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January 6, 2012

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PAGE 2A By Robert Leiter Jewish Exponent "Germans are wonderful pupils," says Ilan Weiss, an Israeli-born Berliner. "Ger- mans will say, 'Yes, we are guilty. Yes, we did the wrong thing.' And they are excel- lent at it. That's part of the German personality. They do everythingwell--even feeling guilty." Weiss' sharp quip aside, visitors to the German capital can quickly comprehend this complex truth. All they have to do is take to the city's streets. Since 1985, I've been to Germany many times as a reporter; but over the last decade, I've been to Berlin only twice, and for brief periods. The landscape has changed so much it seemed as if I were experiencing awhole new city during a visit here last month. For one thing, it appeared that the two sides of the old divided capital had switched places. According to young Berliners, bushels of money had been thrown at the city's eastern half once the wall tumbled. So when people speak about the German capital being one of the hot- test spots in Europe right now, it's the old East Berlin, the former heart of the pre-war city, they're talking about. The once-vibrant West Berlin looks a bit dingy these days, worn at the edges and in need of attention. One irony about the former divided city was that the bulk of the monuments to the Holocaust did not stand n free WestBerlin but rather in the communist East. But you could not call them Ho- HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 6, 2012 Berlin00A renewed city built on guilt locaust memorials; that was not Soviet communism's way. These were memorials to the victims of National So- cialism, with the word Jew nowhere in evidence. Now, this wrinkle in history has been corrected. The former monuments, like the for- mer East Berlin, have been brought in line with reality. Any structures built over the last two decades that deal with the Shoah loudly broadcast their identity. I began my tour at a logi- cal point: The Topography of Terror, which I had seen in its most rudimentary stages in 1997. Back then, it was just a cleared massive field, along one edge of which stood what looked like the partial walls of a red brick building. Today, its vastness remains, but the entire plot has been covered with a layer of uni- form slate-gray stones. A few sharply angled concrete paths lead from the excavation point to the permanent museum, whose exterior echoes the ubiquitous stones' slate-gray color. The Topography of Ter- ror had its origins in the refurbishment of the Martin Gropius Bau, a 19th century neoclassical beauty next door on Wiihemstrasse. Work began on the building more than 30 years ago. At the time, the adjacent stretch of land seemed nothing more than a sea of weeds and debris. Once the Gropius Bau was brought back to its former grandeur, discussions began concerning the exhibit that should relaunch it. A history Berlin on page 19A One of the countless "Stumbling Blocks" found throughout the city. Peter Eisenman's Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin. A sculpture known as 'The Deserted Room' in East Berlin. A portion of the Topography of Terror. Russian finds it difficult to break barriers in Germany By Robert Leiter Jewish Exponent Sergey Lagodinsky, who came to Berlin from Russia as a teenager, has been trying his hardest to pry his way into the upper echelons of the Jewish community power structure. Unlike the majority of his cohorts who are indifferent to Jewish life in the capital, Lagodinsky would like to be among the first Russians to challenge the entrenched Ger- man Jewish leadership here. Elections for board mem- bers to the Jiidische Gemei- nde were held Dec. 4. Then, later in the month, they were invalidated and rescheduled for a date in January yet to be announced. The verdict must be bit- tersweet for the 36-year-old By Steve Lipman New York Jewish Week Leslie Schwartz--survivor of the Holocaust, native of Hungary, resident of New York City for more than six decades--was walking through the town square of Munster, a city in northwest Germany, earlier this year. A few German teenagers spotted him, running up and hugging him, he says. The high school students thanked him for a speech he had given at their school, in which he recounted his war- time and postwar experiences. Such effusive recognition Lagodinsky: He came in No. 3 out of 62 candidates. In an interview early No- vember, he conceded that it's been "a very slow process" for Russians to integrate into the Jewish community--"and a difficult one, too." He said that some 100,000 Russian-speaking Jews in Berlin live in a difficult niche because of how little being Jewish means to them. Germany saw a large influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s and early 