German Jews to tap leader from post-Holocaust generation

28th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's Jewish community, thriving thanks to immigration from the former Soviet Union, is to elect Sunday its first post-war leader who is not a survivor of the Holocaust.

Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews, Germany's main Jewish organisation with nearly 110,000 members, is the sole candidate to replace 78-year-old Charlotte Knobloch, who is not standing for re-election.

The vote will take place Sunday afternoon with a news conference scheduled for 1600 GMT.

Born in Israel in 1950 and raised in Frankfurt, Graumann said he would like the council to be "aware of the Holocaust but not fixated" on the Nazis' slaughter of six million European Jews.

"We need to get away from grumbling -- we must not become a community of mourners," he told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in its weekend edition, adding that an aspect of his new job would be to show that it is "fun to be a part" of Germany's Jewish community.

Graumann said the council must evolve to grapple with the breathtaking transformation of the community since Germany threw open its borders to Jews from the ex-Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall 21 years ago.

Before 1933, Germany had one of Europe's strongest Jewish communities with about 600,000 members.

Since 1989, when there were about 30,000 Jews living in Germany, some 220,000 Jews have arrived from the former Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, more Jews were immigrating to Germany than to Israel.

Graumann arrived in Germany at the age of one and a half. His experience of the Nazis' genocidal campaign was limited to his parents' accounts of the concentration camps where they were imprisoned.

"My generation always had the feeling it could not burden its parents too much," he said.

Knobloch has faced criticism for failing to integrate the newcomers, many of whom spoke no German when they arrived and are less observant of Jewish theology, and make the council attractive to its diverse constituency.

The outgoing leader was born just months before Adolf Hitler rose to power in January 1933 and survived the Holocaust in hiding with a Roman Catholic family.

Knobloch, who has led the council since 2006, said she was confident Graumann would keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.

"He did not experience the horrors of National Socialism himself but he grew up with the stories of his parents," she told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

"That is why I do not see this (his election) as a break with the past."

She said she hoped Graumann could motivate the younger generation to become active members of the Jewish community and the German political scene.

"Young people must urgently help shape the political future of their country because they have every reason to treasure this country, to honour this country and even to love this country," Knobloch said.

© 2010 AFP

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