AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION NEWSLETTER email@example.com
AMERICAN EDITION IN THIS EDITION CHANCELLOR MERKEL ON THE UKRAINE – A standup lady. TAKING THE HIT? – Strong sanctions can cut both ways. GREEK JEWISH HOLOCUST CLAIMS – It never hurts to ask - or demand. LOOTED ART: AN IMPORTANT LEGAL CASE – You don’t win ‘em all. GERMANY’S TEA PARTY – Not for tossing tea. In this case the Euro. CHILDREN’S TORAH – A “good” story. . March 26, 2014 Dear Friends: It’s not every day that a “happening” pushes everything else off the front pages of all the media. 9/11 did it as did the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in 1861. Putin’s Push into the Crimea certainly did the trick this year. In terms of American – Germany relations the terribly difficult matter of the NSA hacking into Chancellor Merkel’s phone immediately took a back seat to the need for all the Western countries, especially the two most important, to come together to face off against this kind of naked Russian aggression. As I write, The G8, with the blessing of Chancellor Merkel and Pres. Obama, has become the G7 with Russia having been shown the door of this elite group of industrial nations. By and large, at least for the moment, this renewal of East – West hostility is not a matter for the various Jewish communities of Europe or, for that matter, for Israel. There 1
were a few rumblings about the security of the Ukrainian Jews (see below) but the major implications for world Jewry are yet to be seen. They will probably be there, but not yet. So, with almost all matters pertinent to this newsletter joining Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone on the back seat, I think we’ll get on with what there is to report… However, before doing that let me wish you a very Sweet Passover. CHANCELLOR MERKEL ON THE UKRAINE Considering the fact that Germany gets a great deal of its oil and natural gas from Russia, one might have expected that the Germans, and especially Chancellor Merkel, would have walked a fine line in commenting on the Ukraine situation. However, that was not the case. In a speech before the Bundestag (as reported by DW.DE) “Chancellor Merkel used her strongest rhetoric since the start of the crisis to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. She said the EU and other western nations were prepared to freeze bank accounts and impose travel restrictions if Russia refused to enter "negotiations that achieve results." She said if negotiations aren't effective further measures will be taken that "will cause massive damage to Russia, both economically and politically," referring to sanctions. Merkel, however, explicitly ruled out military action and said Russia's deployment of troops to Crimea "was a breach of international law." by EU supporters in Ukraine. Moscow does not recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine's transitional government. "The territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question," Merkel told lawmakers, three days ahead of a referendum that is to be held in Ukraine’s Crimea on joining Russia. The German chancellor also said Europe was ready to stand by former Soviet republics in the face of possible Russian aggression, such as Moldova or Georgia. "In a period of enormous uncertainty in the Ukraine, Russia has not proven to be a partner for stability for neighboring countries which it has close links to but it uses their inherent weaknesses," Merkel said. Tough words indeed! However, given all the aspects of the situation, Germany, as noted in a follow up article by Michael Knigge in DW.DE reported, “Germany’s special ties with Russia give Berlin a crucial role in trying to solve the Crimea Crisis. But that doesn’t mean that Berlin alone can push Moscow to alter its stance, as some media reports insinuate. 2
Reading analytic pieces by influential international press outlets these days ( , and ) one gets the impression that Berlin is the sole arbiter on Russia and can somehow just wave a magic wand that will make Vladimir Putin reconsider his actions. It's a catchy idea whose only problem is that it is overly simplistic and thus wrong. To be clear, Germany has a unique relationship with Russia. As the EU's largest country and biggest economy situated in the center of Europe, it is only natural that Berlin would play a key role in any discussion between the EU and Russia on how to overcome the current crisis. Beyond that, Germany's own experience in dealing with its eastern half after the fall of Berlin Wall and its close economic and political ties with Russia give it added clout and a big stake in the crisis. Germany imports roughly 40 percent of its oil and gas from Russia, which makes it Berlin's largest energy supplier. But it's not just Germany that needs Russia. The dependence is mutual. Germany is Russia's third largest trading partner; some 9 billion euros in direct investments and more than 6,000 German companies active in Russia play an important part in the Russian economy. Notwithstanding that influence, Berlin is simply not the singular external player with the power to persuade Russia to rethink its game. It does not have the economic and political leverage to unilaterally make Moscow change tack anytime soon. Imposing economic sanctions would not only hurt Russia, but also hit the German economy, Europe's growth engine. What's more, sanctions would take time to have an impact, and as important as Germany is economically for Russia, only concerted Western sanctions would do the trick. "I don't think Germany alone can do this," James F. Collins, US ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1997 to 2001 told DW. "Honestly, Putin is the only one who can make this crisis go away and he has been remarkably resistant to listening to anybody," noted Olga Oliker, a senior Russia expert with the Rand Corporation in Washington. While both underscored Germany's central role in solving the Ukraine crisis, they dismissed the narrative that Berlin in and of itself could influence Moscow to change course. "Germany will need to bring along colleagues in the EU and be part of a larger community to be influential," said Collins. "And I think it will also be influential to the extent Washington and Berlin are on the same page." The claim made in recent press coverage that the US has abdicated its leadership role on Ukraine to Germany is as na誰ve as is the idea that we are on the brink of a "RussoGerman Europe."
