First Published: 2010-06-20

 
Thousands of Israelis flock back to Germany
 

Germany becoming attractive place to live for Israelis as scars of Holocaust begin to heal.

 

Middle East Online

By Yannick Pasquet - BERLIN

'In Tel Aviv all people talk about is Berlin'

"My grandmother was three when she had to escape Nazi Germany with her family," says Shiri Rosen, one of thousands of Israelis to have moved back to Germany in recent years.

"My great-grandfather was a lawyer, his office was right near here," the 24-year-old said in a cafe in central Berlin, pointing over her shoulder to a parallel street.

"When I was a kid, in Israel, she (her grandmother) bounced me on her knee, singing a song in German ... They were the only words in German I ever heard from her."

Before Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, Berlin had a thriving Jewish population numbering around 170,000, many of them professionals such as doctors and lawyers, or intellectuals and artists.

But this vibrant community was decimated in the 12 years of terror that followed as the Nazis murdered six million men, women and children across Europe in their attempt to destroy the Jewish race.

Unsurprisingly, once World War II was over and the new state of Israel came into being in 1948, the few Jews who had miraculously survived were loath to stay in Germany, in the "Land der Taeter" ("country of the perpetrators").

But today, decades later, with an ever-dwindling number of Holocaust survivors still around, the scars are slowly healing and Germany is becoming an attractive place to live for many Israelis.

A steady trickle has been returning to make use of a law allowing descendants to claim German citizenship.

"Germany today is a haven of peace for the descendants of those who, one day, fled the country because they were in danger," says Ilan Weiss, who moved from Israel 20 years ago.

"The fact that Jews are coming here again constitutes for Germany a certificate that it is acceptable again."

In 2008, the last year for which figures are available, almost 2,000 Israelis became naturalised German citizens. Two years earlier, more than 4,300 did so.

According to the Israeli embassy, around 13,000 Israelis now live in Berlin alone.

Mostly, they are the descendants of German Jews stripped of their citizenship as the Nazis sought to "Aryanise" the Third Reich, and who now have the right to obtain German nationality.

Sitting in his well-worn Berlin apartment, Weiss, who is in his 60s, says he has noticed in recent years more and more Israelis coming in order, he believes, to escape the constant threat of violence in the Middle East.

And it is particularly the young who are doing so, attracted not only by a feeling of going back to their roots, but also by the vibrant, modern metropolis that the German capital is today.

Many come to make the most of Berlin's nightlife and its bohemian lifestyle, attending techno nights in disused industrial warehouses or sampling the gay scene, where "Meshuga nights" with only Israeli music are big crowd-pullers.

"In Tel Aviv all people talk about is Berlin. It is very much the city en vogue," says Shiri Rosen enthusiastically.

Avi Efroni-Levi, who has launched a website (http://derberliton.de/) for the Israeli community in Germany offering tips on everything from apartments to exhibitions, very much agrees.

"The planes from Tel Aviv to Berlin are packed. For Israelis, the city offers so many possibilities because it's so international and life is quite cheap," the 53-year-old said.

Weiss says that for many young Israelis, coming to Germany is much easier than for their parents' generation.

"Very few of them are influenced by the Holocaust," he says. "Obviously most of them studied it at school but it's something very remote for them."

"You can't concentrate on the violence all the time, it's negative," says Avi Efroni-Levi. "I've got other things to think about than the past. I want to achieve something here."

"The wounds of the past are still there. They never go away," he said. "But we have to heal them."

 

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