JTS Chancellor Praises Germans for Courage in Confronting Past

A leading Conservative rabbi praised the Federal Republic of Germany on Wednesday for its “moral courage” in accepting responsibility for the crimes of its past.

In a departure from traditional Jewish statements about the German role in the Holocaust, Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, lauded German willingness to accept the blame for the crimes of the Third Reich.

“Never has a country gone to such lengths to atone for past crimes,” Schorsch said at a ceremony in Heppenheim, West Germany, honoring the 25th anniversary of the death of Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber. A text of his remarks was made available by the seminary here.

“The government of Konrad Adenauer admitted the full extent of German culpability for the Holocaust and inaugurated a vast, and still ongoing, program of reparations. The spirit of that unprecedented act of moral courage eventually permeated to nearly all corners of German society.”

Citing a Talmudic saying, “Happy is the generation whose leader brings a sacrifice (of atonement) for his errors,” Schorsch credited West Germany for serving as a “noble example” to other countries.

He referred specifically to East Germany, whose first freely elected, non-Communist government on April 12 declared its shared responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust and promised to institute just compensation for material losses.

It was an astonishing admission from a country which, until very recently, had maintained no responsibility for Nazi crimes.

Although such apologies have not served to “undo the dark past,” said Schorsch, they have made possible a “wholesome future in which a united Germany will remain a steadfast ally of Israel and the Jewish people.”

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