The more sober, if less juicy description, of how Europe and the US deal with Russia and the Ukraine is that of close cooperation that involves a division of labor as evidenced this week. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the crisis with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama hosted Ukraine's interim prime minister in a high profile Oval Office meeting. And in what has been billed as a last chance to avert a further escalation of the crisis before the Crimea referendum, US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart in London on Friday. Washington is deeply engaged in the Ukraine crisis diplomatically and militarily. But the fact is that Ukraine and Crimea are simply not geopolitical priorities for the United States and that Washington's economic exposure to Russia and the region is considerably weaker than that of Germany and the EU. "For the United States Ukraine is far from a vital interest," notes Oliker. "For Europe and for Germany it is much more of one due to proximity, due to gas pipelines and due to just a much closer economic relationship with Russia. For the United States it's a matter of principle and certainly Europe as a whole is a vital interest of the United States." Neither Germany, the EU nor the US have a silver bullet that can coerce Russia to change course on Ukraine anytime soon. In the long-run however, a joint, coordinated effort that may well involve meaningful sanctions by all three parties is the best option to make Moscow reconsider its game. That is now happening. Both the EU and the U.S. have raised the stakes with sharper sanctions – mostly against individuals and some banks that are Russian owned. The tightening of the economic noose seems to be the only real weapon the West has. However… Keep reading. TAKING THE HIT? While economic sanctions seem to be the weapon of choice today, for Germany there may be a better and longer range solution. However, it would cause a lot of economic pain in Germany. The Local.de reported, “The Spiegel suggested that European fears of Russian sanctions leading to economic problems should be turned around. "Russia is dependent on exports from the EU, in particular from Germany. But more painful than export restrictions would be if the EU were to stop, or at least convincingly threaten to stop, gas and oil imports from Russia. Income from this supply is the hook on which the Russian state hangs - and also Putin's military machine. "The missing Russian gas and oil could be compensated for by deliveries from other sources. Of course such steps would push up energy prices in Germany and the EU. 4
The growth rate, which is in any case weak, would suffer. But if we Germans are serious about taking on more responsibility in foreign policy, we must be ready to pay this price." The strings which Putin is pulling in the post-Soviet region will sooner or later lose their power, the Mittelbayerische Zeitung in Regensburg said. "The simple truth is that Russia is not strong. Outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, the enormous empire is rotten. The regime can cushion structural weaknesses with energy billions, but in the medium-term Putin will fail," it predicted. The Saarbrücker Zeitung said Europe had a problem in that answering yesterday's aggressive annexation policy with diplomacy today looked weak. "Europe, after its long hesitation, must isolate Putin politically, step by step, and if necessary, push him in a corner economically. "That will take time and takes effect more slowly than a military sensation. But at the end of the day, it would be an effective modern answer to the Kremlin's Cold War demeanour. And it could strengthen Europe by demanding unity." I think you get the idea. If Germany could somehow start doing away with the need for Russian gas the situation would dramatically change. However, don’t count on it happening. No one, especially, middle class Germans (In the U.S. it would be the same) is willing to give up earned comforts for some long range political gain. I just don’t believe it will happen. Therefore, the U.S. Germany and the rest of the EU will have to see how the current sanctions bite. There is still room to raise the stakes. Stay tuned! The situation continues to boil.
