Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Heinz Galinski: The Driving Force of the Postwar Jewish Community in Germany

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Heinz Galinski: The Driving Force of the Postwar Jewish Community in Germany

Article excerpt

I. Alive Again: The Jewish Community in Germany Led by Heinz Galinski

Some 500,000 Jews lived in Germany prior to 1933, but in 1945 only about 15,000 German Jews remained, and shortly thereafter about half of this number decided to emigrate to the United States or Israel. (1) The small community of German Jews, joined later by Jews from surrounding lands, decided to remain in the country that once sought to exterminate them. At first these Jewish survivors had little vision for an enduring future. They were poor and powerless, living in a hostile environment, and concentrating mainly on keeping themselves alive. Slowly, however, and despite many obstacles set in their path, the community began to grow in numbers and in strength. At the present time, the number of Jews in Germany who identify themselves as belonging to the Jewish community stands at about 110,000, but, when counting those who are unregistered, we can estimate that the total number of Jews in Germany nears 250,000. (2) However, the story of this remarkable growth of the Jewish community in postwar Germany is not well known in the U.S. Ruth Gay has suggested: "The mourning for the dead of the Holocaust seems to have preempted the place of the living and left a strange lack of interest in history both before and after the Nazi period." (3)

The rise of Jewish life and culture once again in Germany after World War II is due to the efforts of many Jewish leaders, (4) but there is general agreement that Heinz Galinski was the "driving force"--the "Engine" (5)--behind the creation of a vigorous, expanding Jewish community there. Galinski was born in 1912 of religious parents, Albert and Marie Galinski, in the small town of Marienburg, Germany (today's Malbork, Poland). As an adult, following in the footsteps of his father, he entered into the business field as a seller of textiles. In the late 1930's, seeking escape from Nazi persecution, he, his wife Gisela, and his mother sought safety in the anonymity of the big city of Berlin where many citizens stood opposed to the Nazis' rule. (6) This attempt to escape notice, however, was unsuccessful, for in 1940 all three were seized and pressed into forced labor. In 1943, the three family members were sent to Auschwitz, where Galinski's wife and mother were murdered. His father, a soldier in World War I who had returned from the war seriously wounded, was also taken into custody by the police while he was at a Jewish hospital in Berlin; he later died in the same year. Galinski lost his entire family, but he himself survived Auschwitz (where he was prisoner number 104412), Buchenwald, and, finally, Bergen-Belsen, where he was freed by British soldiers in 1945. (7) Following his release he returned to Berlin, where a majority of survivors would settle. At that time, he commented: "There was not yet a community here in any sense of the word. I and a few others restored this community. It consisted only of rubble." (8)

Very early upon his return to Germany, stilt a young man in his thirties, he became a spokesperson for the Jewish community in Berlin and was chosen to be deputy director of the Central Office for the Victims of Fascism: Department of the Nuremberg Laws. This office cared especially for Jews who, because of the Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935, were deprived of German citizenship and subjected to humiliating treatment. There were, however, many non-Jews, among them Christians, whom he also assisted in recovering from persecution. (9) In 1949 he was chosen to be the chairperson of the Jewish community in Berlin, succeeding the respected Dr. Hans Erich Fabian, who had decided to emigrate to the United States. (10) Although from early on he became the leading spokesperson for Jews in all of Germany, the focus of his activity was Berlin. A few years earlier, in 1947, he married his second wife, Ruth, who, along with many other Jews, had given thought to leaving Germany. She intended to move to Argentina but changed her mind upon meeting Galinski. …

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