BONN (Oct. 1)
The Jewish community here welcomed official government acknowledgement of the danger represented by the torching last weekend of a Holocaust memorial at the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. But Jewish leaders voiced concern at the absence of decisive action by the authorities against the right-wing thugs responsible for the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks and assaults against asylum-seekers.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel laid a wreath at the Sachsenhausen site on Tuesday, accompanied by leaders of the Jewish community.
Kinkel later told reporters he had been delegated by Chancellor Helmut Kohl to express shock and indignation at the attack and at the ongoing assaults on foreigners in the country. He said the government would take action to stop the violence and put the perpetrators behind bars.
But the promises did not placate Jewish leaders, who expressed deep disappointment at the failure of the government to take decisive action.
“When left-wing extremists resorted to violence, police acted effectively to stop them,” said Ignaz Bubis, the newly elected chairman of the German Jewish community. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that kind of resolve when neo-Nazis attack refugees night after night.”
He called on Germany to take immediate action “for its own sake,” and not because of image problems abroad.
Max Willner, an 86-year-old survivor of Sachsenhausen, who also accompanied Kinkel, said, “I have serious doubts whether it was right to re-establish a Jewish community in this country.
“Many Jewish youths ask me if it is right for them to stay in Germany. Today, I can hardly answer those questions,” Willner said.
Kinkel laid the wreath at the site of a destroyed barrack that had housed Jewish prisoners. Demolished with it was a new exhibit on the Nazi persecution of the Jews, an issue that was downplayed during decades of communist rule in eastern Germany.
The wreath-laying gesture came as German President Richard von Weizsacker pledged to denounce the wave of anti-Semitic and racist attacks in a major address on Saturday.
In a meeting Wednesday with Jean Kahn, head of the umbrella group for French Jewish organizations, CRIF, Weizsacker said that on the occasion of the second anniversary of the unification of Germany he would urge perseverance “in effort to combat all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”
The German president met with Kahn, who is also chairman of the European branch of the World Jewish Congress, when visiting Lyon to receive an honorary degree at Lyon University.
In his visit to Sachsenhausen on Tuesday, Willner said much had changed since he left the camp exactly 50 years ago. Gone from the concrete gate, for example, was the notorious concentration camp inscription “arbeit macht frei” (work liberates).
He said the area of detention for Jews was called “das kleine lager” (the small camp).
Barrack number 37, where he was held, no longer exists. A massive stone marks the site where Willner and other inmates were imprisoned and tortured.
It was at that spot that Kinkel and the Jewish leaders laid wreaths and observed a moment of silence. The arson attack destroyed adjacent barrack number 38.
Investigators updated the visitors, including officials of the federal state of Brandenberg, on the status of the inquiry into the attack on the camp.
Kinkel and his guests followed the route taken exactly two weeks before by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on his visit to the now-destroyed barrack and museum.
Kinkel said his government had a commitment to the well-being of non-Germans living in the country. He said he understood the critical reactions both in Israel and among Jews worldwide to the recent manifestations of hatred and violence in Germany.
From the United States, a high-level delegation from the American Jewish Committee arrived in Germany this week for a firsthand look at the spreading violence and for talks with government and community leaders. They were scheduled to visit Sachsenhausen as part of their trip.