The Jewish community was stunned by the arrest here of an Israeli citizen and Hebrew teacher, Shimon Or, on charges of spying for the KGB, the Soviet secret service.
Or was one of four immigrants among six West Germans taken into custody last weekend for allegedly passing classified information to the KGB about a Eurojet fighter-plane project. Information on the identities of the other suspects was not immediately available.
The arrests were announced Monday in Karlsruhe by federal prosecutor Kurt Redman. He described them as “a major penetration of the KGB spy network” in West Germany and the “biggest blow” to the KGB since the Federal Republic was founded in 1949.
Or is being held in prison in Duesseldorf. Police sources said it was unlikely he would be released before trial, which is not expected to take place soon.
Simon Schlachet, chairman of the Jewish community in Aachen, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a telephone interview Monday that “the prosecution informed me beforehand about the upcoming arrest. I said it was unbelievable, but they insisted that they had evidence to sustain their allegations and promised to give me more information in the coming days.”
Or, 49, has lived in Aachen, a city near the Belgian border, since 1981, with his wife, Rivka, and their two daughters, aged 8 and 10. He has been employed to teach Hebrew and Jewish religion to children here and in Duesseldorf, Wuppertal and Bonn.
The family lives in an apartment made available by the Jewish community in a building that houses the synagogue and communal offices. Rivka Or, also an Israeli citizen, sings in a choir in the Aachen theater.
Or was one of three chairpersons of the Aachen Association for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, a highly visible group that promotes dialogue between Christians and Jews and is pro-Israel.
His arrest has raised fears of an upsurge of anti-Semitic feelings, especially since the story made the front pages of newspapers here and all over West Germany.
Shimon Or, formerly Leidermann, was born in Russia in 1939. He immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s, but moved to West Germany less than 10 years later. According to his wife, the allegations against him are “ridiculous and totally unfounded.” She expressed confidence that “it won’t take long and everybody will recognize that this has been a terrible mistake. My husband has never been a spy.”
The couple have relatives in Israel and own a house in Haifa. They have the status of permanent residents of West Germany, but are not citizens.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.