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German Club to Bring 5 Families Over

November 18, 1989|HERMAN WONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Phoenix Club, the Anaheim-based German-American social club, has raised $10,000 and has lined up local jobs and temporary homes to bring over five East German families to start new lives in Orange County.

However, the week-old project has already struck a bureaucratic snag.

"We don't know what their status will be for entering (the United States)--whether as refugees or more likely through normal channels," said Hans Klein of Orange, president of the organization, whose 3,500-family membership makes it the largest such club in Southern California.

"We're hoping to get the official answers to that as soon as possible, but it's difficult because so many things are happening so quickly, and all at one time."

Club members expected the families to be classified as political refugees, which would have accelerated their immigration.

But any East Germans who settle in West Germany are regarded as West German citizens, said Klaus Aurisch, West Germany's deputy consul general in Los Angeles. As a result, those seeking entry to the United States would not be given refugee status and would be subject to general rules applying to West German citizens, he added.

Carol Bara, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service's regional office in Laguna Niguel, concurred and said it was unclear how long it would take for East Germans to immigrate.

No matter what the hitches and delays, Klein said, the Phoenix Club's search is on for five East German families to sponsor. "Right now we have some people (in West Berlin) looking, although we realize both the search and the (immigration) process may take some time," he added.

But prospects of a long wait have not dampened the euphoria that underscores the club's sponsorship project.

The decision was made by the club board at its regular bimonthly meeting Nov. 10 at the height of celebration over East Germany's lifting of restrictions on immigration to the West and the opening of the Berlin Wall.

"We were sitting there watching the television (broadcasts from Berlin), and we made the decision on the spot," Klein recalled. "It was the case of saying, 'How can we help best?' and realizing that sponsoring some families was the ideal way."

It was a natural decision. Not only is the Phoenix Club a local landmark in Anaheim--a community founded in the late 19th Century by a colony of German immigrant farmers--but about 500 club members are themselves German immigrants, some of them escaping from East Germany after borders were closed in 1961.

Dozens of club families have already offered to provide homes for the new East German immigrants, Klein said, and "we have offers from companies for all kinds of possible jobs, such as cabinetmaking, painters and other trades."

"We're looking for families who do not have their own (family) sponsors in this country and who do not have the financial means to make the flight and start resettlement here," said Klein, the project's chief organizer.

After they arrive, the new families are certain to get a whirlwind introduction to Southern California tourist sights, such as Disneyland, Hollywood and the beaches, but also dramatic exposure to the obstacles of assimilation and culture shock.

Language, of course, is one.

"We will start Saturday (English) classes for them at the club, just as we have German classes for the children of our own members," said Klein, 67, a restaurant consultant, who was raised in East Germany and immigrated here in 1954.

The overwhelming change in life style is another barrier.

"These are people who grew up under a very structured society, where everything--their work, their homes, their thinking--was decided for them," explained former club president Gunter Kunkel, 55, of Hacienda Heights, a print shop operator, who emigrated in 1956 from West Germany.

"Under that (East Germany) system, they were surviving, yes--but not really living. And here in America, under a free and competitive society, they will find it hard to adjust and to compete."

But Kunkel quickly added: "They will adjust, I'm sure. They will cope tremendously well."

Indeed, with official breaching of the Berlin Wall taking place only a week ago, the emotions behind the Phoenix Club's sponsorship project remain euphoric.

"It is a joyous moment (opening of the Wall), something none of us had expected to see in our lifetime," Klein said. "It must give them (East Germans) a feeling that nothing can hold them back now. They have found the beauty of freedom."

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