Shoah Survivors Watch East Germany and Confront Memory of Holocaust
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Shoah Survivors Watch East Germany and Confront Memory of Holocaust

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Jewish survivors of Nazi Europe, who last week viewed scenes of Germans exulting in freedom at the Berlin Wall, are now being forced to once again confront their feelings about the Holocaust, and, most particularly, Germany.

With the Berlin Wall literally crumbling before the television viewers’ eyes, the possibility of a reunification of Germany is touching a still-exposed nerve of many survivors, and in many instances, wounds that have not closed.

While in private several Jews said that “The division of Germany was the best thing that ever happened to it,” others say they are pained by the favorable attention given to the Germans, in contrast with the deaf ear the world turned toward the Jews in the Holocaust.

At the annual dinner of the American Society for Yad Vashem on Sunday, several Holocaust survivors spoke in interviews of their strong desires for retribution.

Paul Shmeltzer, a survivor who lost all his family, said, “I wish they could stay wherever they were. I see them coming in as refugees and I remember they were taking us out to hide, and to kill.”

“I wish we would not live to see that they be united,” said his wife, Susan.

Said Isidore Haliczer, “They’re coming to freedom, and there’s a certain resentment, of course.”

Rae Kushner spoke of her friend, another survivor, who “was crying all night” after seeing Germans suddenly singing “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles.”


The keynote speaker at the dinner was Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “We watch with deep interest what is happening with the two Germanys,” he said. “And while we love so much the democratic process, we view this with somewhat of a chill, and concern.”

The remark prompted applause.

The dinner’s award recipient, David Chase, a survivor who lost everyone but one sister, said privately that he did think about “God forbid, what Germany has done in the past,” but said he also was happy to see German families reunited.

Chase advocated “our optimistic feeling that Germany will never again allow another Hitler, and that human rights will always be respected.”

His sister, Helen Covensky, admitted feeling “deeply envious” that the world cared about the German refugees. But, “I wish those young people well. They are not my enemies.”

Several people spoke of encountering good intentions among the youth of both West and East Germany.

Aviva Kempner, producer of the film “Partisans of Vilna” and also Covensky’s daughter, said, “I trust the young Germans I’ve met.”

Israeli novelist Nava Semel, a child of survivors who has written about the Holocaust, visited both Germanys, once five years ago and again a year-and-a-half ago. she noted a marked improvement in the more recent visit.

Five years ago, she said, “you could hear from the East German side that they were not Nazis, because they were the communists, the anti-fascists.”

But on Semel’s second trip, it was different. “People told us of anti-Semitism in East Germany,” she said.

Also on that trip, she said, “We heard something that was new to our ears, the acknowledgment by East Germans that Israel is the state of Holocaust survivors.”

In Israel, the German drama has been dominating the news. In a television interview Sunday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir admitted it presented “a serious problem” for Israel. “We, the Jewish people, have what to say,” he said, without elaborating.

In a separate TV interview, Vice Premier Shimon Peres refused to be drawn into the question of whether Israel would favor eventual German reunification.


Although many Jews do not feel that a Nazi Germany could be resurrected, there is still widespread concern over the political and economic developments occurring in Germany now.

Many fear a further strengthening of rightwing parties caused by an increased demand for jobs and housing by East German refugees.

Lucy Dawidowicz, author of “The War Against the Jews,” said in a telephone interview, “history is not predictable,” but “Germany is no longer Nazi Germany. There has been a 40-year history of an extraordinary experiment in democratic Germany.”

She added, “If there is a threat to Jewish survival today, it doesn’t come from Germany; it focuses on Israel and the Arab threat to Israel’s existence.”

Dr. Gerhart Riegner, who as secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress during the war tried to warn the Americans of what was happening to the Jews, praised young Germans now.

Riegner, now co-chairman of the Governing Body of the WJC, also suggested that a strong West Germany had to be maintained by the European Community, “so that even if there comes a confederation with East Germany, this cannot upset the balance.”

Norbert Wollheim, an Auschwitz survivor from Berlin, said in a phone interview that he has seen “a lot of young German people who are outraged at the behavior of their parents’ generation.”


Wollheim, who is treasurer of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said, “Any human being should have the right to freedom,” adding that “the euphoria is understandable but not justified. Walls are not foreign to us. Germans were the originators of walls around people.”

From the Bronx, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, who was the first Jewish chaplain to enter Buchenwald, said, “I think that the peace and stability of the world would be better served if Germany were not reunited and built into the kind of power that it was on the eve of the Second World War.”

Ben Meed, president of he American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said, “What is happening now is scary to us survivors, because we are afraid that the united voices could again be the united voices of some revisionists, repeating.”

(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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