Jewish renaissance in Berlin
Despite a surge in anti-foreigner attacks, Jewish immigrants say Germany let them rediscover faith.
The bulletin board in a hallway of the Jewish Community Center here looks like it should be hanging in a retirement home in Russia.Skip to next paragraph
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Sweeping Cyrillic letters spell out "We were so young" in Russian, and the faded black-and-white photos show the youthful faces of Red Army soldiers who helped crush Nazi Germany 55 years ago.
Hitler set out to exterminate "Bolshevik Jews" in his bloody campaigns in Eastern Europe. And for Germany's half-million Jewish citizens, the Nazis' genocidal mania meant exile - or death.
For the 15,000 Holocaust survivors who chose to remain in Germany after World War II, a revival of the country's rich Jewish culture seemed unthinkable. Yet it is making a remarkable comeback, thanks largely to the arrival in recent years of tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
While Germany isn't as popular a destination as the United States or Israel, the country's Jewish population now tops 80,000 and continues to grow.
Anti-Semitism has done little to deter immigration to Germany.
Although reports of attacks against foreigners have become an almost daily occurrence this summer - a bomb injured six Jewish immigrants in the west German city of Dsseldorf in July - and conservative representatives in the Hessian state legislature recently made thinly veiled anti-Semitic remarks, most immigrants say that Germany has provided a relatively secure setting for them to build new lives.
"Jewish life today is different than before the war," says Boris Feldmann, editor in chief of the Russian-language weekly Russkii Berlin. "The revival of Jewish life in Berlin is the revival of Russian-speaking Jews."
Among the 12,000 registered members of the Jewish Community of Berlin - Germay's largest and most dynamic such community - there are some 70 Red Army veterans who are spending their remaining years in the country they once fought so bitterly.
A new religious identity
And like many other Jews from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, they are finding their religious identity only now that they are in Germany.
Mr. Feldmann, who emigrated from Riga, Latvia, 10 years ago, visited a synagogue for the first time at age 29.
Before Soviet Communism began crumbling in the late 1980s, Feldmann says, he could have lost his job for openly practicing his faith.
"Those who have come have a different mentality, different traditions. We're also Jews, but we grew up under Soviet rule, where we were unable to practice our religion," he says.
While Jews started emigrating to Germany from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Jewish cultural life in Berlin didn't begin blossoming until after unification 10 years ago.
A highly visible presence
One important factor was that the majestic New Synagogue, located in formerly Communist East Berlin, once again became a highly visible, central locus of Jewish culture in the reunified capital.
Performances, readings, and exhibits by Jewish artists are well attended, and Jewish-run cafes and restaurants in the vicinity are always bustling.