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UKRAINE

Germany welcomes Ukraine’s Jews 77 years after the Holocaust

At the entrance to a school in Berlin, multicoloured letters spell out "welcome" for nine Jewish children from Ukraine above a drawing of the German, Ukrainian and Israeli flags surrounded by red hearts.

Ukrainian Jews in Berlin
Germany's Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein (3rd L) listens to the testimonies of Ukrainian jews Irina (L) and Ilona (R) from Kyiv at Berlin's Jewish International school in Berlin on March 24th, 2022. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Staff and pupils at the school, run by a “progressive traditional” Jewish movement known as Masorti, warmly greeted the children who fled their homes in Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv following the Russian invasion.

Seventy-seven years after the end of the Nazi regime, Germany has become a place of refuge for thousands of Ukrainian Jews.

In Berlin, they have been received by a sizeable community of Russian-speaking Jews who have moved to the capital since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It’s remarkable that Jews come to Germany given the terrible crimes committed by Germans in Ukraine during the Second World War,” Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, says on a visit to the school.

READ ALSO: ‘It feels like a dream’: The Ukrainian refugees arriving in Berlin from war zone

Some 3,000 Ukrainian Jews — out of a total of 283,000 refugees from the war-torn country — have already arrived in Germany, according to figures provided by Klein.

‘Well prepared’

That Ukrainian Jews would look to the country for protection “does not go without saying”, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster says. “But Germany has taken on its historic obligations.”

Since the Russian invasion began in late February, Germans have come out in their droves to show solidarity, offering places to stay, warm meals and clothes to Ukrainians who have left everything behind.

The Jewish community in Germany is “particularly well prepared” to greet them, says rabbi Gesa Ederberg at the school where around 60 children between the ages of six and 12 are taught in both German and Hebrew.

Germany's Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein

Germany’s Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein addresses reporters after listening to the testimonies of Ukrainian jews Irina (sitting, L) and Ilona (sitting R) at Berlin’s Jewish International school in Berlin on March 24th, 2022. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

“Forty percent of our members have Ukrainian roots,” she says, while “80 percent speak Russian.”

In the last 30 years, Germany has become a destination for Jews emigrating from the former Soviet Union to whom it has given residence and work permits.

Between 1993 and 2020, more than 210,000 Jews from places such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova have made Germany their new home.

The country’s Jewish population, almost extinguished during the Shoah, is now Europe’s third-largest behind France and Britain.

A new member of the “welcome class”, Sonia, 11, with a blonde fringe and socks pulled up to her knees, says she has found in Berlin a Jewish community “much bigger than in Odessa”.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: How Germany’s government plans to help Ukrainian refugees

‘Grateful’

For Ilona, joining back up with the Masorti community, which she was a part of in Kyiv, has been like finding a family.

“We have a roof over our heads and have been able to bring our children to safety,” says the mother of two girls, aged 13 and five.

“We were on a train to Chernivtsi (in the southwest of Ukraine) when the war broke out,” Ilona says with tears in her eyes. “We stayed there a week,” she says, before being evacuated by bus.

Despite the anxiety that grips her when she thinks of her husband, who stayed behind to fight for Ukraine, or her sister and niece stuck in Kyiv, Ilona says she is “extremely grateful” to Germany.

The strong links between Jews in Ukraine and Germany have helped to evacuate 120 children from Odessa, most of them orphans, and moved many to open their doors to refugees.

Berliner Till Rohmann has made the spare rooms in his house available to host two families from Odessa and Kharkiv.

“We are doing what we can to make them feel at home,” says Rohmann, a musician who has previously welcomed refugees from Syria into his home.

“Compared with 2015, we have some cultural similarities with the Ukrainian Jews,” says Rohmann, himself Jewish.

“We can communicate in Hebrew and can say the Shabbat prayers together.”

By Yannick Pasquet

READ ALSO: How people in Germany can support Ukraine

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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