2000s, following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many Jews opted for Germany over Israel or the United States, seeking to take advantage of generous German benefits. "Take a Jewish man who comes here with a Russian Orthodox wife--can she be expected to immediately be- come part of the community?" There are several other problems, Lagodinsky said. Those who were considered Jews in Russia often had Jew- ish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. But here in Ger- many, where the community follows the Jewish tradition of matrilineal descent, issues of conversion became barriers. But the biggest obstacle, he explained, is the disinter- est of the young--and the fact that the Gemeinde, the central Jewish body, doesn't create incentives for them to get involved. "The mayor of Berlin al- ways likes t(, say that Berlin is poor and sexy. I like to say of the Jewish community here that it is poor and un- sexy. Why should the young become part of it without any incentives?" This ambitious young man, a lawyer who has worked at some Jewish communal organizations, acknowledges that there is now less tension between the older German Jews and the Russians, but that's because those emigres "who didn't speak German or spoke it badly are no longer with us." But unfortunately, he as- serted, this community is not used to doing the kind of work that American Jews do to get young people involved. He cited specifically the "aggres- sive but welcoming" Chabad Lubavitch approach. The biggest communal mistake, though, said the would-be leader, is that the official stance is "you can't be Jewish unless you're religious. You have to come to synagogue and get involved. "But I am a secular Jew and I'm not going to say that I became religious suddenly so I can be accepted. All of their conferences are about some- thing religious or Israel. They pushed away young people with this message." This iswhy the Israelis don't get involved as well, he added. If eventually he's elected to the board, Lagodinsky said he has ideas about how to get the young involved. He would use cultural events to lure them; and he would network, professionally and otherwise. "I want to get internships in America or in Russia for young people here," he said. "That's To Germans, a 'star' survivor has happened alot in Germany the last two years, Schwartz, 81, says. During most of the years since he settled in the United States in 1946, he spoke little about what had happened to him during the Shoah. "I was still healing from the tzuris." Now he speaks about it fre- quently. The retired printer's autobiography, which was prompted by a serendipitous meeting with a Danish pub- lisher, came out and became a bestseller in Denmark in 2007. That led to an invitation by Bayernische Gedenkstatten, a Dachau memorial institute, to travel around the country and address high school classes, and attend commemoration ceremonies at former concen- tration camps. Everywhere he goes, German newspapers interview him--one called him "a star." His autobiography came out last year in Germany, followed by a recent docu- mentary about him by a Munich-based broadcasting authority. An English version of SchwarWs autobiography is to appear this year--also published by Lit Verlag, his German publisher--and there is talk about a Chinese translation, and a dramatic movie, and a screening of his documentary at a film festival here next spring, says Schwartz, who has started to speak to school groups in the U.S. "It's very exciting," says Schwartz. Divorced, he lives on Manhattan's East Side and in Boynton Beach. He's a first cousin of the late ac- tor Tony Curtis (nee Bernard Schwartz). When the spigot of Schwartz's memories opened after he went to work on his autobiography (its Danish title many under the auspices of Bayernische Gedenkstatten, going to classroom after classroom. He says he prefers to meet teens; his "lucky" life as a young teen in a Hungar- ian village (his original given name: Laszlo) was disrupted by the war; he survived a se- ries of concentration camps and forced labor camps and a death train in Germany. "I still think of myself as ateen." Today's young Germans are receptive to his message Sergey Lagodinsky how the young get involved-- through what they do." Robert Leiter is a staff writer for the (Philadelphia) Jewish Ex- ponent, from which this article was reprinted by permission. German soldiers and civilians assisted him during the war), he says. Part of his motivation to return to Germany was a desire to find and thank the sympathetic Germans, he says. "It bothered me for 65 years." Schwartz says he's already planning to go back to Ger- many this year, again for six months, again for meetings with German teens. "Same thing" as the last two years, he says. "I enjoy it.'! Steve Lipman is a staff writer for The New York