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Board Member of German Fund Fought Ex-employer’s Israel Snub

July 3, 2006
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A new board member of Germany’s fund for slave laborers says the Catholic foundation that he worked for should change its tune on Israel. Martin Salm, 51, outgoing head of the German branch of Caritas International, a worldwide Catholic humanitarian organization, said he had tried to impress the importance of recognizing Israel to colleagues.

In his new position on the board of the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future, he will develop and promote educational and humanitarian programs related to former slave laborers — including in Israel, Eastern and Western Europe and the United States.

Salm said he was looking forward to his new position after 25 years with Caritas.

In the 1960s, when he was a child, “no one ever talked about what had happened during the Nazi regime,” Salm said in a telephone interview with JTA. “So I discovered there was something hidden in the family history, in the lives of my father and grandfathers. And that created in me, personally, I think, a special sensitivity.”

“The challenge,” he said, “is how to keep that alive for today’s youth and the coming generations.”

Salm said he would bring his own convictions with him to his new position and not the views of Caritas, whose parent organization in the Vatican has run campaigns calling for an end to the occupation of the West Bank, without mentioning Israel by name. Caritas fails to include Israel in the list of countries that visitors to the Web site may register as their country of origin.

“I think that is a problem,” Salm said, adding, “As a German and with my specific background I had tough discussions with my counterparts about our historical responsibility, and that there is a specific right of Israel to exist.

“I don’t want to blame anybody with whom I have been working,” Salm said, “but I felt it was not easy to reconcile the different views.”

Attempts to reach Caritas in Rome were unsuccessful.

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