The East German leader was seeking to soothe the concerns of Jews about Germany’s past history and an upsurge of neo-Nazism, both in East and West Germany.
In April, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, wrote to Secretary of State James Baker asking that the administration place on the agenda of discussions concerning German reunification the question of how a united Germany would address the historical legacy of the Nazi period.
Baker assured Foxman in a recent letter that the U.S. government “will remain sensitive to Jewish concerns,” and will continue to address these concerns through talks between Germans and Jewish groups.
“We have stressed in our discussions with representatives of the Federal Republic the need for the GDR, and then a united Germany, to resolve these claims satisfactorily,” Baker said.
Following his meetings Sunday with Jewish groups, de Maiziere traveled to Washington, where he met Monday with President Bush.