GREEK JEWISH HOLOCUST CLAIMS According to The Local.de, “Germany … rejected a fresh Nazi-era reparation claim by a Greek city's Jewish community but offered the group cooperation on future projects. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki said … it had sued Germany at the European Court of Human Rights for compensation over a forced ransom paid to Nazi occupation forces. It said Jewish residents had paid 2.5 million drachmas to a Nazi commander in July 1942 to secure the release of thousands of Jewish men submitted to brutal forced labour. Despite the payment, raised from donations and property sales, most of the victims were later transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland where they perished.
"It's our express proposal to pursue forward-looking projects with the Jewish community of Thessaloniki," he told reporters. The finance ministry spokesman said Germany has always indicated an awareness of its historical responsibility for World War II crimes. "In the relationship with Greece, questions about the future play the fundamental role," he said. Greece has said in recent years it reserves the right to claim more wartime reparations, arguing it was forced to accept unfavourable terms during negotiations with Germany in the 1950s. One can understand the injustice done to the Thessaloniki Jews. According to Wikipedia, “Thessaloniki lost 94 percent of its Jewish population in the Holocaust.” On March 15, 1943, the Germans began deporting Jews from Thessaloniki. Every three days, freight cars crammed with an average of 2,000 Thessaloniki Jews headed toward Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the summer of 1943, German authorities had deported 46,091 Jews. Several factors contributed to the loss of such a large number of Jews from Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki was under direct German occupation. The Jewish community was highly concentrated in the city. Jews had no idea that they were going to killing centers; they believed the German subterfuge that they were going to work in Poland. Moreover, the controversial head rabbi, Zvi Koretz, reportedly assisted the Germans in organizing efficient roundups. Because Ladino was the first language of Thessaloniki Jews, their spoken Greek was easy to distinguish. While the possibility of escape existed, most Jews, fearing separation from their families, did not take advantage of the available options. A genuine horror story. However, these sorts of matters dealing with Holocaust restitution were legally settled years ago and the German government does not feel that every time a claim is made they should have to re-open what has already been previously taken care of.. On the other hand, “A German foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that Berlin was ready to work on unspecified new projects with the city's Jewish community, independent of the legal bid”.. My guess is that the German government will underwrite a particular project or even multiple projects. The issue for them is the danger of re-opening long ago settled legal issues that might open a Pandora’s Box for other claims. Some time and somehow the claims will end but I do not think that we’re near that time. Such is the legacy Hitler left for his country.
LOOTED ART: AN IMPORTANT CASE Not every legal case on looted or stolen art brought before the authorities in Germany winds up in a positive finding for the heirs of the original owners. A recent case has implications for the future of looted art restitution. The Times of Israel reported, “A German panel ruled against the heirs of four Jewish art dealers Thursday in a complicated case of a monumental collection of medieval religious art known as the Welfenschatz, or Geulph Treasure. Valued at some 200 million euros, the Christian jewel-encrusted, gold devotional icons, altars and reliquaries, 44 in all, are currently housed within Berlin’s Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) museum system. After Thursday’s verdict from the midJanuary hearing by the Advisory Commission in connection with the return of Naziconfiscated art, especially Jewish property, the SPK will apparently retain possession The heirs maintained that their ancestors had no choice but to sell the Christian artifacts in 1935 to the Nazi government for less than their value. The foundation that oversees Berlin’s museums said the collectors weren’t forced to sell the treasures, arguing among other things that the collection was not even in Germany at the time of its sale. In its recommendation, the commission wrote that, after thoroughly investigating the sale process, it came to the conclusion that it was not a “forced sale due to persecution.” It said it can “not recommend the return of the Welfenschatz to the heirs of the four art dealers and other possible former co-owners.” The president of the museum foundation, Herrmann Parzinger, welcomed the panel’s conclusion and praised it as a “thorough recommendation … that considers all the facts.” Drawing ire from Jewish community leaders and art restitution experts, Germany, currently in the spotlight for the high-profile $1.4 billion Cornelius Gurlitt trove of suspected Nazi-tainted art in Munich, does not have a legislated system for restitution claims. In the case of the Guelph Treasure, the heirs of four German-Jewish art dealers have been in negotiations with the SPK since 2008 over the allegedly forced sale. The commission, commonly known as the Limbach Commission after its head Judge Jutta Limbach, represents the culmination of the arbitration battle. But its decisions are not legally binding. Markus Stoetzel and Mel Urbach, the lawyers for the heirs of the Jewish art dealers, told The Times of Israel Thursday they were shocked and saddened by the decision. “Our clients, the heirs of the Jewish art dealers, are disappointed about the outcome of the claim, after so many years of fighting for justice. We, the lawyers, are currently 7
