Since 1989, some 190,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union have come to Germany. Dieter Graumann, board member of the Central Council for Jews in Germany spoke to DW-WORLD about their integration.
Integration can't start soon enough
DW-WORLD: Integration has long been a contoversial political issue. What does it mean to you?
Dieter Graumann: The way I see it, integration is the process of becoming part of a society without giving up one's own identity. As Jews, we want to be Jews in a country which respects us as such and does not exclude us. That is how we would like integration to be.
How does that process of integration look for new members of the Jewish community?
There are sometimes problems. It's a little bit odd that a minority in our community, which is not well integrated itself, should be responsible for integratíng a majority. But somehow it works. It is important to point out here that Jewish migrants enrich rather than burden the Jewish community and German society. And that is why we are fighting to encourage migration to Germany. It's very important for us, because it gives Jewish life in Germany a dynamic, vitality and perspective which help us all.
How German can a migrant be?
Jews have a painful past experience of that. Germany had a Jewish population which tried to be very German, one could say, more German than the Germans. We know now that it was of no help when it came to the Nazis and we have learned that giving up on being Jewish doesn't make anybody a better German. Standing by and nurturing one's own identity and being responsible German citizens are not mutually exclusive. That goes for other migrant groups as well.
What problems do Jewish migrants face while trying to fit into German society?
Jewish migrants who come here from the former Soviet Union, are initially faced with existential problems, such as having nowhere to live, no training and no job. These problems are so big that they completely consume the newcomers. People who have to concentrate on looking for an apartment or a job invest their initial energies in doing just that. But with time, that begins to change. We hope that people who are here for longer find a way to become a part of society. We can see it happening in the case of second-generation Jewish migrants.
What role does religion play in the integration process?
Religion in itself neither serves to hinder nor help the integration process. Of course it is worrying when we notice the emergence of parallel societies, but I know that we Jews try to avoid the creation of ghettos. We have to live in the middle of society, to nurture our Judaism and not partition ourselves off from others.
How important is it that migrant groups are represented by an organization?
I don't want to tell anybody else what to do, but we have seen that it makes sense to speak with a united voice rather than dividing our energies. Those who pool their strength are taken more seriously and are granted greater political recognition than a series of splinter organizations trying to represent a single migrant group.
Aladdin Sarhan interviewed Dieter Graumann (tkw)