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Israeli Officials Applaud East Germany for Stand on Holocaust

February 9, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli officials today praised East Germany’s decision to acknowledge a share of responsibility for the Holocaust but said they want practical steps before forging ties with that country.

In a letter released Thursday, Prime Minister Hans Modrow of East Germany recognized that his people bore some of the responsibility for the deaths during the Holocaust. He also pledged ″material support″ for the victims of Nazi persecution but did not elaborate.

Michael Shilo, an Israeli Foreign Ministry adviser on diaspora affairs, said today, ″We have to ... chew a little bit on the wording of Modrow’s declaration. But obviously it is a beginning. I don’t think we have ever heard before this kind of a declaration from East Germany.″

Israel and East Germany never had formal ties because of East Germany’s denial of responsibility for the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany.

East Germany has maintained it was a new state created in 1949 by Communists and could not accept blame for crimes committed by the Third Reich in World War II. Communists also suffered persecution under the Nazis.

However, in his letter addressed to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, Modrow said East Germany ″recognizes the responsibility of the entire German people for the past.″

″This is a consequence of the deep guilt of Hitler fascism, which committed terrible crimes against the Jewish people in the name of the German people,″ Modrow said.

The daily Jerusalem Post today reported a similar letter was sent to the Israeli government and that its text was approved in last week’s talks between the two countries in Copenhagen, Denmark. Those discussions were described as a preparatory meeting to discuss establishment of ties.

Israel followed the talks with a statement saying establishing relations would be linked ″to the question of the acceptance by (East Germany) of its share in the moral and historical responsibility″ for Nazi crimes against the Jews.

Shilo, who attended the talks in Copenhagen, welcomed Modrow’s statement in an Israel radio interview today.

Asked whether Israel could now establish diplomatic relations with East Germany, Shilo said: ″A verbal declaration is just a beginning. A verbal declaration should be backed up by some tangible deeds in terms of education in school curriculum, and maybe in legislation and some other things.″

Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted East Germany’s shift in position came as speculation increased about uniting Germany, which was split in the aftermath of World War II. Israeli leaders have expressed fears of unification.

West Germany has accepted blame for the crimes of Nazi Germany and paid $43 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors and their families over the years.

Israel Singer, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, said his group is now likely to handle the issue of reparations from East Germany.

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