Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Growing Immigration of Soviet Jews to Germany Becoming a Touchy Issue

January 3, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The delicate issue of Soviet Jews seeking haven in Germany in creating ripples not only in government circles here, but in the world Jewish community as well.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has fought hard to keep the federal government from imposing quotas on the number of Soviet Jews allowed to immigrate here. Its position has been that such restrictions would be unseemly for a country that once tried to rid itself of its Jewish population entirely.

But there appears to be growing sentiment in Jewish communities elsewhere that Soviet Jews should not be directed to Germany, of all countries, especially at a time when tens of thousands are making a historic exodus to Israel en masse.

In Israel, the German Jewish community is being attacked for promoting “neshira.”

The word is Hebrew for dropout and has been applied to Soviet Jewish emigres who choose to settle in countries other than Israel.

A German Jewish community activist, who asked not to be identified, reacted angrily to that charge, which he attributed to two prominent officials of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is responsible for immigration.

The charge is based on a misunderstanding, the activist contended. While the community is actively campaigning to convince the Bonn government to admit any Jew who arrives in Germany, it has no policy of persuading Soviet Jews to come here rather than Israel, he said.

He explained that the community wants only to help Soviet Jews who come here by choice to take care of their basic needs.

In many cases, Jews would have lost their religious identities had it not been for the community’s efforts to help them, he said.

Several German newspapers, meanwhile, have reported that Jewish groups in the United States are critical of their Soviet brethren who choose to immigrate to Germany.


In New York, Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, wrote a letter last week opposing the mass immigration of Jews to Germany.

“For Jewish Holocaust survivors, Jews settling again in Germany cannot but provoke the most profound negative, painful and emotional reaction from us,” the letter said.

“Simply put, we cannot, in good conscience, encourage Jewish emigration to a country which, within our lifetime, was responsible for unparalleled crimes against our people.”

The letter was addressed to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, which Meed urged to endorse his organization’s stance.

On Wednesday, the Executive of WJC’s U.S. branch met in New York to discuss the letter and decided to endorse the policy, according to Evelyn Sommer, its chairman.

Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said the Israeli and Latin American branches of the congress had adopted similar stances and that the worldwide organization would formulate its policy at the upcoming meetings of its Executive in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the debate over how many Soviet Jews Germany should admit continues at the highest government levels here.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl will discuss the touchy subject at a meeting with the prime ministers of unified Germany’s 16 federal states here on Jan. 9, government spokesman Dieter Vogel said Sunday.

According to Vogel, the acceptance or rejection of the newcomers is “in principle” a matter for the individual states to decide.

At least some of the states seem more generously disposed toward the refugees than the federal government.

In Dusseldorf, a minister in the government of the largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said Sunday that Germany should absorb 10,000 Jews a year, with the various states sharing the burden proportionately.


A ceiling of only 1,000 a year was proposed by the federal government in Bonn last month, but it was quietly dropped after the Jewish community expressed its indignation.

On the other hand, Rita Hermanns, a spokeswoman for the Berlin municipality, said Sunday that the city found it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx of Jewish refugees.

She called for a high-level decision to distribute them among all of the federal states.

Vogel said the federal government does not know the exact number of Soviet Jews who have arrived since last summer, when authorities in what was then East Germany announced that any Jew who wished to come was welcome.

The Jewish community estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 Jews took advantage of the invitation.

The office in what was formerly East Berlin that helps Jews get settled reported that 150 to 200 Jews arrive daily seeking assistance.

No Jews have been expelled, but their legal status in Germany has not been settled.

Recommended from JTA