analyzing the recommendation of the Limbach Commission and are going to discuss it with our clients,” said Stoetzel. Over the past decade eight cases have been heard by the commission and six were awarded in favor of the claimants. An additional case was taken through the German court system which eventually ruled in favor of the Jewish heirs. The Guelph collection is the eighth case. Ahead of the mid-January Limbach Commission hearing, The Times of Israel spoke with both sides of the Guelph case and with several experts in the field of art restitution in a thorough look at the issues surrounding the claims on the fantastical gold Medieval church treasure. The consensus among experts is the current recourse available in Germany is not sufficient, nor is it always impartial. Even the “winner” of the Guelph case, president of the SPK Hermann Parzinger, spoke in January of the need for better redress for restitution cases and told The Times of Israel he would not be against a restitution law. “Now we try to solve in the sense of moral responsibility,” Parzinger said. ”The solution is not easy and even if there is a law there still needs to be investigation. The only difference is that the courts would take a definite position.” “We always try to find a solution because we know very well, unfortunately, what our history was, but when we are convinced, we defend [our art],” said Parzinger. Though originally the foundation had refused, the professor said the Guelph Treasure case was the first time the SPK had agreed to go before the Limbach Commission. “We said we have no reason to go [before Limbach], but in our eyes the case is quite clear. So if one has good arguments, one should present them,” said Parzinger. One expert who spoke with The Times of Israel in January said he would never take a case before Limbach. Unlike in the current ruling against the Jewish art dealers’ heirs, most commission decisions have been “barely explained” and “more unpredictable than the previous one,” he said. The basis on which the commission makes its decisions is not clear, said the expert, and it has no terms of reference or rules of procedure — the fundamental elements of procedural justice. There are also accusations of political motivations. Those who sit on the commission are not impartial, said experts, and as in the case of the task-force dealing with the mammoth Gurlitt trove, may have connections with museums Additionally, in a system in which the Limbach Commission is the highest level of arbitration, there is a huge power imbalance: Massive government-funded institutions essentially hold the right to refuse to negotiate on claims from individuals, as the SPK initially did in the Guelph case. 8
With world media attention focused on the Gurlitt trove of suspected Nazi-looted art worth $1.4 billion, found in Munich in 2012 (and made public only in November 2013), Jewish community leaders such as Ronald Lauder are calling for an independent international tribunal to impartially hear Holocaust restitution cases. In January, ahead of the Limbach Commission hearing, Anne Webber from the UKbased Commission for Looted Art in Europe said, “What the Guelph case shows is the urgent need for the creation of a national claims process in Germany, as set out in the 1998 Washington Principles, dedicated to providing fair, just and expeditious solutions.” “Creating a national claims process would reflect Germany’s commitment that, despite the late hour, claims will be handled consistently, fairly and justly in every case and that works of art found to be looted will be returned speedily to their rightful owners,” said Webber The entire matter of looted art and restitution is one charged with great emotion and, of course, has important financial implications. Anne Webber’s suggestion seems reasonable and, to me, long overdue. The article also quotes Monika Gruetters, Germany’s Culture Minister. It notes, “…she hopes the Jewish heirs will accept the recommendation. She said it “does not change … the fact that the German government will continue to do everything to shed light on to the Nazis’ art thefts and, when in doubt, will press for restitution.” Perhaps Minister Gruetters should be the one to push forward with the Webber suggestion. I hope she does. GERMANY’S TEA PARTY Why should we think that we’re the only country with an alternative political party that is ultra conservative? We’re not! Germany has it’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) which has enough of a following that almost got some of its representatives into the Bundestag during the last election. Of course, it’s different than our Tea Party and it doesn’t have people showing up at their meetings in colonial dress. However, they are not unimportant especially with the Euro elections taking place shortly. DW recently reported, “New political parties never have it easy. Still less than a year old, Germany's newest political party, hoping to win its first elected representatives at the European elections in May and with a party conference looming this weekend, is contending with all kinds of bad press. According to the media, the Alternative für Deutschland, routinely described as Germany's "anti-euro" party, is far-right, nationalist, paralyzed with in-fighting, bleeding membership, and unclear on what it really stands for.
