BERLIN (Apr. 13)
As Jewish communities across Germany observed Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, their words of mourning mingled with fears about the killings and forcible deportations of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
Concern about the fate of the Kosovar Albanians prompted the Central Council of Jews in Germany to create a fund totaling some $28,000 for the refugees.
“We feel it is our duty to help them,” said Ignatz Bubis, the organization’s president and a Holocaust survivor. “As Jews, we know what deportation and being refugees means.”
A decision on how the fund will be distributed will be made soon, according to board member Michael Friedman.
Calling Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic “a murderer and a war criminal,” Norma Drimmer, deputy director of the Berlin Jewish community, said, “One should always help any minority who is in distress.”
Mourners who gathered at the weekend commemoration of the Allied liberation of Buchenwald heard speeches referring to the plight of the Kosovars.
And, while Berlin’s main Holocaust commemoration, which began Monday evening and consisted of a 24-hour reading of the names of 55,696 Jewish Berliners deported to their deaths, current headlines were not far from the thoughts of some in attendance.
Considering “the situation in Yugoslavia, we must not be allowed to forget this time in our history, in German history,” said Walter Briedigkeit, 67, who survived the Holocaust with his mother in Germany because his father was a non- Jew who protected them.
“I think in Kosovo it is nearly the same as it was in Germany,” said Hannes Pfeifer, 16, a non-Jewish high school student.
“Maybe this ethnic cleansing is the same.” said classmate Janin Taubert.
Most Jewish leaders have openly rejected comparisons between the Nazi years and the current events in Yugoslavia, which have been made this week and last by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
The German government has drawn particularly sharp criticism from a group of concentration camp survivors opposed to the current NATO action.
In an open letter sent Sunday to Fischer and Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, a group called Survivors of the Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz accused the German leaders of invoking the memory of the Nazi genocide to pursue an “inexcusable violation against the United Nations’ Charter.”
The letter’s authors said anyone who weakens the United Nations’ role in protecting human rights has “given up the right to use such anti-fascist postulates as `No more Auchwitz.'”
In general, Jewish leaders in Germany have not criticized the NATO action, although they do find fault with historical comparisons to the Nazi era.
Such comparisons are not necessary “in order to become involved and engaged,” said Friedman, whose parents survived the Holocaust because they worked for Oskar Schindler.
“It’s not that Milosevic would want to destroy or mutilate every Albanian person from the baby to the grown up,” said Drimmer, whose family lost hundreds of members in the Holocaust.
“If they would leave the country he couldn’t care less,” she added. “But that does not make it less terrible for the people who are suffering. I would compare this with the pogroms and murder of innocent people. For me, this is bad enough.”
Germany is expecting to receive 10,000 refugees from Kosovo. About half that number arrived early this week, according to a government spokesperson in Bonn.
Last week, NATO members agreed to temporarily house some 100,000 Kosovar refugees.
The government spokesperson explained that, for the first time since the passage of a new law a few years ago, these refugees will “not have go through a whole legal system of applying for asylum” and will be able to stay as long as the situation in their former homeland requires.
Of some 7 million non-citizens living in Germany, some 2 million people are seeking to remain here as refugees, the spokesperson added.
Refugees have increasingly been targets for right-wing extremist attacks here, according to recent studies. Polls also show a rise in membership in extremist groups here.
A spokesman for the Central Council of Jews in Germany said he has been working with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the United Jewish Appeal to help connect Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia and Kosovo with family members in Germany.
And Joel Levy, Berlin director of the New York-based Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, said he is trying to determine how he can help Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia who come to Germany.
Meanwhile, Eugene Dubow, director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, is expecting to take part in the coming days in an AJCommittee mission to Albania.