Soviet Jews Emigrate to Germany
MICHAEL YARMOLINSKI picks up a thick, worn, oversized book and proudly shows it to his visitor. It is the book of Exodus, in Hebrew, and tucked inside is a yellowed receipt which states that the book belonged to his grandfather, a rabbi. The grandson has brought it all the way from the Soviet Ukraine to Berlin, where he and his family hope to start a new life.In his limited German, Mr. Yarmolinski explains that his grandfather was shot by "the fascists" during World War II. His mother is a concentration camp survivor. Now he, ironically, wants to live in the country that caused this deep sorrow. "My great grandfather lived in Berlin. My grandfather lived in Berlin. I know that Israel is the Jewish land, but I'm a person from Europe," he says. At least 16,000 Soviet Jews are considering emigrating to Germany. That, at least, was the number of visa applications given out by German diplomats in the Soviet Union by mid-April, after which the Germans stopped counting. So far, 12,000 applications have been filled out. This trend, however, puts Bonn in a difficult position. Israel wants no Soviet Jews in Germany. "Our policy ... is, that Jews should go to Israel," says Aviv Shir-On, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Bonn. While Bonn wants to maintain good relations with Tel Aviv, it does not, for obvious historical reasons, want to be seen rejecting Jews. The Germans "respect and acknowledge" the Israeli position, says a government official in Bonn, but "we have to accept these people. If they decide they want to come here, it's their decision." If the wave of would-be immigrants grows too large, it's possible that Bonn will enforce a quota - which the Jewish community here strongly opposes.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Jews allowed to stay Jewish immigration became a politically hot issue last year when about 5,000 Soviet Jews came to Germany under visitor status and demanded to stay. The Germans already felt overrun by refugees and asylum seekers, but in the end, the Jews were granted residency. The situation led to the present process of applying through the German embassy and consulates in the Soviet Union. This takes months and has, in effect, slowed the flow of immigrants. Bonn, meanwhile, has a trickier problem on its hands, which has yet to be resolved. In January, 269 Soviet Jews in Israel fled to Berlin out of fear of the Gulf war. They do not want to return, but Israel insists they be deported because they already have Israeli papers. The German Interior Ministry backs this position, but Berlin city officials refuse to deport them. Instead, the city has granted the Jews an extra six-months' stay. Claus Rosenkranz, attorney for the 269, is astounded by the complete "lack of moral sensitivity" in the case. "We have a moral obligation to them based on history." As Germans, he says, "maybe we can find some joy in the fact that Jews trust [our] postwar democracy." Soviet Jews are drawn to Germany by the prosperous economy, friends and relatives, and because they want to get away from rising anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Yarmolinski, an engineer, says he was unjustly accused of financial fraud at his workplace in the western Ukraine. "In front of everyone, my boss said to my face: 'You Jew, you are guilty, Yarmolinski recalls. Galina Corodezkaya, 20, who arrived in west Berlin in December, says she is counting on an uncle here to help her and her husband find jobs. Germany's dark history never entered her mind as a factor in the move. m too young to remember," she says. But her friend, Larisa Vjatcheslav, 30, was frightened by a German television report on rising neo-Naziism in eastern Germany. "As soon as I saw it, I wanted to go back home."
Jewish refugee camp For that reason, a large refugee camp for Jewish newcomers on the outskirts of east Berlin is under 24-hour guard. There have been isolated cases of people being beaten, a few burglaries, and threats, says Ingeborg Baier, who runs the complex. Ms. Baier, who speaks Russian, recently received a postcard addressed to her as "the Russian maid." It said: "Jews out, Russians out, asylum seekers out. Hang the Red servants!" There are about 300 Soviet Jews at the complex, and while Baier is disturbed by signs of anti-Semitism, she is much more encouraged by the surrounding community's desire to help, and by the Jews' motivation to integrate quickly. Most of the youngsters are in German schools. The adults, professionals in their 30s and 40s, are taking German classes and undergoing job retraining where necessary. "I have no concern at all that the Jews that come here won't be able to integrate," she says.