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Open Discussions

When it comes to Germany, the Holocaust and the peace process, there's no shortage of opinions

by Tom Tugend

May 27, 1999 | 8:00 pm

Los Angeles, as always, attracted a variety of interesting visitors in recent days. The Jewish Journal couldn't meet all of them, but we made contact with a group of German journalists and government officials, the former executive editor of The New York Times, and the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

The 18 Germans -- journalists, parliamentarians and heads of the Jewish communities in Berlin and Hanover -- were in town, at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee, for a two-day conference on "Politics, Media and Memory: The Future of German- Jewish Relations."

The durability and complexity of the topic was indicated by the statements of two participants.

Klaus Weigelt of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which underwrote the high-class event, said, "The relationship between Germans and Jews will preoccupy us for the next 100 years."

American Fred Kempe, editor of the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, noted that "no German can have a truly normal relationship with Jews."

The abnormality, added Kempe, is often expressed in an exaggerated philo-Semitism, on one hand, and "an incredible amount of shame and guilt," even unto the third generation, on the other hand, said young filmmaker Katja von Garnier.

Hollywood's view of Germans was driven home to the guests in a film montage on German and Jewish screen images over the last 50 years.

Jay Sanderson, who produced the 29-minute-long film, said that as hard as he searched, he couldn't find a single frame of a smiling German, but there was an almost unrelieved procession of snarling, sadistic, whining and murderous Germans -- read Nazis.

The experience shook up the visitors. "You'd think that after 50 years of penance, we'd be allowed at least one decent German, besides Oskar Schindler," one German mumbled privately.

Germany was also the topic, in part, of Max Frankel's talk before several hundred supporters of the Anti-Defamation League.

Frankel reminisced about his years as a Jewish kid in Nazi Germany, as he does in greater detail and impact in his newly published autobiography, "The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times."

Frankel spent the entire 50 years of his professional life with The New York Times, covering the world's hot spots and rising to perhaps the most influential journalistic post in the world as The Times' executive editor.

"I often felt like Woody Allen's Zelig, who somehow popped up at every historic event," said Frankel.

He acknowledged a bias by the Jewish-owned Times against promoting Jewish journalists for many years, and scored his paper's well-documented failure to report adequately on the Holocaust.

Dore Gold, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, spoke to The Journal of his country's upcoming election, which last Monday ousted his party and prime minister. So the interview was likely his swan song in his present post.

However, the American-born envoy focused on one point that is likely to occupy his successor as well.

"The major challenge Israel faces now at the U.N. is the Palestinian attempt to resurrect Resolution 181," he told an Israel Bonds conference.

The resolution incorporated the boundaries set in 1947 to delineate the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. The partition was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs, who followed up by invading the nascent Jewish state.

It should be noted, said Gold, that 181, which would dissect the Jewish state, is advocated "not only by Palestinian extremists, but by Yasser Arafat and the 'moderate' Palestinian architects of the Oslo agreement."

Although Israel is still frequently besieged in the United Nations, Gold has been buoyed by the sympathetic attitude of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan. On the occasion of Israel's 50th anniversary, Anan convened a celebratory ceremony attended by ambassadors from 180 nations.

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