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German Jews Greet President Clinton During His Visit to Berlin Synagogue

Leaders of the German Jewish community laid out the red carpet for President Clinton this week when he visited a Berlin synagogue that survived German arsonists in 1938 and Allied bombs during World War II.

Accompanied by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during his visit to Berlin’s New Synagogue on Tuesday afternoon, Clinton appeared moved as he toured the red brick building whose golden dome towers over the Jewish Quarter in the former East Berlin.

“It’s a miracle it survived,” Clinton said as he toured the synagogue.

Clinton’s visit came on the last leg of a six-day European tour that included a meeting in Naples with leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations.

Among those on hand to greet Clinton at the synagogue were Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Jerzy Kanal, chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin; and Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen.

Renovations on the ruined synagogue structure began in 1989 when the then East German government was intent on improving its relations with Israel. They are expected to be completed next year.

Kanal, a Holocaust survivor, welcomed Clinton to the synagogue and thanked the American people for “defeating Nazi barbarism” and for their support in introducing democracy to Germany in the postwar years.

Of the approximately 40,000 Jews currently living in Germany, about one-quarter live in Berlin.

Before the war, there were some 530,000 German Jews, 160,000 of whom lived in Berlin.

Bubis said it had been Clinton’s wish to visit the synagogue.

“He is interested in Jewish life in Germany,” Bubis said, adding that the rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Europe played an important role in Clinton’s decision to visit the synagogue.

‘WE MUST REJECT THOSE WHO COULD DIVIDE US’

Bubis noted that during his visit to Warsaw last week, Clinton also visited the Jewish community and the former ghetto.

While in Warsaw, Clinton laid a wreath at a memorial to the Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943.

Prior to visiting the Berlin synagogue, Clinton spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, which had separated West and East Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989.

Addressing the issue of racial intolerance, Clinton said, “Here in Germany, in the United States, and throughout the entire world, we must reject those who could divide us with scalding words about race, ethnicity or religion.

“I appeal especially to the young people of this nation. I believe you have to live in peace with those who are different from you,” Clinton said in a tacit plea against rising neo-Nazism in Germany.

(JTA correspondent Miriam Widman in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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