In the most recent attack, Germany's well-respected conservative newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) highlighted remarks made by Beatrix von Storch, a leading candidate in the European election, about home-schooling and referendums about mosques, and claimed that "Bible-loyal Protestants" were taking over. The AfD, the paper said, was becoming "Germany's Tea Party." But the similarity seems superficial: while the Tea Party sells itself as an ordinary people's movement in opposition to detached elites, the AfD is largely made up elites itself - it's image is white, male, middle class, middle-aged, and educated (two-thirds of the initial membership held doctorates, with 86 percent of these male). Nigel Farage, leader of the nationalistic UK Independence Party, once described them as "a bit academic, but very interesting." The party itself certainly does not take kindly to the comparison with the Tea Party, or, for that matter, with UKIP. "It doesn't fit for many different reasons," spokesman Christian Lüth told DW. "Firstly, because the Tea Party has fundamental religious roots that's not the case with us at all. We're a party of reason. That's not mutually exclusive, but it is a very big difference." "On top of that, the Tea Party is based on an arch-conservative movement from the 18th century - the AfD has absolutely no historical relation to anything like that," he added. With so many academics in its ranks, the AfD likes to play its economic expertise as a strong suit. The AfD's founding argument is that not only is the eurozone crisis being mishandled, the single currency itself is fundamentally flawed. But confusingly, actually scrapping the euro is not in the party's manifesto. This lack of a clear banner policy on its main issue has somewhat undermined its popular appeal - a bit of a problem for a so-called populist party. In fact, the AfD's tone on social issues does seem to have become decidedly more conservative recently - if not downright nationalistic. "Democracy only works nationally, it doesn't work internationally," the controversial candidate Beatrix von Storch said in her speech at the European party conference in January. "Democracy means the rule of the people, not the peoples. There is no EU people." O.K. I think that gives you enough of a taste of what AfD is all about. It may continue to hang around or, like many other “alternative” parties, drift off into irrelevance like last year’s Pirate Party. However, for the moment, at least until the Euro vote, it remains an entity that is pushing hard to win some representation in the European parliament. We’ll have to keep an eye on it to see whether it grows or becomes weak tea. We’ll keep you advised. If you want to read the entire article, click here. http://www.dw.de/german-afd-tries-toshake-off-tea-party-tag/a-17506323
CHILDREN’S TORAH How about some good news for a change? The Forward recently carried a story which noted, “A publisher from Berlin is preparing to launch the first German-language children’s edition of the Torah since 1964. The first volume of “Tell your Children-The Torah in Five Volumes” is scheduled to be offered for sale next month by Ariella Books, a German Jewish children’s publisher. The previous edition was released half a century ago by Abrascha Stutschinsky. The new volume is edited and written by Bruno Landthaler and Hanna Liss and illustrated by Darius Gilmont. The celebrated Stutschinsky work is out of print — he died in 1978 — and there were not enough old volumes for all the children in Germany’s Jewish communities. The lack of books “had been felt more painfully in the last few years ever since the German Jewish communities have begun to flourish again and Jewish life has experienced a strong renaissance here after the Shoah,” publisher Myriam Halberstam said in a statement from Berlin. According to the statement, the new book grew out of a Bible website called Parascha that Landthaler and Liss have been running for several years. The volume retells the Bible in what is described as child-appropriate language, and includes introductions and commentaries addressed toward parents and other adult readers. The remaining volumes are due to come out over the coming two years. No matter how dysfunctional the Berlin Jewish community is, the fact that a children’s Torah is being produced is certainly a good sign. It tells me that Jewish life in Germany is progressing well enough that someone is investing in it. A true indicator of health. ********************************************************************************************* See you in April. Don’t eat too much matzohbrei at Passover. It’ll take you all spring to get the extra weight off. DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com
An American Jewish - German Information & Opinion Newsletter