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October 9, 2000

German jews a 'thriving community'

Elizabeth Kurylo is communications coordinator for the Office of International Affairs and the Halle Institute for Global Learning.


Susan Stern has lived in Germany nearly 30 years. And when she tours the United States to talk about Jewish life in Germany today, she knows some people in the audience might be offended.

"I am a Jew who voluntarily lives in Germany. For some people, that is offensive," she told more than 75 Emory undergraduates taking a course on the history of the Holocaust.

Stern visited Emory as a guest of the Halle Institute for Global Learning. In addition to her appearance in Deborah Lipstadt's Holocaust class, Stern gave a public lecture called "Jewish Life in Germany Today: The Present State of Reconciliation." Her lecture, co-sponsored by the Halle Institute and the Institute for Jewish Studies, was part of Emory's Year of Reconciliation.

After World War II, Stern said, about 30,000 Jews stayed in Germany, primarily because they couldn't get a visa to live anywhere else. Most of them were Orthodox Eastern European Jews from Poland, she said. Starting in 1989, an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union began arriving, and today about 100,000 Jews live in Germany.

"There is a thriving Jewish community in Germany today," said Stern, adding that Jews are "special people" there. Even though they represent a miniscule part of the overall German population, Jews get special privileges from the government and are "omnipresent" in the media, she said. For instance, most Germans know who the nation's Jewish leaders are, she said, because they are often quoted in the newspapers and shown on television.

After the war, there was a "veil of silence"; nobody talked about what had happened, not even to their children. But in the 1970s, after a U.S. series on the Holocaust was shown on German television, everything changed.

"All of a sudden, people started talking," said Stern, a professor at the University of Frankfurt. "I had students who came to me in tears. Kids confronted their parents and asked them what they had done during the war. This started a process that has never stopped."

Holocaust education is now taught in German schools, and everybody in the country knows about it, she said.

Germany today is a modern, thriving nation of the industrialized West. But it is not at peace with itself, Stern said. Germans only wave the German flag at sporting events and rarely express national pride. They know the Holocaust is "the most appalling chapter in human history," and they still struggle to deal with it. This is especially difficult for young Germans, she said.

Two forces are changing the Jewish community in Germany. One is the influx of former Soviet Jews, who tend to be secular, younger and well-educated.

The other is the growing influence of American Jews, who are pushing for diversity among Jews in Germany. The established Jewish community in Germany feels threatened by both forces, and they wish the U.S. Jews would mind their own business, Stern said.

The British-born, American-educated Stern came to Emory as a result of a the Halle Institute's faculty trip to Germany in May. Matthias Rossler, minister of education for the German region of Saxony, was also here in September. Both Stern and Rossler met with Emory faculty while they were in Germany.

In addition, Britta Baron, director of the New York office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), visited Emory last month to follow up on President Bill Chace's Germany trip in May.

The DAAD sponsors student exchanges and visiting German faculty and has had a relationship with Emory for more than a decade. Its New York and Bonn offices provided logistical support and advice for the Chace trip. Baron also talked about how the DAAD might help the University to expand and strengthen its German-related programs.


Back to Emory Report Oct. 9, 2000