Here is a listing of a few of the many recent milestones in the ongoing German-Jewish dialogue, as well as memorable exhibits, tidbits and facts that document the vibrant and evolving relationship between German Christians and German Jews in Germany today. Read more background on German-Jewish life in Germany.
Please contact me to suggest a listing. For more recent updates (also of events outside Germany), please visit my Interfaith Dialogue Message Board.
On June 2, 2009, the German Federal Social Affairs Court in Kassel (Bundessozialgericht Kassel) ruled that two Jewish ghetto survivors were entitled to pensions, stating that forced laborers during the Nazi regime were technically “employed,” thus setting the stage for the approval of the estimated 70,000 forced laborers who have filed pension applications so far. Most would be able to claim payments of euro 150 ($213) per month. More info (in German); read also the original court ruling (also in German).Edit
On March 25, 2008, The German-language TV channel BR-alpha (Germany/Austria), broadcast a film on “Judaism Today”, with focus on how Jews in the Diaspora view their relationship to Israel. You can see my take on the topic, shedding light on US Jews and their views on Israel and their Jewish identity in the film as well. Click on the arrow to watch the movie (film is in German).
On March 18, 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (the first premier of any country to be invited to address the Israeli parliament) addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem… in German. Click on the image to the right to listen to a dubbed version of the speech or read the transcript here.
On March 11, 2008, The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF), which was established in 1998 on the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Persson and has 25 member states, opened a secretariat in Berlin, on the premises of the Topography of Terror Foundation. Germany is covering 50 percent of the secretariat’s costs. Projects will include film funding, exhibitions and other dissemination of information, education and ideas. Between 2002-2006, 180 projects have been funded by the ITF.
In February 2008, two synagogues were rebuilt in Germany: The 95-year-old “Alte Synagoge” in Essen, which was destroyed during Kristallnacht, will reopen in 2010. The synagogue has functioned as a memorial since 1980. Another synagogue, the “Liberale Synagoge” in Darmstadt, which was also destroyed during Kristallnacht, will house a memorial; liturgical artifacts and parts of its walls were uncovered during excavation for a new civic clinic. The new “Place of Recollection and Remembrance” will incorporate the ruins and is expected to open on November 7, 2008.
In November 2007, a walled historic cemetery for Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin (and later for Ashkenazi Jews as well) opened to the public in Hamburg/Altona (picture at right); it is from the 17th century and will be proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
A new publicly accessible, interactive digital database and searchable archive of 2000 video and audio accounts by 600 slave-laborers during the Nazi regime was launched in November 2007 and will go live in the fall of 2008. The project called “Stimmen ehemaliger Zwangsarbeiter — Voices of Forced Labor” is a joint effort of the federal “Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (Stiftung “Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft”), the Free University Berlin (FU Berlin) and the German Historical Museum in Berlin. During the Holocaust, 12 million slave laborers were exploited by the Nazi regime. The database will keep their memory alive and explain their ordeals to students. The 600 personal accounts that are included in this German/English-language database were given by survivors now living in 27 countries during the years 2005-2006.
In October 2007, a new permanent exhibit in a newly built center (pictured at left) opened at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp memorial museum, which is founded by the German government and the state of Lower Saxony. The new exhibit gives a detailed history in pictures, manuscripts and topographical descriptions of Bergen-Belsen, in its capacity as POW camp for Russian prisoners (1941-42), as a concentration camp (1943-45), and, after the war (1945-1950), as a Displaced Persons Camp.
“The German government decided [in September 2007] to give a one-time grant to Holocaust survivors who endured forced labor in World War II ghettos,” writes Anshel Pfeffer in Tel Aviv’s Ha’aretz. “Some 30,000 Israeli survivors are expected to receive the grant, amounting to 2,000 euros. “The payment agreed today is not compensation for being interned in ghettos… it’s a humanitarian gesture,” government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a regular government news conference in Berlin. Berlin’s decision applies to some 64,000 ghetto survivors who have not been compensated by German insurance companies for their work during the Holocaust, as was required under a 2002 law. The grant recipients will include former forced laborers who have not yet received payment from the Holocaust Memorial Fund, which was established in order to compensate forced laborers. Germany said applications could be sent immediately to Germany’s Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues (BADV) in Bonn.”
A museum of Nazi crimes — with focus on the perpetrators — opened in 2011 on the former, now vacant site of the NSDAP headquarters (the so-called “Braune Haus”) in Munich (picture at left). The museum is called “Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism.” The cost was shared by the German Federal Government, the city of Munich and the state of Bavaria, and is estimated at around $42.2 million. (Read an op-ed article on the planned museum, published last year in the Forward.)
On August 31, 2007, Germany’s largest synagogue, the “Rykestrasse Synagoge” (in the picture at right) in Berlin’s former eastern part Prenzlauer Berg, reopened after extensive restorations. It had fallen under complete disrepair after suffering damage during Kristallnacht in 1938. The synagogue had not been burned down by the Nazis for fear that nearby buildings would be wrecked as well. The synagogue was built in 1904. Two days later, a new cultural center was formally opened in the western part of Berlin for the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of orthodox Jews. A feature of the center, which cost 5 million euros, is a 30-meter replica of part of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, built with stone from around the city.
