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Jews in Germany proof of reconciliation

Published on 27/01/2004

27 January 2004

BERLIN – Germany’s fast-growing Jewish community is the best illustration of post-war reconciliation, the president of Berlin’s parliament said Tuesday in an annual speech of atonement for the Holocaust.

“A special proof is that Jews are again living in Germany,” said Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse in a speech to parliament’s lower chamber on the anniversary of the 27 January 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Red Army.

The number of Jews living in Germany has increased to over 100,000 from about 30,000 in 1990, the year of German reunification.

The Jewish influx has been fuelled by Berlin’s decision to allow Jews from the former East Bloc to settle in Germany – a move criticized by some Israelis.

Thierse noted that Germany now had the third biggest Jewish population in Europe.

But his sombre speech mainly underlined the monstrosity of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered.

“The Holocaust was a European catastrophe, conceived and carried out by the Germans,” said Thierse, adding that in a certain sense it was the most defining event of the 20th century in Europe.

Thierse said a big lesson of the Holocaust was that Europe’s values and traditions could not be taken for granted.

This was why the real task of the European Union was to forge European peace and a community of values, he said.

In a keynote address to the German parliament, Holocaust survivor Simone Veil also underlined the role of the EU in securing peace in post-war Europe.

“For the first time in history Europe has been unified without the use of force,” said Veil, a French politician who served as president of the European Parliament.

Veil, who survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps where she lost her mother and a sister, noted the sharp change in public attitudes to the Holocaust over the past 59 years.

She described her liberation by British troops from Bergen-Belsen but noted “we could not be happy … we had the feeling as if we had lost our humanity.”

“We had no parents … and nobody wanted to hear our story,” she said, adding: “We were not supposed to survive and survivors were supposed to keep silent.”

Veil said this view had been radically revised in past decades with Auschwitz becoming a universal symbol of evil.

But she warned the mood surrounding the Holocaust may have swung too far in the opposite direction.

“Not every massacre is genocide,” said Veil. “The Shoah is in danger of banalised.”

Veil expressed deep concern over rising anti-Semitism in France linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is a cancer,” she said. “The situation in the Middle East or material insecurity must never be an excuse.”

Any flaring up of anti-Semitism showed a crisis of democracy, said Veil who called on European political leaders to fight the trend.

Veil, who was 17 when she was deported to Auschwitz, had a simple message for young people in Europe: “Don’t forget the past.”

Subject: German news