Germany, Jewish Leaders Sign Accord

Berlin, Jan. 27--(AP) Germany's government and its fast-growing Jewish community marked the 58th anniversary of the Auschwitz death camp's liberation Monday with an accord putting the community on a legal par with Germany's main Christian churches.



Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the head of the Central Council of Jews said the agreement should also underpin the fight against anti-Semitism and racism in modern Germany that Jewish leaders fear is becoming bolder. "This is a truly historic day for Jews in Germany," Paul Spiegel, the head of the Central Council of Jews, said at the signing ceremony. "No one, but no one, would have believed in 1945 that there could ever be Jewish life in Germany again."

"Today, we are even tempted to speak of a coming renaissance of Jewry in Germany. No one could have imagined that a few years ago," he added.

Germany's once-strong Jewish community of 500,000 was decimated in the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were murdered. From some 15,000 Jews living in Germany after World War II, the community grew to 30,000 a decade ago, but has since swelled to 100,000 with Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The agreement recognizes the growing importance of Jewish life and triples the Jewish council's annual government funding to $3.2 million. It also establishes the first legal partnership between the Jewish community and the government since the war, in the spirit of similar agreements with the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches under which the state finances the costs of schools and other institutions.

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The additional resources will help the community train more rabbis and introduce Jewish rites to immigrants who grew up under communism without a religious education. The government is supporting the Central Council's efforts to integrate those newcomers into German society, also with the aim of combating anti-Semitism and far-right violence.

Schroeder said that signing the accord on the Auschwitz anniversary underlined the importance of the civil rights and religious freedoms written into the constitution of democratic Germany. "Remembering the Holocaust is thus bound up with a declaration in favor of a good and secure future for Jews in Germany," Schroeder said.

Jewish leaders complain that, while regular violent attacks by neo-Nazis and skinheads on Jews and immigrants are roundly condemned by mainstream politicians, latent anti-Semitism and resentment against foreigners remains widespread. "Germany is without doubt a stable democracy," Spiegel said. "But this society unfortunately doesn't understand that ... for the sake of its own dignity, it cannot allow this kind of inhumanity to grow in its midst."

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The Associated Press
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