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German Minister Reassures Jewish Leaders on Tourist Office

Hoping to allay fears about anti-Semitic discrimination at his country’s tourist office here, German Economics Minister Guenther Rexrodt has assured Jewish officials that he would try to correct any possible mistakes made by the tourist office.

“I shall engage myself and see that the necessary consequences are being drawn from the affairs in and around the German Tourist Office,” said Rexrodt, whose ministry oversees the tourist office.

Rexrodt’s remarks came as the usually low-profile Economics Ministry has come under fire in recent months for what many believe to be unethical behavior at the German Tourist Office.

The criticism began in May, when an employee of the tourism office was dismissed for translating an article in “The Journal of Historical Review,” a German-based periodical that maintains that the Holocaust never occurred.

Two weeks later, an 11-year-old market study recommending that Germany discourage blacks, Jews, Hispanics and Asians from visiting the country was unearthed.

The office is also embroiled in a controversy over former employees who allege that they were discriminated against because of sex and race.

At last week’s meeting with the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, Rexrodt denounced the study, but denied that it had ever been intended as a directive.

“The singling out of any particular group in the United States was never policy of the German Tourist Office and is in clear contradiction to basic principles of the present and previous German governments,” Rexrodt said.

The minister also hinted at a restructuring of the organization.

He said he would try to “find the appropriate structures” to ensure that office’s operations abroad “are in line with the German government’s position.”

Although it receives about 85 percent of its funding from the government, the office is comprised of and managed by private individuals and interests, according to German officials.

The allegations of anti-Semitism come at a particularly sensitive time for American Jews, especially those who survived the Holocaust. Fifty years after the end of World War II, Germany is intensifying its efforts to make amends for its war crimes, and many in the Jewish community are scrutinizing the German government’s every move.

The German government has apparently sensed the emotional and historical significance the issue has for Jews.

Last week’s meeting with Rexrodt was convened at a last-minute request of the JCRC, as Rexrodt stopped over in New York en route to the G-7 meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia of leading industrial nations.

“The big news is that this meeting happened.” said Harriet Mandel, director of Israel and International Concerns for JCRC.

She said there was a “tremendous amount of candor” at the meeting.

Some Jewish leaders, however, believe that the German government has not gone far enough.

“I think it sends an important message that he took the time to come and meet with us,” said Mark Weitzman, national associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“But I would like to see some action to follow up on these admissions.”

According to Weitzman, full investigations have not taken place in the other tourist offices, such as at those in Europe.

Germany’s acting consul-general, Hans Von Stackelberg, said in an interview that managers of the office in other countries have assured him there are no more inflammatory documents.

But he said he “cannot exclude anything.”

“I can only hope and trust the managers there,” von Stackelberg said.

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