Czech Jewish Groups Get Role in Evolving Ties with Germany

The Czech-German reconciliation pact that was signed this week has been denounced by several organizations on the grounds that it all but pardons crimes committed by Nazi Germany on Czech soil.

But Jewish opposition to the declaration subsided last Friday, when Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec granted Czech Jewish groups representation on the board of the Czech-German Fund for the Future, which is being created to promote joint projects.

After meeting with the Jewish groups, Zieleniec announced that they had expressed support for the Czech-German declaration as a “document which lays a new basis for conflict-free cooperation between Czechs and Germans.”

The pact, which was negotiated for almost two years, is intended to ease long- standing tensions rooted in Germany’s wartime occupation of Czech lands and the subsequent deportation of Sudeten Germans from postwar Czechoslovakia.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus signed the declaration Tuesday at a ceremony held at Liechtenstein Palace here in the Czech capital.

Each of the leaders expressed hope that the pact would lead to improved bilateral relations.

When the contents of the document were leaked to the media in December, the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities and the Czech Freedom Fighters Association, an umbrella organization for former resistance fighters and political prisoners, complained that Germany did not comment on the Holocaust in the declaration but simply “regrets the suffering and iniquities inflicted on the Czech people.”

The two groups also complained that the document did not call for any compensation to individual Czech victims of Nazism.

They also denounced as insufficient the proposed Fund for the Future, founded to finance “projects of common interest” to both countries.

On the day of the signing, Czech Freedom Fighters Chairman Jakub Cermin put his cautious support behind the declaration, claiming that Czechs and Germans “must start from somewhere” on the road to reconciliation.

Opposition to the pact meanwhile continues from both ends of the political spectrum.

During the signing ceremony, members of the far-right Republican Party as well as the Communist Party stood within earshot of the dignitaries chanting, “Shame” and “Gestapo.”

The Communists have denounced the document as “unacceptable,” claiming that it puts Czechoslovakia’s postwar deportation of ethnic Germans on the same level as Nazi crimes.

The groups who remain opposed to the declaration are launching petitions against it, hoping to discourage members of the Czech Parliament from ratifying the document.

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