A New German Jewish Community
To the Editor:
In Terence Prittie’s penetrating article “How New Is the ‘New’ Germany?” (June) he also reviews the “Jewish Problem” which continues to haunt the Germans. It is unfortunate that Mr. Prittie, obviously relying on one Jewish source only, does not tell the full story.
About his statement that “official” Jewish policy was reversed in 1949 on the question whether there should be a new Jewish community in Germany, everybody versed in this matter knows that a variety of opinions existed among Jews. Possibly Mr. Prittie is referring to various resolutions of the World Jewish Congress on this matter; but even at the World Jewish Congress plenary session in 1948 at Montreux, where German Jews were represented and which was understandably full of much emotional recrimination against Germany, no decision was taken that Jews should not remain in Germany. Moreover, in April 1950 the World Jewish Congress sent a representative to Germany who helped to consolidate what was left of the Jewish communities.
If we are unable to speak of a new flourishing Jewish community in Germany, this is less because of political resolutions than demographic facts. The microscopic character of the present Jewish community in Germany was recently revealed in a statement by the Central Council of Jews in Germany reminding the German public that a community of nearly 600,000 had dwindled away “to less than 25,000.”
Mr. Prittie’s contention that the average age of the Jews in Germany has decreased from sixty (1950) to forty-six (1955) would seem erroneous. The American Jewish Year Book of 1955 (p. 368), speaking of the Jewish population in Germany, says: “It was estimated that more than half the total population was past 50. Teenagers were a rarity and no more than 2,500 could be found in the 20 to 30 age group, while those who had passed their sixtieth birthday exceeded 7,000.”’
It is true that the birth rate among Jews was high in the postwar period, especially in the DP camps. Yet it should not be overlooked that the approximately 10,000 DP’s who chose to remain in Germany are in many respects hard-core cases, among them more than 2,000 who need institutional care.
Under these circumstances I believe it is unrealistic to speak, as Mr. Prittie does, of a reconsolidation of a German Jewish community. The 23,000 Jews who remained in Germany are evenly divided between German Jews and former DP’s. Of the German Jews, many have married non-Jews and their children are being educated in the religion of the non-Jewish spouse. Some German politicians of Jewish descent do not belong to the Jewish community at all.
Another, not less important factor is the inability of many Jews living in small German cities to practice and express their Jewishness. The Joint Distribution Committee in Munich showed me a list detailing the distribution of their funds, and I found to my astonishment that there were only one to three Jewish families resident in some 150 German cities. Other cities, like Augsburg, have a community of twenty souls. How is a consolidation possible under such circumstances?
There are different figures as to the circulation of the Juedische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung. In contrast to Terence Prittie’s 70,000, Der Leitfaden, the recognized handbook of the German press, listed the Juedische Allgemeine in 1951 with a circulation of 4,000; in 1953, with 26,000, and the official Bulletin of the German Press mentioned only 48,000 last year. . . .
The Jewish community in Germany has also decreased by emigration and natural causes, notwithstanding the fact that a few hundred or even a few thousand Jews visit West Germany yearly in connection with their restitution and indemnification claims. Even this number decreases annually with the death of elderly German Jews.
I cannot see any sense in fostering illusions about the existence of a flourishing new Jewish community in Germany. Not that I would be opposed to it; but we should be realistic in recognizing that Hitler and his cohorts were thorough and made the rebirth of a Jewish community in Germany impossible.
Kurt R. Grossman
Kew Gardens, New York
Mr. Prittie writes:
The points raised by Mr. Grossman in connection with my article “How New Is the ‘New’ Germany?” are interesting and require detailed answer. Mr. Grossman has, however, prefaced them by remarking that I have “obviously” relied on one source alone for my information. This is not correct. The two most “obvious” sources of information in Germany, of course, are the Jewish Central Council and the Jewish weekly, the Allgemeine. The Joint Distribution Committee has also had representatives in Germany and there are private German citizens who are Jews. I have not, therefore, relied on a single source.
The world Jewish press will, if consulted, indicate most clearly that Jewish policy up to 1949 was to evacuate the Jews still left in Germany. No official decision to this effect was framed at the World Jewish Congress in Montreux in 1948, but this must be ascribed to tactical reasons. In 1950 the Congress sent Dr. Jacoby to Germany to study the problems of Jews still there. His extensive study of them led to recommendations that the Jewish communities in Germany should be refounded and consolidated.
Mr. Grossman’s figure of “less than 25,000” members left in the Jewish communities in Germany is close to the mark. It could be just over, or just under 25,000. But there are around 11,000 other Jews—mainly of German origin—at present in Germany who do not belong to the Jewish communities. It must be regarded as likely that many of them will join the Jewish communities as confidence in Germany’s political future grows.
The Jewish Allgemeine believes that latest statistics give an average age in the Jewish communities of around forty-six. The American Jewish Year Book produced only estimates but even these indicated pretty clearly that the average age had dropped well below sixty—since only 7,000 out of 25,000 Jews in Germany were over that age.
The birth rate in the Jewish communities is fairly constant and has not, as Mr. Grossman suggests, dropped since the first postwar years. Mr. Grossman’s figure of 2,000 needing institutional care is probably too high. The Jewish Allgemeine has given me a figure of 600-700 only. This excludes the 1,200 still in Foehrenwald camp, who do not belong to the communities. There are undoubtedly more German Jews than former Jewish DP’s of other nationalities now living in Germany.
The question of mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews cannot be as easily resolved as Mr. Grossman claims. Members of the Jewish communities claim the opposite to Mr. Grossman: that such marriages are leading to most of the children being brought up in the Jewish faith.
Naturally some Jews are living virtually isolated in German villages and small towns. There is nothing new about this. Jewish communities cannot be organized for these people. The fact is that there are thriving communities in Berlin, Frankfort, and Munich, and plenty of others with more than 500 members.
The figure of 70,000 circulation of the Allgemeine is a misprint and I am glad that Mr. Grossman has drawn attention to it. It is not claimed by the paper itself, whose statistics show that the Federal Government Bulletin’s figure of 48,000 is correct. The 1953 figure of 26,000 given by Mr. Grossman related only to regular subscribers in Gemany, and not to over-all sales.
Certainly, my article was not intended to create the impression that a tremendous development of the Jewish communities in Germany was under way or that their “reconsolidation” was in any way final and secure. I intended instead to give what I believe is the true picture—of steady progress and of a tough struggle to rebuild what had been destroyed. I should therefore doubt very much whether Mr. Grossman is right when he says that “Hitler and his cohorts were thorough and made the rebirth of a Jewish community in Germany impossible.” On the contrary, I think that such a rebirth—although slow and painful—has at least begun and has a fair chance of being carried through to a successful conclusion.