Soviets in East Germany May Now Become Citizens

East Germany, which recently asked the forgiveness of Jews for its Nazi past, has now opened its gates to any Jew who wants to live there.

The announcement Wednesday by the government that Jews are free to settle in East Germany and obtain citizenship was made on humanitarian grounds, according to Almut Berger, the official responsible for foreign residents.

The immediate beneficiaries will be some 500 Soviet Jews who came to East Berlin on tourist visas in recent months in hope of entering West Berlin.

A government spokesman said Thursday that the group, which has been supported by the East German authorities since its arrival, may now apply for citizenship and the wide range of absorption benefits that go with it, including free German language courses.

Jewish circles in both East and West Berlin said the example set by these refugees may influence other Soviet Jews who do not want to go to Israel.

Soviet emigrants can now become East German citizens, and, with unification imminent, they would seem virtually assured of citizenship in a united Germany.

NOT COORDINATED WITH BONN

The East Germans did not coordinate their decision with the Bonn government. West Germany presently grants automatic citizenship only to Jews who were expelled from the country, and their families, or those who can prove they are “ethnic Germans.”

West Germany, however, has always acknowledged responsibility for the depredations of the Nazi regime and maintained a special relationship with the Jewish people.

The former Communist regime in East Germany, in contrast, rejected any link with Nazism during its 40-year tenure.

But on April 12, a solemn statement of East German culpability for Nazi atrocities was read out at the inaugural session of the Volkskammer, East Germany’s first freely elected parliament.

It apologized to the Jewish people and Israel for the crimes committed against Jews by the Third Reich.

Observers said the offer of citizenship is a further step to distance East Germany from its past hostility toward Jews, first under Nazism and later under the Stalinist regime.

The decision was adopted at a Cabinet meeting on the subject of foreigners and refugees in general.

According to a government source, East Germany will offer asylum to political refugees. Any foreigner who can prove he or she has shelter and sufficient funds can stay in the country, the source said.

In another effort to distance itself from past hostility, the East Germans and Israelis seem close to an agreement on the establishment of diplomatic relations and payment of reparations to Holocaust victims.

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