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[X-Post H-German <H-GERMAN@H-NET.MSU.EDU>] From: "Granata, Cora" <cgranata@Exchange.FULLERTON.EDU> Subject: ConfRPT: Between Accommodation and Opposition (GSA 2004) Date: 8 November 2004 Conference Report, German Studies Association Annual Conference, 2004 Session 131. Between Accommodation and Opposition: The SED and East German Jews Moderator: Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina/Zentrum fuer Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam "Ethnic Identity and Cold War Politics in the GDR" Cora A. Granata, California State University, Fullerton "East German Jewry and Political Patronage in the Early GDR" Jay Howard Geller, University of Tulsa "The Return and Rebuilding of Jewish Sites in Potsdam and East Berlin" Michael L. Meng, University of North Carolina Commentator: Jeffrey Peck, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies Konrad Jarausch opened this lively, well-attended panel by situating the three papers in the context of recent polarized public historical debates in Germany that have labeled the GDR as a fundamentally anti-Semitic state. He noted that some scholars of Jews in the GDR, including the three panelists, have begun to offer a more nuanced picture by emphasizing contradictory patterns of tolerance and repression. Cora A. Granata's paper analyzed the relationship between Cold War culture and ethnic identity by focusing on two East German minorities--Jews and Sorbs. Using a comparative approach, Granata argued for a complex model of identity formation, one that factors in both foreign policy developments and grassroots agency. Looking at the GDR's final decade, the paper examined how the SED changed its posture toward Jews and Sorbs within the shifting politics of the Cold War. Most historical studies of Jews in the GDR have focused on the regime's early years, when the SED marginalized Jewish culture. Comparing the SED's 1980s stance toward Jews with its relationship toward Sorbs illuminates the larger context of Cold War culture that helped shape the construction of nationalism and minority identities in the GDR. In its first three decades, the SED generally viewed Jewish culture with suspicion, conflating Jewishness with the capitalist West. At the same time, linking Sorb culture with the Slavic East, the party celebrated Sorb culture as a way to display its anti-fascist credentials and nurture ties with Warsaw Pact allies. In the GDR's final decade, as SED officials saw the future legitimacy of the state to be tied to the West, they attempted to celebrate Jewish culture. Becoming concerned about the growth of glasnost and political unrest in neighboring Eastern Bloc countries, the SED conversely began to view Sorbs and their cultural connections with Slavic neighbors in the East with suspicion. This transition in SED policy had significant grassroots impact. Younger East German Jews in the 1980s found new opportunities to cultivate their minority identity in the public sphere. In contrast, after having been told for years by the state that Sorb culture would develop ties of friendship with the Slavic East, Sorb students did just that, only to get mixed up with the "wrong" Slavic crowd by expressing an interest in Polish Solidarity. While recognizing the SED's oppression of minorities, Granata's paper examined moments when the SED actively promoted minority cultures. Yet even in these cases, the SED's efforts backfired. The cultural images the state promoted often had little salience for members of the minority communities themselves. And by singling out minority groups as culturally distinct from the rest of the population, these policies encouraged everyday GDR citizens to keep thinking ethnically as well as members of a German nation. Jay Howard Geller's paper examined how the Jewish community in eastern Germany managed to survive in the early postwar years. He focused his discussion on the Landesverband der Juedischen Gemeinden in der DDR, the umbrella organization for Jewish communities in the GDR. In the context of the SED's rejection of Holocaust reparations and the 1952-53 purges of Jewish communists and their allies, how was the severely impoverished Jewish community able to achieve many of its goals? He argued that the Landesverband was successfully able to meet some of its needs because of a few dissenting voices within the SED and the nominally multi-party nature of the GDR state. Geller noted that several scholars have examined the circle of dissenting SED officials, including Paul Merker and Leo Zuckerman, who were sympathetic to Jewish efforts to gain reparations. Less examined has been the fact that Jewish communities did not always have to deal solely with SED officials. Otto Nuschke, the government official responsible for state relations with religious communities, was a member of the Christian Democratic Union. A Weimar-era Reichstag representative for the DDP who was arrested by the Nazis, Nuschke had a history of being sympathetic to Jews. The eastern CDU more generally was also positively disposed towards the Jewish community. Nuschke and his assistant, Albert Hirsch, became important patrons of the Jewish community in East Germany at a time when the SED was largely