Broadening the picture - beyond America: Germany

by Steve Israel

Surprisingly, the Jewish community of Germany is today the third largest Jewish community in Western Europe - after those in France and Britain - numbering an astonishing 60,000. The term is advised, because this was a community that was considered by Jewish organisations - both Zionist and not - to have no real right of existence or viability in Germany after the Shoah.

The Shoah is, of course, the great watershed in the Jewish story in Germany. A community some twelve hundred years old was destroyed - a community, moreover, that had been numerous (over 500,000) influential, patriotic and well integrated into German society prior to the rise of Nazism. Similar to the situation among British Jews outlined above, the pre-Nazi Jewish community had been moderately interested in Zionism but not, on the whole, to the point of their own aliyah. Interest naturally developed with the rise of Nazism, and the more difficult the Jewish position became under the Nazis, the greater became the enthusiasm for Zionism and Aliyah among German Jews. Many tens of thousands left in the pre-war years, and, had immigration to Mandate Palestine not been so restricted by the British, perhaps the majority of German Jews would have chosen Aliyah.

The tiny post-war community in Germany retained only tenuous links with the pre-war community, which had been almost entirely destroyed or scattered. It consisted of some Jews who emerged from hiding (many of whom had intermarried before the war and were saved by their non-Jewish families), and many thousands of Displaced Persons who found themselves, temporarily, in D.P. camps in Germany. The majority of the latter group left Germany in the post-war years, but a few thousands stayed on and formed a relatively important element within the weak Jewish community.

Zionists were appalled by the presence of Jews in post-war Germany: the very idea of Jews living in the midst of a society that had tried to destroy them was a total anathema to them. Indeed, it was frowned upon by all Jews, but Zionists - whose negative opinion of Diaspora living had been confirmed by the events of the Holocaust - found it impossible to even conceive of such a possibility. Thus, whereas some international Jewish welfare organisations worked among the German Jews, the Zionist movement refused to maintain any representation there. However, after the approval of the reparations agreement of 1952 between Israel and West Germany, it was hard for the Zionist movement to maintain a position advocating no contact with Jews who viewed themselves as part of the "new" Germany, and in 1954 the Zionist Executive recognised the establishment of the Zionist Organisation of Germany.

Some Jews did move to Israel, but as the years went by a new phenomenon began to manifest itself: the move to Germany of thousands of yordim from Israel attracted largely by the new economic prospects offered by the wealthy society developing there.

The latest story of the German community is, however, the influx, in the nineties, of some 30,000 Jews from the lands of the former Soviet Union, who have preferred Germany over Israel as their destination. Some have passed through Israel, but failing to find roots here, have moved on to Germany. Others arrived through West Berlin before Reunification and more recently, they have moved there directly. This new influx of Jews - albeit Jews without a strong Jewish identity on the whole - has rejuvenated the small and declining community and turned it into the fastest growing Diaspora community in the world!

From a Zionist point of view, of course, it is now doubly problematic to accept the existence of a community so largely based on those who in one way or other have turned their backs on Zion.





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30 May 2005 / 21 Iyar 5765 0