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Soviet Jewish Immigrants Now Settling in East Germany, with Government Help

May 8, 1990
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About 200 Soviet Jews have recently arrived in East Germany and are settling down under a program organized by the government, according to Irene Runge, a Jewish cultural activist.

Runge is one of the leaders of the Judischer Kulturverein (Jewish Cultural Association), an independent group that was formed during last year’s democratic revolution in East Germany. One of the first public acts of the association was to petition the government to give refuge to Soviet Jews who want to leave their country.

Runge said that the Soviet Jews arrive here with East German visas and live temporarily in government-sponsored reception centers until they find jobs and apartments.

The tiny Jewish community of East Germany, which numbers only about 400 active members, is now squabbling about which organization should take care of and welcome the Soviet Jews.

The official community organization, which regards the cultural association as something of an upstart group, wants to take care of the new arrivals.

But it insists it will deal only with those who are Jewish according to halachah (traditional religious law), as opposed to those who claim to be of “Jewish origin.”

The cultural association, which is open to all those who call themselves Jews, also wants to recruit the new arrivals into its ranks.

Runge noted ironically that one of the first issues to surface in the newly freed Jewish community of East Berlin is who will take care of the Soviet Jews, “most of whom don’t even want to be Jewish.”

In West Berlin, meanwhile, the president of the World Jewish Congress said Monday that American Jewish leaders would seek to raise the quota on the number of Soviet immigrants allowed to enter the United States, if the present rate of emigration continues.

Speaking at a news conference on the occasion of the WJC’s first gathering ever on German soil, Edgar Bronfman said the current 50,000 quota was “very fair” when it was set by the Bush administration, in consultation with Congress, last fall.

At that time, he said, “we were thinking of 100,000 Soviet Jews a year coming out. But if the numbers continue to swell, then there will be a concerted effort by the organized American Jewish community to raise the quota, and I think it will be successful,” he said.

As recently as last week, officials of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society indicated they would seek the same ceiling of 50,000 Soviet refugees for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

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