German chaos exaggerated, say Jews from U.S.

February 13, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- A delegation of young Jewish Americans from B'nai B'rith leaves Germany today after finding the neo-Nazi chaos they expected exaggerated, the small Jewish community surprisingly vital and the chief of staff of the German army fascinating.

They come away from a "snapshot" fact-finding mission of five days cautiously positive about German democracy, but stressing the need for continued vigilance.

"The reports of chaos in Germany are greatly exaggerated," said Steve Gutow, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "The assumption of xenophobia taking over the land, I just don't think it's true."

Mr. Gutow said the Germans whom the group met, officially and independently, were "universally opposed to activities of the skinheads."

The government has worked as well as anywhere in containing violence, he said.

"If you look at L.A. in our own country," he said, "there's nothing here that looks that awful."

Mr. Gutow was one of 11 people, nine men and two women, on the B'Nai B'rith trip. All were public officials or politically active individuals.

And all were born after the Holocaust, as their leader, Daniel S. Mariaschin, director of international, governmental and Israel affairs for B'nai B'rith, pointed out.

They were invited by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a kind of intellectual arm of the conservative Christian Democratic movement. The Adenauer foundation and B'nai B'rith have had an exchange program since 1989.

B'nai B'rith is the largest Jewish service organization in the world. Before the Nazi era, B'nai B'rith had 104 lodges in Germany with 25,000 members. There are nine now with 1,000 members.

The B'nai B'rith group from the United States arrived last Sunday for a packed schedule that included meetings with national and state government officials, political leaders, Jewish community members and east German youths in a cafe, as well as visits to the former Buchenwald concentration camp and to a hostel housing new Russian immigrants.

"I was really taken by the Jewish community here in Germany and its vitality," Mr. Gutow said. "As small as it is, it has a real sense of itself, a real sense of character."

About 60,000 Jewish people now live in Germany. In 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, the Jewish population numbered from 500,000 to 600,000.

Several members of the group were struck by the historical irony of a Jewish delegation's meeting with the chief of staff of the German army, once a symbol of German militarism and the instrument of Nazi aggression.

They found Gen. Klaus Naumann, the chief of staff, an attractive figure.

"Naumann told us he was in the States and he came back for the candlelight march against right-wing xenophobia," said Ms. Patack.

"He thought it was important for the chief of staff to publicly show where his sentiments lie."

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