NEW YORK (Oct. 3)
While the citizens of Germany were busy reveling in the carnival of activities surrounding German reunification, German officials were making efforts to show that a reunited country would remain sensitive to Jewish concerns.
On Wednesday, in the midst of commemorating the day the two Germanys became united after 45 years of division, Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of the new combined Germany, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir telling him, according to reports from Jerusalem, that Germany “affirms its commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and is aware of its past.”
Israel Radio quoted Kohl saying he hoped “that united Germany will make sure that the events of the past do not recur.”
In a congratulatory letter to Kohl, Shamir articulated his desire for continued good relations with Germany, but expressed his disappointment that the unity agreement did not contain any mention of the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews.
At a ceremony in Berlin, German President Richard von Weizsacker made reference to the Holocaust, calling it “this most awful of all crimes.”
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Israeli officials announced that West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy that he would recommend to his government that the deadline for filing claims for formerly Jewish property in East Germany would be extended.
In a meeting between the two leaders last week, Levy asked Genscher to extend the deadline for applying for reparations beyond Oct. 13, which many Israelis and American Jews had protested was too soon.
INFORMING THE YOUNG OF PAST
Levy has also requested that unclaimed Jewish East German property be transferred to the State of Israel. Genscher told Levy that the German Justice Department would consider this request.
The West German foreign minister also discussed the issue of reparations during a meeting this week with World Jewish Congress officials.
According to WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg, Genscher said the Germans were “going out of their way” to show that they would not forget the legacy of the Third Reich.
Genscher “said it was incumbent on the new Germany to inform its young of its history, particularly those young in East Germany who have not had Holocaust education,” Steinberg said.
Genscher evoked the memory of the Holocaust in remarks made at the international signing ceremony Monday of the document eradicating the rights of the countries who triumphed in World War II over Germany.
“Germans unite aware of our special responsibility toward the Jewish nation,” Genscher said at the ceremony.
The German foreign minister made similar remarks at an earlier stage of the signing, when he said last month in Moscow that Jewish “agony” suffered during the Holocaust should not be repeated.
Another German official remembered Jewish suffering at a United Nations news conference held Tuesday.
West German U.N. representative Hans-Otto Braeutigam said that as unification approached, “we remember the victims of dictatorship in Germany, the victims of the Holocaust, the untold suffering of Jewish people.”
Braeutigam said that “our memory will not turn blind, our responsibility will remain and it will be the duty for my generation in Germany to pass on that responsibility to our children and grandchildren.”