NEW YORK (Jul. 20)
Heinz Galinski, the leader of Germany’s postwar Jewish community and an outspoken critic of neo-Nazism, died in Berlin on Monday following heart surgery last month. He was 79.
A survivor of three concentration camps Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen Galinski returned to Berlin at the end of World War II, when only 1,000 Jews remained from the 160,000 who lived there before the war, and became a key figure in the postwar history of the Jewish community there.
A devoted Zionist, Galinski opposed assimilation while espousing the cause of integration in a pluralistic German society. He was strongly in favor of making the life of the Jewish community more accessible as a means of counteracting anti-Semitism.
Born on Nov. 28, 1912, in the Prussian town of Marienburg, Galinski moved to Berlin as a young man and there witnessed the birth and rise of Nazism. During the war, he lost his father, who died while under Gestapo arrest, as well as his mother and first wife, who died at Auschwitz.
After Berlin’s Jewish community was reestablished in 1945, Galinski looked after the survivors of racial persecution on behalf of the city council. In 1949 he was elected to head the Jewish community in West Berlin and had regularly been re-elected ever since.
In 1988, shortly after he became chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, he stunned world Jewry with the announcement that his late predecessor, Werner Nachmann, had diverted for personal use some $12 million intended for Holocaust victims.
WARNED AGAINST VIOLENCE AFTER REUNIFICATION
Nearly half the council’s directors resigned in the aftermath of Galinski’s disclosure.
In 1989, he was elected vice president of the European Jewish. Congress, a position he held until his death.
After the reunification of Germany in 1990, Galinski warned that violence against foreigners could lead to the return of persecution and repeatedly underscored the point that Germany should never allow itself to forget its crimes against humanity.
He was an outspoken critic of the Social Democratic Party when he felt it was dragging its heels on legislation that would make Holocaust denying remarks an indictable offense.
American Jewish leaders who knew him were unstinting in their praise for Galinski. American Jewish Committee President Alfred Moses called Galinski “a voice of conscience in difficult times.”
“He held one of the most sensitive positions in organized Jewry,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. “He defended Jewish honor, interests and dignity in the most trying circumstances”
“He was a very strong, committed person,” said Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany. “I would call him almost fearless in enunciating the positions which he felt were proper for a dedicated Jew. He spoke his mind even when dealing with the highest German authorities — and he spoke it as a proud Jew.”