hostile toward Jewish groups. The Jewish community needed financial help from the government if it had any chance of survival. Geller stressed that, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jewish communities had important needs in addition to reparations. It was in addressing these other needs where the aid of Nuschke and Hirsch became central. Attuned to the community's material and moral needs, Nuschke's office generously distributed funds to construct synagogues, restore cemeteries, and purchase such items as an organ for the synagogue in Dresden. His office even intervened when the East Berlin municipal slaughterhouse forbade kosher butchery. The leader of the Landesverband, Julius Meyer, praised Nuschke for his reliable advocacy, as did the American Jewish Committee. After the 1952-53 purges, the Jewish community lost much of its autonomy. Yet in the pre-purge climate, when the community did have more room to maneuver, its efforts to petition the government for aid relied critically on the political patronage of Otto Nuschke. Michael Meng further analyzed the difficulties the Jewish community faced in the early postwar years by examining the SED stance on the return of Jewish communal property confiscated by the Nazis and the reconstruction of Jewish sites destroyed by World War II. While the SED did cooperate with early efforts by the Gemeinde to recover property, this position changed by the mid 1950s. Meng argued that a convergence of factors explain the change. First, Soviet occupation authorities and SED leaders rejected returning property to individual Jews or the Jewish community as a western, capitalist solution to the problem. Second, the outbreak of the Cold War, in particular Stalin's 1948-49 Berlin Blockade, ended efforts in Berlin to establish a citywide restitution law that would have included the return of Jewish property in East Berlin. Finally, Meng pointed to the emergence of what he termed "antifascist anti-Semitism" by the end of 1951 as a crucial force shaping SED policy toward Jews. The SED purge of communists of largely Jewish origin in 1952-53 signified the emergence of a new form of anti-Semitism. While this prejudice tapped into older anti-Jewish stereotypes, it functioned within a new context. Rather than targeting Jews based on race or religion, the SED saw Jews as a symbol of all that the party opposed--capitalism, U.S. imperialism, and Israel. Meng then turned his discussion to the rebuilding of Jewish property in Potsdam. In the context of antifascist anti-Semitism, early postwar efforts to reconstruct Potsdam's only synagogue were doomed by 1951. In 1958, city officials had the synagogue destroyed. The goal of constructing new, socialist urban spaces led planners to prioritize new housing complexes, broad avenues, and public squares over rebuilding the 1900 synagogue. The politics of antifascist memory, which emphasized communist resistance to fascism over Jewish victimization, also made it difficult to justify rebuilding a synagogue when there was no functional need for the place of worship. Perhaps most disturbing, even East Germany's Institute for Historic Preservation (IfDP), charged with preserving the "cultural heritage of the German people," expressed little interest in preserving the building. While the IfDP did view churches as important monuments of the German past, this attention did not extend to the Potsdam synagogue. The SED's understanding of historic preservation did not define Jewish sites as part of a German cultural heritage worth maintaining. Jeffrey Peck noted that all of the papers represent emerging scholarship that is benefiting from the increased access to SED party and state sources that were unavailable to scholars researching East German Jews in the late 1980s. He also stressed the importance of contemporary issues facing Jewish communities in united Germany, issues ranging from cultural divisions within the community to new forms of anti-Semitism. Peck suggested that the presenters draw connections between their historical findings on Jews in the GDR and these contemporary concerns. In addition to addressing specific questions to each of the presenters, he noted the importance of analyzing anti-Semitism as a changing phenomenon that needs to be understood in specific historical contexts. The discussion with the audience took up this last theme in particular. Several audience members commented on the historical specificity of anti- Semitism in the GDR and the term "anti-fascist anti-Semitism." Several questions also asked the presenters to place their findings in larger historical context. Important historical contexts to consider included internal debates within the SED in the GDR's early years, efforts to reconstruct Jewish sites in other parts of East Germany, and the SED's relationship to such institutions as the Lutheran churches in the GDR's final decade. The discussion was enthusiastic and quite animated, with audience members commenting on how well all three papers fit together to offer a broad and nuanced view of the shifting relationships between the SED and East German Jews. Dr. Cora Granata Assistant Professor of History California State University, Fullerton Association Conference, please visit <http://www.g-s-a.org>.