Menu JTA Search

German Reunification: a Subject of Worry to Some American Jews

The reunification of Germany, which was to become official at midnight Tuesday, has some American Jewish leaders feeling apprehensive.

They are concerned primarily because they believe a topic that should be a focus of reunification — the Holocaust — is being neglected.

The absence of any direct reference to the Holocaust in the reunification treaty has underlined concern that the Nazi era is one which too many in the new Germany would like to see relegated to distant memory.

“If they couldn’t live with one phrase, one paragraph, in the treaty while there are survivors still living, then what will happen in the future?” asked Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

Foxman himself is a child survivor, having been born in Baranowicze, Poland, and hidden by a Catholic woman in Vilna during the war years. He then spent time with his parents in an Austrian displaced persons camp, arriving in this country when he was 10 years old.

If West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl “could make a promise to the Jewish people on the eve of Rosh Hashanah that history will be remembered and taught, then why couldn’t they include a reference to the Holocaust in this historic document?” he said.

The least the West and East German governments could have done, according to Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, was make that “gestures” to the world Jewish community during the reunification process.

He feels that an appropriate gesture by the German governments would have been inviting 100 Jewish leaders to Germany, establishing 100 chairs in Holocaust studies or offering 1,000 fellowships to students of the Nazi era.

‘AT THE EXPENSE OF JEWISH MEMORY’

“Reunification is coming at the expense of Jewish memory,” Wiesel said, adding that he is “disturbed that the American Jewish community is not more disturbed. Strangely, it is a non-event in the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, pointed out that while West Germany has become “a friend” to Israel culturally and economically, 17 million former East Germans have been educated to believe that “Israel is the worst fascist state ever.”

Hier said that in 1988, “There was talk that they would establish a Holocaust museum in Berlin, a museum which tens of thousands of young people would have to confront. Now, those plans are not discussed.”

He also noted that 86 of the 207 companies selling armaments and chemical weapons to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein are German.

As the reunification plans were being hammered out with the four Allied nations, the focus was on “external concerns,” according to Hier, like the new Germany’s involvement with NATO and the European Community.

Considering answers to the “internal questions,” like the task of educating young Germans about the nation’s destruction of a generation of Jews, has “been meticulously avoided during the process of reunification,” Hier said.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), who was born in a displaced person’s camp in Eschwege, Germany, and spent the first 18 months of his life there, allowed that he feels “uneasy” about the reunification, “as illogical as that may be.”

The congressman pointed out that it is important to be aware of the need for constant vigilance to protect the liberty of Jews and other minority groups.

“We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that can happen only in Germany, because it can happen anywhere,” he said.

Foxman said he wishes he “could share the joy of the German people at their unification,” because “the people of Germany have worked hard for democracy. I cannot celebrate, not because of my fear for the future, but because of my remembrance of the past.”

NEXT STORY