Israeli President Ezer Weizman, on a four-day visit this week to Germany, said it was difficult for him to be here, where he heard “voices crying to me from the earth” from the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The trip is the Israeli president’s first to the reunited Germany.
The visit broke a deadlock over financing the $137.2 million in annual pensions for East European Jews that has lasted since German Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised both Israel and Washington in 1989 to pay them.
Under pressure because of the visit, Kohl’s coalition Tuesday reportedly made it possible for Parliament to approve payment of German pensions to 35,000 aging Jews from formerly Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.
When Weizman spoke before the German Parliament, also on Tuesday, he thanked Germany for helping Israel and for fostering the peace process.
But he also said in his remarks, which in Hebrew, that he could not forgive Germany for the crimes of the Third Reich.
He added that as president of Israel, he could mourn and commemorate the Jewish victims of the Nazis, “but I cannot forgive in their name.”
“It is not easy for me to stand here and speak to you, my friends in this house,” he said.
In his speech, Weizman also called on Germans to combat neo-Nazism and movements of the radical right of said Israel and Germany needed to “find common ground” to improve ties.
The call to combat extremism was echoed by parliamentary speaker Ruth Sussmuth, who also said to Weizman in her welcoming speech, “You are visiting a different, a democratic, a European Germany that has learned its lesson from hate and genocide, war and expulsion, and is aware of its responsibility.”
Earlier, Weizman provoked the German Jewish community and its leaders when he said soon after arriving here that he could not “understand how 40,000 Jews could live” in the land of the Holocaust.
Weizman, who was speaking at a round-table discussion with young Germans, also said that “the only place where a Jew can be a Jew is Israel.”
Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, defended Jews’ rights to live here. “The Germany of today is not the Germany of the Nazi times,” Bubis reportedly said.
Michel Friedman, a member of the council, said Weizman’s comments “were a cause of irritation in the Jewish community.”
The Germany of today is based on democratic principles, Friedman added.
Weizman began his visit by paying homage to Jews who died at hands of the Nazis at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin.
Also on the visit, which ends Wednesday, Weizman met with surviving members of the German wartime resistance against Adolf Hitler.