East Berlin Jews to Attend Jewish Activities in the West
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East Berlin Jews to Attend Jewish Activities in the West

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Members of the Jewish community of East Berlin will henceforth be permitted to join in the Jewish activities of their counterparts in the West, according to Dr. Peter Kirchner, head of the East German Jewish community.

“There will be an opportunity for people in the Jewish community to participate in cultural events in West Berlin, as well as prayer services,” Kirchner said in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The activities include courses in Hebrew, Yiddish and Jewish history that are offered free at the Jewish Volkshule in West Berlin.

The new opportunities were arranged Wednesday when 30 members of East Germany’s Jewish community spent a day with their West Berlin counterparts, at the invitation of West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper.

At 54, Kirchner was the youngest member of the group that made the trip. The oldest was 92.

The itinerary included not only synagogues, but places where the Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration camps, and other places of significance to the Nazi past, Kirchner said.

Most of the people on the trip were, like himself, from Berlin before the war. “For those people, the history of Berlin was very, very important,” Kirchner said.

Many of them were in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Kirchner himself was hidden from the Nazis with his father.

Their day included having lunch with members of the West Berlin Jewish community at its headquarters, hosted by Dr. Heinz Galinski, head of the West German Jewish community.


Recent political events have now made possible the planned meeting of young Jews to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in West Berlin.

The Jewish youth have been invited by the Jewish Student Union of West Germany. The East German Jewish youth will come from Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden.

“Originally, they were planning about eight delegates, but now there will be about 15 or 16,” he said.

Wednesday, the son of the head of the Jewish Museum in East Berlin spoke about that invitation, in a brief telephone conversation.

He said there were “very, very few” young Jewish people, but admitted that more, previously unaffiliated people were inquiring about joining them.

Kirchner estimates that although there are only 400 Jews officially identified as Jews in East Germany, there are probably 5,000, most who became Communists or are the children of Communists, and did not speak about their Jewish origins. However, that is now changing, he said.

Another outcome of the new opportunities, Kirchner said, is that members of the East Berlin Jewish community will participate Nov. 28-29 in an academic exchange in West Berlin, which will including representatives from Bar Ilan University.

“The subject of the meeting will be the history of the Jews in Germany, and since there are quite a few historians in East Berlin, and also medical specialists, they will probably contribute,” said Kirchner.

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