Watch a conversation with Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Berlin office, on German-Jewish relations.
On June 8-9, 2007, the Freie Universität Berlin opened its Sternberg Center for Jewish Studies, in partnership with the Visual History Archive at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute. The partnership rendered the Sternberg Center the first institute outside the United States to access the Visual History Archive, the world’s largest of its kind, holding 52,000 testimonies from holocaust survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.
Up until May 2007, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin gathered 1,000 biographies of victims of the Holocaust. The biographies can be viewed in the underground exhibition space, in the “Hall of Names”, and they are also accessible on the web as images and audio files: www.Raum-der-Namen.de. A million visitors have come to the memorial’s exhibit so far, and countless visitors stroll through the memorial above ground. For more on Berlin’s memorial, click here.
Munich’s “Haupt Synagoge Ohel Jakob“ (at right), which also houses a Jewish community center, a school, a museum and a kosher restaurant, opened on November 9, 2006. It was named after a nearby synagogue that Hitler ordered destroyed, years before Kristallnacht. The new synagogue is located near the original site and cost $91 million. Munich’s Jewish community is the second largest in Germany after Berlin. More about the project here.
In September 1006, the first three rabbis were ordained in Germany after the Holocaust (picture at left). Tomas Kucera, Daniel Alter and Malcolm Mattitiani took their vows in Dresden after they completed a five-year course of study at the Abraham Geiger College, which was founded in Berlin in 1999 and is attached to the University of Potsdam. The College is the only university-level training institute for rabbis in Europe. The College will serve all 100 Jewish communities in Germany and beyond and is financed by the German government, the Central Council of Jews and the Leo Baeck Foundation.
On June 7, 2006, Charlotte Knobloch, 73, was named president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Paul Spiegel, her predecessor, passed away on April 30, 2006. In 2010, Dieter Graumann was elected president, who is the first president of the Central Council who is born after World War II.
“Anti-Semitism? Antizionism? Israel Critique?” opened in the atrium of Germany’s Foreign Ministry building in Berlin, shedding a light on when criticism of Israel crosses the border of legitimacy (Aug. 1, 2007). The exhibit — a collaboration with Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Berlin-based Center for Research on Anti-Semitism (Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung) — was designed by Muli ben Sasson.
A new museum in Berlin, the “Silent Heroes Museum“, will tell the stories of Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis. The museum was scheduled to open in 2008 in an old tenement that used to be Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. Weidt provided shelter for Jews, who survived at the workshop hidden in a secret room. About 1,700 Jews survived the war in Berlin, hidden by 20,000 to 30,000 German gentiles. The new museum will be run by the German Resistance Memorial Center.
A survey conducted in February 2007 by the Bertelsmann Foundation shows a slight decrease in anti-Semitic attitudes in Germany. Nevertheless, four out of five Germans no longer believe in a special relationship between Israel and Germany; 30 percent of Germans think Israel is doing to the Palestinians “what the Nazis did to the Jews”; most Germans have negative views of Israel; 12 percent believe Jews were partly to blame for their persecution under the Nazis; one-third agree that “Jews have too much influence in the world”; 10 percent believe that Jews are trying to benefit from their suffering during the Third Reich; and 44 percent hold classic anti-Semitic views. German interest in information about Israel “is middling to weak — but higher than Israeli interest in information about Germany.”
- “When I go to Germany, I go as an American, and return as a Jew.” (Michael Blumenthal)
- “German society and German Jewry are at a crossroads. If [they] primarily define themselves as survivors of the Holocaust or as their descendants, Hitler and his henchmen will have won a late victory: the Jews would be reduced to a community in mourning.[…]A stimulating, ongoing discussion is part of a living relationship, and mandatory in a traumatized one. It is time for Israelites and non-Jews to quarrel and dispute like a congregation in the synagogue. ” (Detlef W. Prinz and Rafael Seligmann)
“Deutsche und Juden” (pdf in German), Bertelsmann Stiftung
Collection of Links on Jewish Life in Germany
compiled by the Fritz Bauer Institut
“Jewish Life in Germany” compiled by the German Embassy in Washington
Focus On: Germany’s Jews Today”
compiled by the United Jewish Agency (UJA) Federation, New York
Not A New Beginning an analysis by Rabbi Walter Rothschild, Berlin, on the State Treaty between the German Government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany
conducted by The American Jewish Committee on German attitudes toward Jews (2002)
an English-language information portal on Jewish life in Berlin, compiled by hagalil.com
Healing the Wounds of WWII—German-Jewish Reconciliation
a program of the “Compassionate Listening Project”
The German and Jewish Intellectual Émigré Collection, University at Albany
“Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies,”
by Susanne Urban, Jewish Political Studies Review, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Fall 2004
Anti-Semitism and Racism in Germany (2002 and 2003)
compiled and analyzed by the Steven Roth Institute, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Speech by Joschka Fischer, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Anti-Defamation League Conference on Global Anti-Semitism (2002)
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Conference on Anti-Semitism held in Vienna, June 2003
Please also visit Netz gegen Nazis (formerly known as Netz gegen Rechts), an online initiative launched by leading German newspapers to alert the public about extreme right-wing activities and dangers. Because “Nobody shall say again that we didn’t know!”