Jewish leaders signed a pact with the government that gives the Central Council on Jews in Germany the same status as Christian churches and provides funding for educational institutions.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Paul Spiegel (left) on Holocaust Remembrance Day
Jewish leaders in Germany signed a historic contract with the government on Monday in conjunction with Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. The agreement gives the Central Council of Jews in Germany the same formal status with the federal government as Christian churches have.
The agreement signed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council, pledges €3 million ($3.25 million) a year to the council for its work representing the interests of Jews in Germany. It also provides financial support for the University of Jewish Studies and the Central Archive for Research on German-Jewish History in Heidelberg.
Jan. 27 is the 58th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Since the mid-1990s, it has been an official day of remembrance in Germany -- this year, for the first time it was to be remembered throughout all of Europe.
Seeking democracy, tolerance and humanity
"We want a society that is based on mutual recognition, tolerance and respect, a society without exclusion, a society in which everyone can be different without fear," said Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse on the occasion. Democracy, tolerance and humanity must be sought after by all citizens, he said.
Prior to World War II, Germany was home to some 600,000 Jews. About one-third of German Jews were murdered during the war, and by 1950, there were just 15,000 Jews living in the country.
Since the fall of communism, thousands of Russian Jews have immigrated to Germany. Spiegel estimates that there are 120,000 Jews living in Germany, 100,000 of them are members of various state-recognized Jewish organizations.
Experience after Buchenwald
On Monday, Jorge Semprun, former culture minister of Spain who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, spoke before the Bundestag about the ignorance he encountered among many Germans after the liberation.
"It's possible that you didn't know, but you also didn't want to know," he said. "You are responsible for that, what you didn't know because you didn't want to know."
Leaders across the political spectrum called for continued vigilance against anti-Semitism and intolerance in Germany, where attacks on Jewish monuments rose last year, according to a report from Reuters.