East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow says Jews are “definitely justified” in fearing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in a newly democratic East Germany, as unification with West Germany becomes increasingly imminent.
In a March 5 letter written to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, by an aide to Modrow, the prime minister addressed the same American Jewish concerns over reunification that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had confronted two weeks ago.
According to Hier, however, Modrow’s letter was markedly more “frank,” and reflected a “remarkable difference in views” from that of Kohl.
The letter stated that “fears of a resurgence of the spread of nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism” in the German Democratic Republic are “definitely justified in the light of the formation of a multi-party landscape.”
Specific reference was made to the Republican Party, which has recently been trying to gain a foothold in East Germany. The letter emphasized that the party has been forbidden in the GDR, and that the minister of police has been notified “to take action against any racist manifestations.”
The significance of the letter, says Hier, “is that the East Germans are saying that all of our fears are justified. They have thereby added fuel to our argument that the Holocaust has a right to be discussed in a formal way.”
In early February, Hier had written to Kohl and Modrow requesting formal assurances that in a united Germany a mechanism will be in put in place to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes is not forgotten.
In a somewhat annoyed letter written Feb. 28, Kohl responded that such assurances were unnecessary.
“Kohl’s response to us was ‘Don’t worry, you can rely on us without any special demands or assurances,’ ” said Hier. “At least the East Germans are frank enough to want to discuss it.”
Modrow’s letter addressed the American Jewish perception that East Germans have not been educated about the horrors of the Holocaust.
“Despite the complaints brought against the educational system, students have a remarkable knowledge of the events of the Nazi period, which can be conceptualized with the Holocaust,” the letter said.
But Hier has his reservations. “I never said the East Germans don’t know about the Nazi period,” he said. “What they have is a generalized concept that the fascists were against the Communists. They don’t know about the uniqueness of the Jewish aspects of the Holocaust –about the Final Solution and Wannsee Conference.”
Hier also has his misgivings about East German writers and artists re-educating the public. “The memory of the Holocaust should not be a cultural imperative. That’s not good enough.
“The legacy of the Holocaust in a united Germany should be institutionalized. It should be on the conscience of every German from cradle to grave in a formalized way,” he said.
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.