Jewish leader warns of danger but says Nazi era won't return

December 22, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Ignatz Bubis, the leader of the German Jewish community, will bring a "more or less" hopeful message today to a World Jewish Congress meeting in New York called to discuss what can be done to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe.

"I will tell them as it is," said Mr. Bubis, a successful Frankfurt real estate investor and developer who survived the Nazi work camps.

"There is a danger here," he said, during a phone conversation.

"But it is not like [what] is sometimes shown during 15 minutes [on television] that the whole country here is burning. It is not like this. . . .

"This is not to be compared with 1933 [the year Hitler and the Nazis took power]," he said. "It's another generation. It's another situation. You can in no way compare them."

He doesn't believe the Nazi era can be repeated.

"I believe in German democracy," he said.

Mr. Bubis will be the guest of honor and main speaker today at the meeting in New York of a coalition of 64 U.S. Jewish groups led by the World Jewish Congress.

He became the chief spokesman for German Jews after the death in August of Heinz Galinski, who had led the community virtually since the end of World War II.

Mr. Bubis, 65, was born in Breslau, a city in the Silesian region of Germany that was ceded to Poland after the war and is now called Wroclaw. His family fled to Poland with the rise of Hitler, but was caught by the Nazi invasion in 1939.

His father died in the Treblinka death camp and his brother and sister vanished in the chaos of the war. He survived the work camps and a postwar series of displaced-person camps. He returned to Germany after 1945.

"I don't understand this rise in violence," he said. He is not personally afraid. He went to Rostock, where the wave of violence began in August. He upbraided a city official who suggested Israel, not Germany, was "really" his homeland.

"I am not hesitating," he said, when confronted with what he sees as anti-Semitism.

He said anti-Semitism in Germany is not declining.

"There is no doubt an open anti-Semitism here," he said, "which also didn't grow up in the last years. It only became more open."

He gets "many" anti-Semitic letters. But many people now sign their names. "The really bad ones still are coming without names," he said. He never answers them.

Mr. Bubis said he won't bring any recommendations to the WJC meeting. "For the time being I don't see special needs," he said, when asked if there was something Jewish organizations outside Germany should do.

"But we have to watch the situation. I can't say what I will do tomorrow. I am not a prophet."

He opposes the commercial and tourist boycott of Germany reportedly proposed by some groups.

"It will not be helpful," he said.

He thinks a proposal that Jews arm themselves, made by the German-Jewish author Ralph Giordano, is "impossible."

"I am very strong against this," he said. "We have a legal government. It is the obligation of the government to support the citizens."

He called the idea that armed extremists should come from Israel to hunt down neo-Nazis "stupid."

But he agreed with critics who say that the government, in fact, has been slow in protecting its citizens.

"Government started very, very slowly, yes, no doubt," he said. "The government started only in the last few weeks to be stronger against these people."

"But now it's really becoming more strong," he added.

He said that judges especially should be tougher on violence.

"We don't need changes of the law," he said. "But the penalties should be stronger."

He was encouraged by recent mass demonstrations against xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.

"They are different signs that the public is reacting positively," he said.

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