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Assessing Germany's Postwar Transformation

March 29, 2007 By:
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From left: German consul general Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, American Jewish Committee adviser Eugene DuBow and professor Jeffrey Peck
A panel of experts stated unequivocally last week that Germany, the nation that launched a continent-wide genocidal campaign against the Jewish people, has today become a staunch critic of anti-Semitism, and even more than that, "Israel's best friend in Europe."

These comments, made during a presentation at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Center City, gave rise to the question of just how this transformation came about.

Panelists like Georgetown University professor Jeffrey Peck, German consul general Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth and American Jewish Committee senior adviser Eugene DuBow answered the query by focusing on the changes that have swept the German nation since the Holocaust.

More specifically, the panel -- sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, as well as the German Society of Pennsylvania, the German-American Chamber of Commerce and the Philadelphia Warburg Chapter of the American Council on Germany -- ex-plored how this horrific event worked to shape the creation of a "new Germany."

For example, since the Shoah, Germany has enacted laws making it a crime to deny the Holocaust and to display a swastika.

"Our government really attaches great attention to countering the first signs of what becomes anti-Semitism," explained Heimsoeth. "We know we have to be very attentive."

And, since taking up diplomatic relations with Israel in 1965, Germany has become a strong supporter of Jews globally, added the official. "Germany feels a certain responsibility for the existence of Israel. That's why "Germany unconditionally supports Israel's right to exist" as a "cornerstone of our foreign policy."

DuBow, who founded his organization's Berlin office in 1998, said that Jews have also recognized this strategic relationship.

"Germany is the most important country for our interests, and particularly, for Israel," he told the audience.

But what about Jews living in Germany? Have they been able to piece together any semblance of a Jewish community there?

Some signs, said Peck, the author of a book called Being Jewish in the New Germany, suggest that rebuilding is under way.

Thanks in part to relaxed immigration laws post-reunification, the nation has attracted "literally tens of thousands" of Soviet Jews, stated the scholar.

"Germany today has the third largest Jewish community in Europe, and the fastest-growing in the world," said Peck.

And while other European countries -- like, say, France -- have gained a certain notoriety for Muslim-Jewish hostility, he noted, German citizens have, by and large, emerged unscathed.

Still, the new German Jewish community faces problems: Soviet Jews, the majority of whom are secular, do not mix well with their more observant German counterparts, according to Peck.

Though the Soviet presence has provided a numerical boost, demographic realities cannot be denied. While 500,000 Jews resided in Germany when Hitler seized power in 1933, Peck placed that figure between 100,000 and 200,000 today.

Being Jewish in Germany "is not normalized," he conceded. Though "there's talk about Jewish topics in the public sphere, many Germans have never talked to anybody who's Jewish."

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