The destruction of the gravestone of one of German Jewry’s most prominent postwar leaders has triggered a discussion in Germany on the security of Jewish institutions and the spread of right-wing extremism.
The director of the city’s department of the interior, Eckart Werthebach, said the bomb that destroyed the tombstone of Heinz Galinski over the weekend was hidden in the lid of a bottle of gas. The explosion was so strong that pieces of metal were found in a wide circumference around the grave, which is in one of Berlin’s five Jewish cemeteries.
Werthebach said the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin this past year increased significantly, but did not give any statistics.
Galinski, who died in 1992, was one of the most prominent Jews in Germany after World War II. The survivor of three Nazi concentration camps — Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen — Galinski led the Berlin Jewish community for 43 years. He also headed the Central Council of Jews in Germany from 1988 until his death.
“Galinski is a symbol,” said Ignatz Bubis, Galinski’s successor. “I consider this an attack on the Jewish community in Germany and on me personally.”
Bubis said he is “certain that it is an attack by the right wing, which wants the Jews to get out of Germany.”
But Bubis rejected assertions that the attack on Galinski’s grave marks a dramatic increase in anti-Semitism. He said Jewish cemetery desecrations have unfortunately become part of everyday life in Germany and called for better security measures.
Authorities said Galinski’s grave is patrolled hourly. The unknown assailants possibly gained access to the grave from an adjacent military cemetery by scaling a barbed wire fence.
The Berlin police president met Monday with a representative from the local Jewish community to review security at the city’s Jewish institutions. Most synagogues, Jewish community centers and cemeteries in Germany are patrolled by German police.
Police authorities in Berlin said they had no leads on the crime.
Police said they are investigating possible parallels between this attack and other Jewish cemetery desecrations in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany. A previous attempt to damage Galinski’s grave in September caused only minor damage.
In 1997, there were 40 Jewish cemetery desecrations in Germany, compared to 26 in 1996 and 40 in 1995. The number of anti-Semitic incidents — largely acts of propaganda — in Germany in 1997, increased slightly, compared with 1996, after several years of decreasing numbers.
The head of the Berlin Jewish community, Andreas Nachama, said the Galinski gravestone will be replaced as soon as possible, perhaps within two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, there was considerable criticism of German President Roman Herzog and Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen for comments that the cemetery attack was the work of confused loners.
This description of the assailants “is an attempt to show that such an attack has nothing to do with the society at large. It blends out the environment in which such attacks take place,” said Wilhelm Heitmeyer, a professor at the University of Bielefeld who is a leading expert on right-wing extremism.
In his research, Heitmeyer has demonstrated that extremists justify their actions by their belief that they are acting in the name of a silent majority.
Heitmeyer says more public debate about ways in which to mark the legacy of the Nazi past is needed, especially among younger generations.
One intellectual who has recently participated in such a debate, novelist Martin Walser, angrily rejected theories that his lengthy public discussion with Bubis regarding preserving the memory of the Holocaust laid the ground for the most recent cemetery desecration.
Bubis also said he did not see a link between the cemetery desecration and the heated discussion of recent weeks on Holocaust memory and a Holocaust monument, noting that the first attack on Galinski’s grave preceded the debate.
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.