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21 Aug, 2007 02:55

Jews in Germany: Hoping history won't repeat itself

Germany's participation in the recent “Erna” games in Estonia has raised eyebrows about the country's relationship to its Nazi past. The games pay homage to Estonian soldiers who were on a saboteur mission for German intelligence in 1941.

At first glance, it seems almost unimaginable that the fastest-growing Jewish community today in Europe resides in Germany. But some 100,000 Jews have made it their home – as many as nine in ten hailing from the former Soviet Union.

Their identity, though, is a difficult one, forged between making a better life for themselves and coming to terms with Germany's checkered history.

Renowned photographer, Grigory Maniuk, is exhibiting a series of photographs entitled “A Foreigner in a Strange City”. Maniuk was drawn to the subject as a Jewish immigrant to Berlin from Moscow. The reality he reflects in his work is the reality he feels in his life.

“I don't feel at home in Germany. When I live here I feel secure with the present, but insecure with the past. I feel like I'm a traitor to my people. I am reminded the whole time that I am a Jew and I don't belong here,” Grigory Maniuk believes.

Across Germany memorials have been turned into educational sites in an effort to address the past.

You don't need to drive more than forty minutes from the centre of Berlin to be reminded of the fate of the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and Russian prisoners-of-war. Sachsenhausen labour camp is one of such places, where an estimated 100,000 people died.

On April 22, 1945, the Sachsenhausen labour camp was liberated by the Red Army. Since then the clock over the entrance's watch-tower has stood still.

Film-maker Rosemarie Reed was drawn to the subject and says memorials like this one are important because they keep history alive.

“I think something like this could happen again. If you look at Japan, many are not taught about what happened in Pearl Harbour. The French do the same – can't talk about colonisation. Can't talk about the Holocaust in England because Iranians don't like it. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” Rosemarie Reed notes.

It would be naive to assume that anti-Semitism has been buried forever. Rabbi Itzchak Ehrenberg of Berlin says he feels safe walking the streets but can't ignore the undercurrent of anti-Semitism.

“To be a Jew in Germany, maybe it's perverted, but it's better than to be a Jew in Belgium or France. I can't say that the Germans hate us less than the French. A friend of my doctor's described, when patients came to her, and they didn't know she was Jewish, how they spoke about the Jews. Yes, the hate is there but it's hidden,” Rabbi Itzchak Ehrenberg says.

Last week, the German Defence Ministry sent an official team to the “Erna” games in Estonia. “Erna” was the name of an Estonian SS battalion that fought alongside the Germans against the Red Army in WW2.

Rabbi Ehrenberg and his community are unhappy that Germany has participated in the games, which some feel could be a glorification of fascism. He prays that history won't repeat itself.