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Published: Sunday, 6/15/2003

Fresh start for German Jews

Six decades ago, the Nazi Holocaust decimated the German Jewish community of 500,000 even as it led to the murders of 6 million Jews across Europe.

Today, German's Jewish community has grown from 15,000 after World War II, to 30,000 a decade ago, to 100,000 thanks to an infusion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. And in part in recognition of that fact, the German parliament, in a landmark agreement, put Germany's Jewish community on a legal par with the nation's predominant Christian churches.

Recent parliamentary approval of a pact signed in January by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Jewish leader Paul Spiegel - on the 58th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp - is expected to be quickly seconded by the upper house.

The first legal partnership between Germany's Jewish community and the federal government since World War II, it resembles agreements with Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches for whom the state finances school costs. It seals the commitment by tripling to $3.5 million the money the government gives to the Central Council of Jews.

Plans are to use some of the cash to train more rabbis and to expose the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who missed out on a Jewish education on the rituals of their religious heritage.

This marks a formidable turnaround for a country still remembered primarily for the terror and genocide to which many of those who were not victims at least acquiesced, if they were not indeed among the perpetrators.

Normalization will not be complete as long as people remember the horrors of the past, and who ever can afford to forget them? But moves that solidify and protect a Jewish presence in German society must be cheered and encouraged.

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