Show reveals how hate lingered in East Germany

By Toby Axelrod, September 26, 2008

An exhibition detailing the extent of antisemitism in the former East Germany has opened in East Berlin.

"There was no such thing!" - Antisemitism in the German Democratic Republic is the the product of Erik Thews, 21, and several other students who began researching the subject as part of a high-school assignment. 

Mr Thews and his fellow students were presented with piles of archival documents that their advisor, Konstanze Ameer, obtained.

The exhibit, a project of the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, covers aspects of antisemitism in the Communist state including negative attitudes toward Holocaust reparations, vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, right-wing extremism and the Middle East conflict.

Denying there was antisemitism in East Germany is "nonsensical, absolutely nonsensical", said Salomea Genin, who was born in Germany just before the Nazis came to power, fled with her family to Australia, and later moved to East Germany out of political conviction, a decision she later regretted.

"Most people in the GDR were convinced that all Jews were rich," she said. "They did not even know it was an antisemitic stereotype, because it wasn't discussed. They thought that to be an antisemite you had to be a murderer."

It was GDR support for terrorist groups like Abu Nidal that particularly interested Mr Thews, 21, who was able to retrieve documents from East German archives.

One, reproduced in the exhibit, lists assistance to Palestinian terror group Abu Nidal - under a code name - including political and military training.

According to the Soviet-steered East German doctrine, Palestinians were defined as "freedom-fighters, so you had to support them", Mr Thews said. "But Abu Nidal was a pure murder group."

Konstanze Ameer, a consultant to the project, told the JC that one student said that her parents were unhappy about the research project. "When she told her parents that the GDR had supported terrorists, her mother and her father said: ‘That can't be. What are these people telling you?' She was really confused, because she knew her parents were critical of the regime. She said to them: ‘You told me the GDR was a state that lied and lied and lied. So what is the point? Now you tell me that the adviser at the foundation is a liar.'"

Last updated: 2:48pm, October 16 2008