American Jews, W. Germans Try to Improve 'Unsettling Relations'

Times Staff Writer

West German and American Jewish leaders ended a three-day meeting here Monday and expressed concern over the "unsettling relations" between the two communities on either side of the Atlantic.

The meeting was presided over by Theodore Ellenoff, president of the American Jewish Committee, and Walther Leisler Kiep, head of the Atlantic Bridge Foundation. It was called to discuss what they termed "the troubled relations between American Jews and West Germans."

Ellenoff said that neither community really understands the other and that the purpose of the three days of seminars was to "explore the misunderstandings."

In particular, Ellenoff said, American Jews were worried by President Reagan's controversial visit in 1985 to West Germany's Bitburg war cemetery, which contains the graves of Nazi SS soldiers; by the election of Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria despite suspicion that he had a role in war crimes, and by the current debate among German historians on the degree of guilt that Germany should assume for the slaughter of Jews during the Nazi period.

"Germans fail to appreciate the depth of Jewish feeling over the trauma of the Holocaust," a joint news release declared.

For their part, "American Jews know little about the emergence of a vibrant democracy in the Federal Republic (West Germany) since (the end of World War II in) 1945, nor are they aware of the extent of German-Israeli relations and cooperation," the statement continued.

"German efforts to grapple with the Holocaust and its consequences receive inadequate attention in the American Jewish community," it said.

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