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Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the opening of the “Russians Jews Germans” exhibition in Budapest

05.03.2013 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Minister of State Németh,
Ms Ziehe,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me tell you that I am very glad to be here to open the “Russians Jews Germans” exhibition. We are all very grateful that it has been made possible, at the invitation of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and helped by funds from the German Foreign Office. The idea here is to shine a light onto Jewish immigrants in Germany and Jewish life in Hungary.

This exhibition, put together by the Jewish Museum Berlin, focuses on the people who came to Germany as Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The background to their move is a unique piece of history.

In the 1980s, the GDR had only eight small Jewish communities, with no more than 400 members. While the GDR state provided them with financial support, it did not consider itself in any way responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust. It saw itself as anti-fascist and claimed that the perpetrators all lived in West Germany. This eventually began to change shortly before the GDR dictatorship fell, as the country’s Jewish citizens were to be used to bring about better relations with the United States in view of the plight of the collapsing GDR economy.

Then, in July 1990, the GDR’s first freely elected People’s Chamber took a historic step. The GDR Government led by Lothar de Maizière authorized the immigration of Jewish citizens from the Soviet Union. In the last days of the GDR’s existence as a sovereign state, about 2600 Soviet Jews came to Germany.

That was the beginning of a huge wave of emigration from the Soviet Union, which itself soon ceased to exist and gave its Jewish citizens that freedom. They came hoping for a better life and better prospects of an education for their children.

The Federal Republic of Germany was clever enough to take all these immigrants of Jewish origin in. More than 200,000 Jews have moved to Germany since 1990, with around half of them becoming part of the established Jewish communities.

Immigration completely changed Jewish life in Germany and constitutes a huge boon for our country. The Jewish communities integrated the large numbers of newcomers truly admirably. In fact, we could really say they practised exemplary integration. It certainly wasn’t easy. The community in Augsburg for example went from 199 members to 1500, while numbers in Wuppertal rose from 82 to 2266.

Most of those immigrating spoke no German and had no access to the Jewish religion or Jewish traditions, and many could not get their qualifications recognized, which made the start of their new lives difficult.

The fact that we can rejoice in flourishing Jewish life in Germany today is due in great part to Jewish people. We can see them in the pictures exhibited here. Germany now has Jewish schools again, as well as Jewish institutes of academic education, rabbinical seminaries, hospitals, synagogues, community centres and much more besides. The younger generation coming of age now have no language problems; they are Germans and do not think twice about considering Germany their home.

It is Germany’s good fortune that this has been possible after the Shoah, and we are grateful for it. This very fact is a constant reminder for us to protect that Jewish life from anti-Semites and right-wing extremists. Germany is a tolerant and cosmopolitan country with a cosmopolitan and pluralist society. We protect Jewish life, and we want Jewish people to feel safe and at home in Germany – wherever they were born.

Thank you.

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