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Small East German Community Asks Government to Face Facts

November 10, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

East Germany’s tiny Jewish community is taking courage from the surging demand for reforms sweeping the country, to publicly confront the Communist regime with longstanding concerns of its own.

In a statement released in Dresden on Monday, the Jewish community organization called on East Germany to end 40 years of denying responsibility for the Holocaust, to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is no less prevalent in the East than in the West.

The Dresden statement was released against the background of massive pro-democracy demonstrations the likes of which had never been seen in that southeastern German city.

The change of climate was affirmed by the extensive coverage the East German news media gave to the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Erfurt last week, which would have been unthinkable a short time ago.

Details of the statement were not available here for several days because telephone lines from East Germany were blocked by thousands of refugees fleeing to the West trying to call relatives left behind.

It became clear by Thursday that never before in its history has the East German Jewish community been willing and able to speak in such clear terms on the issues of the Holocaust and ties with Israel.

The Jewish community, which by latest estimates numbers no more than 800, expressed eager support for the reform process now under way in the country.

Its statement stressed, however, that reform should include a reassessment of how the Nazi past has been treated in East Germany.


“Textbooks should be rewritten as soon as possible,” the statement said.

It specified three areas where new or different information should be offered students: German history during the Nazi era; the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime; and the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the early postwar years, when Stalinism prevailed in East Germany.

The statement asserted that “Nazism and anti-Semitism are the heritage of both German states,” and added bluntly that in East Germany, assessing and making amends for the Nazi past has been clearly insufficient.

It charged that “false shame” contributed to playing down such incidents in East Germany, and that the regime must talk openly about manifestations of anti-Semitism and hated of Jews.

The Erfurt cemetery desecration indicated a change in the atmosphere.

The Jewish community urged the authorities to investigate the incident, which had triggered outraged protests from individuals and various groups, including the Protestant clergy.

The official East German news agency ADN reported the vandalism, as did regional newspapers in Thuringia, where it occurred.

Many gravestones were overturned and others were daubed with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans.

Police reported the arrest of a 14-year-old they said was linked to the incident, but added that the investigation was continuing.

A police spokesman admitted that similar occurrences in the past went unmentioned in the news media.

Until quite recently, in fact, the only anti-Semitic incidents reported by the East German media occurred in West Germany, which was portrayed as a hotbed of neo-Nazism.

East Germany has traditionally denied it had anything to do with the past, as atrocities against Jews and others were blamed on “capitalist” and “fascist” West Germany.

East Germany never paid reparations to Jewish victims of Nazism, in contrast to the estimated $43 billion (at today’s exchange rate) made available by West Germany since 1952.

East Germany has long maintained a hostile posture toward Israel. Its controlled press regularly equates Israelis with Nazis.

East Germany trained thousands of Palestine Liberation Organization members in its territory.

PLO chief Yasir Arafat has been a guest of honor at many events in East Berlin. On Oct. 7, he was received by Erich Honecker, then still the East German leader, and stood in the front row when the East German army paraded in East Berlin to mark the country’s 40th anniversary.

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