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Woman to Lead Germany's Main Jewish Organization

DW staff (jb)June 7, 2006

Germany's largest Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, elected a female leader for the first time.

She says she wants to focus on the integration of immigrantsImage: AP

Germany's most prominent Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews, unanimously elected 73-year-old Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor, as its president. She replaces Paul Spiegel, who ran the council since 2000 and who died of cancer in April at 68.

Knobloch, who has served as council vice president since 1996, was considered a shoo-in for the job. She said Wednesday that reconciliation between German Jews and newcomers was a priority for her tenure.

"The main focus of my work as president will be to promote the integration of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and the fight against growing anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism and xenophobia," she told reporters.

She added that Jews here now saw themselves as full-fledged members of German society "even if we are still far from a normal situation."

Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Knobloch's "active and tireless engagement" for the Jewish community in Europe and said the close cooperation between the government and the Council would continue.

The Central Council of Jews is the main organization representing Germany's Jewish community of about 100,000. On Wednesday, Dieter Graumann, a 54-year-old financial expert from Frankfurt, was elected vice-president to replace Knobloch. Salomon Korn, a 62-year-old architect, keeps his office as the council's other vice-president and head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt.

Paul Spiegel
Knobloch replaces Paul Spiegel, who died in AprilImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Surviving the Holocaust

Knobloch was born in 1932 in Munich. Her father was Fritz Neuland, a prominent attorney and state senator. During the war, Knobloch was hidden by a young Catholic woman on a farm in northern Bavaria and passed off as her illegitimate daughter. Her grandmother was killed in Auschwitz and her father survived the war as a slave laborer. They were reunited when she found him at a Munich hospital.

Neuland became one of the founding members of Munich's vestigial Jewish community in July 1945, just two months after the war's end. He later became its president.

In 1951, she married Samuel Knobloch, a survivor of the Krakow ghetto. She had originally wanted to emigrate to the US but changed her mind after the birth of her first child and the professional success of her husband.

Decades later, after her three children finished school, Knobloch became active in Munich's Jewish community, attacking a surge in far-right violence after national reunification in 1990 and what she called "the new anti-Semitism."

In 1985, she became president of the Israeli Cultural Society of Munich and Upper Bavaria. During her tenure, she spearheaded a new complex to serve Munich's 9,000 Jews. When completed in 2007, it will consist of a new main synagogue, a community center and a museum.

Knobloch has also served since 2003 as vice president for the European Jewish Congress and since 2005, the World Jewish Congress.