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Ajcommittee Opens in Berlin to Deepen German-jewish Ties

January 14, 1998
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More than 50 years after the Holocaust, the American Jewish world is coming to Germany.

On Feb. 9, the American Jewish Committee will officially open its office in Berlin — the first German branch of a major American Jewish organization. The office will help facilitate Jewish-German relations, bring American and German Jews closer together and coordinate the AJCommittee’s increased activities in Central and Eastern Europe.

More than 400 guests, including prominent representatives of the German political and academic establishments and Jewish leaders from other Central and Eastern European countries, have signed up to attend the opening festivities in Berlin.

They will be toasted by top-level government officials, including German President Roman Herzog and leaders of German Jewry.

Germany’s foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, is slated to be the keynote speaker at a dinner the AJCommittee is planning to hold at Berlin’s most prestigious new hotel, the Adlon, to celebrate the opening of the office.

The move, which comes after 18 years of visits and exchanges between AJCommittee representatives and German officials, reflects a recognition by the organized American Jewish world that Jewish life here is undergoing a revival.

The steady immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union since the fall of communism has turned German Jewry into one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, fewer than 30,000 Jews lived in Germany. Today, there are nearly 70,000, and the population is expected to rise to more than 100,000 over the next two years.

After World War II, when Jewish life in Germany was relaunched by a small group of Holocaust survivors, mostly displaced from Eastern Europe, Jews around the world questioned the wisdom of such a step. Indeed, Jewish representatives of German Jewish organizations frequently complained of verbal attacks by Jews elsewhere for their decision to live in Germany.

Such attacks have not ended. Last year, during a brief state visit to Germany, Israeli President Ezer Weizman said Jews should no longer live in Germany.

The AJCommittee, however, has changed its tune.

Until a few years ago, the organization’s delegations often came to Germany to meet with leading politicians without informing the local Jewish community. Attempts by American Jewish organizations to establish regular contact with German Jewish groups were often met with mistrust on both sides.

However, relations between American Jewish leaders and top officials of the Jewish community in Germany have been improving in recent years with the ascension of new leaders here.

The head of the German Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, is a wily real estate developer with considerable political and diplomatic skills. He has close contacts to American Jewry and frequently lectures in the United States.

The new head of the Berlin Jewish community, 45-year-old Andreas Nachama, has settled numerous long-running internal disputes within the Berlin community in just six months in office.

“We have a role supporting the development and revival of Jewish communities in Germany,” said Andrew Baker, director of European relations at the AJCommittee’s office in Washington.

According to Baker, the new office will not only help boost the development of the country’s Jewish community, but will play a role defining the next generation of relations between non-Jews and Jews in Germany, a relationship that he believes is still defined by guilt.

This is evident, he said, in discussions in Germany about the inclusion of the Holocaust in issues such as the 1991 Gulf War, and even the extreme fear of unemployment, which many fear could lead to a neo-Nazi political revival.

The director of the new Berlin office, Eugene DuBow, arrived in Germany last summer to start working on programs and build up contacts, devoting a lot of his time developing relationships with German officials.

Among other projects, DuBow hopes to launch a lecture series on American Jewry for both the German Jewish community and for German officials. “There are a lot of distortions and confusion about who we are and what we do,” he said.

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