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Students Turn Talk on ‘Schindler’ into Challenge on German Asylum Law

A session designed to give 350 Berlin high school students the chance to talk with the head of Germany’s Jewish community about the film "Schindler’s List" and the Holocaust turned into a charged political debate, as students questioned a local politician about Germany’s new asylum law.

Students at the Martin Buber High School attended a recent showing of the Steven Spielberg movie about a Czech Nazi who saved more than 1,000 Jews during World War II.

The film, which has attracted sellout crowds since it premiered in Germany earlier this month, is being used by some schools as a teaching tool.

At the screening last week, Ignatz Bubis, leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, offered to talk with the students after the movie.

The initial part of his two-hour talk focused on Bubis’ reaction to the movie and on his experiences in World War II, during which members of his family, including his father, were killed in concentration camps. Bubis himself was interned in a work camp.

But then, in a sharp departure, one of the students asked the head of the Department of Education — which is a top government post in Berlin — if the government had not, in fact, contributed to anti-foreigner feeling in Germany by pushing for a change in Germany’s asylum law.

Bubis had strongly opposed the law, which was hammered out last summer.

Jurgen Klemann, the Berlin senator for schools, at first tried to duck the question, saying the forum was for discussing the film. "I think there should be another time to speak about politics," he said.

But Bubis and the students pressed Klemann, who is a member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union, which pushed heavily for a more-restrictive policy in the asylum law.

BLAMES ALL PARTIES FOR ASYLUM LAW

The new law prohibits individuals arriving in Germany from a so-called "secure" nation from applying for asylum in Germany.

Bubis, who is a member of the Free Democratic Party, the junior partner in Kohl’s coalition government, said all German political parties, including his own, were to be criticized for adopting the asylum law.

When Klemann tried to end the discussion once again, a woman in the audience yelled, "It’s damn embarrassing. You’re implicating yourself."

When the talk returned to the film, students wondered why a German had not made the movie.

Bubis said a German did apply to the Berlin Film Board for a $530,000 subsidy to make the film but was rejected because officials thought the movie would not be a commercial success.

According to Bubis, the projected German film was to be called "Angel in Hell."

Elmar Kampmann, the director of Martin Buber High School, noted that Germans like to see themselves in the victim’s role, so they make films that portray them in that manner.

Bubis added that the German film industry is simply not capable of launching a grand-scale production like "Schindler’s List."

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