East Germans Seek to Repair Relations With the Jews
EAST BERLIN — WITH East Germany's first democratically elected parliament in 40 years now in place, the country's new leaders are wasting little time preparing for reunification, and at the same time, trying to correct mistakes under the former Stalinist regime. As one of its first moves in this direction, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, the parliament president, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, made sweeping moves to apologize, not only to Israel, but to Jews the world over, for East Germany's participation in the Third Reich. From now on, she promised, Jewish traditions would be upheld; Jewish monuments, synagogues and cemeteries would be respected.
The official East German news agency reported Monday that East Germany will give $3.65 million to an Israeli foundation that helps ease the psychological and physical torments of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.
In addition, East Germany is eager to have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Dr. Bergmann-Pohl is planning a visit to the Jewish state in the near future.
While the West Germans publicly acknowledged the crimes committed against the Jews in the Nazi era and have made the atrocities a chapter in their history, East Germany has only just begun to take such steps.
Germans were allowed to forget certain aspects of their past history, even though they were not terribly proud moments in the country's past, says Irene Runge, a sociologist at East Berlin's Humboldt University, who is also a spokeswoman for the tiny Jewish community.
``We must now have the capacity to remember,'' she says. ``I know, it's a painful process, but it must begin now.''
As a first move, in cooperation with the Paris branch of the Simon Weisenthal Center, East Germany has permitted a public exhibition of photographs and articles on the Holocaust entitled ``The Courage to Remember,'' to be accompanied by public debate. The show opened this week. It is the first time that a public display of this nature has been mounted in the country.
The exhibit came on the heels of a fracas between youths from East and West Berlin last weekend who clashed over Adolf Hitler's birthday. The police arrested almost 50 people, but they were released the next day.
``The government is trying to set the right tone,'' says Peter Sch"afer, a professor at the Judaic studies department of the Free University in West Berlin. ``But more anti-Semitism is surfacing right now in East Germany, and I think the government will have to decide how it will handle this.''
There are only about 300 Jews officially registered in East Germany, says J"orn Sch"utrumpf, a historian at East Germany's Academy of Science. However, members of the Jewish community claim the figure is considerably higher, possibly as many as 5,000.