BERLIN — Once again, Jews are leaving Germany because of fear of persecution.
The exodus now is very small. But against the backdrop of a convulsion of right-wing violence in a country that contains a distinct anti-Semitic dimension, the departures reflect a far broader mood of fear and uncertainty that has settled over Germany's Jewish community in recent months.
"People are afraid and this fear is provoking a lot of discussion," said Michel Friedman, a leading member of Frankfurt's Jewish community, along with Berlin's, Germany's largest. "A few say maybe it's time to go, but it's not a majority. The majority are asking questions."
According to the Jewish Agency in Frankfurt, an organization that helps those wanting to resettle in Israel, 150 Jews have already emigrated so far this year and about 100 others have either made serious inquiries or are already in the emigration process. The figures were roughly double the number handled routinely by the agency in recent years, said Judith Tzamir, the agency's senior representative.
"The real increase (in departures) has been since September," she said. "This is the first time (in the post-World War II era) that Jews have told themselves that there might not be a future for them here."
Wednesday's editions of the Berliner Zeitung also reported that about 20 German Jews now visiting relatives in the United States had formally approached American authorities for permission to remain.
Friedman noted that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who returned to Germany after World War II had always grappled with the haunting question, "Is it right to be here?"
"Before, they could always answer 'yes' about the present, but (they) worried about the future," Friedman said. "Now they worry about the present. It is an emotional, tense situation to feel that 47 years after liberation . . . neo-Nazis exist in Germany."
Friedman said that, while the majority of Holocaust survivors feel themselves now too old to emigrate, many are advising their children to go.
Germany's Jewish community, stable at around 30,000 for much of the postwar era, has experienced an injection of new vibrancy during the past few years with the arrival of more than 10,000 newcomers, mainly from the former Soviet Union.
The majority of the 600,000 Jews who lived in Germany before Adolf Hitler took power in 1933 either fled the country or died in the Holocaust.
While events now unfolding in Germany remain a far cry from the atrocities of the Holocaust, they have unnerved Jews, who--like most Germans--had convinced themselves that a resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism was virtually impossible in modern, affluent, democratic Germany.
The main target of the more than 1,800 right-wing hate crimes known to have occurred in Germany so far this year has been foreigners recently arrived from southeastern Europe and the Third World; they have used the nation's liberal political asylum law to enter the country in hopes of starting anew here. High unemployment and a breakdown of social institutions in the formerly Communist east, coupled with a nationwide economic slowdown, also have helped spawn xenophobic violence
But in recent months, young right-wing extremists have also desecrated Jewish cemeteries and attacked concentration camp memorials at Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrueck and near Dachau.
Police in the Ruhr city of Wuppertal reported that three extremists early this month beat up an unemployed butcher in a barroom brawl, then killed him by setting him on fire after one of the attackers declared the man was Jewish.
For many Jews here, the seeming lack of political will on the part of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government to counter the escalating right-wing extremism is as unnerving as the violence itself.
"There's a certain irritation and fear about what's going on in Germany," said Friedman. "On one side, there is the violence by the rightists and the skinheads, but on another side, the police and judiciary are not reacting as sharply to these crimes as they should."
In a parliamentary speech Wednesday, Kohl did defend Germany's foreigners, saying they had helped make the country rich. He noted that many foreigners had moved to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s at Bonn's request to help rebuild the West German economy from the ruins of the Nazi Reich's wartime defeat.
Kohl insisted that today's Germany "is not Weimar," the 1919-33 period in which political chaos carried Hitler to power. He lashed out at news reports portraying Germany as immersed in xenophobia. Seeking to avoid alienating right-wing voters, the chancellor also diluted his defense of foreigners by repeating that those on the extreme left threatened Germany's democracy just as much those on the far right.
But in an angry telegram addressed to Kohl only hours after a right-wing arson attack left a Turkish woman and two Turkish girls dead in the north German town of Moelln, Jewish writer Ralph Giordano said that Jews in Germany were being forced to arm themselves to fend off extremists because it had become apparent that the government is incapable of protecting minorities.
Friedman compared present government inaction and relatively light judicial punishments handed out to those convicted of right-wing violence to the effective mobilization of police resources and severe court sentences that eventually crushed the wave of left-wing terrorism that swept West Germany in the 1970s.
The defeat of those radicals, whose victims included some leading industrialists, was viewed at the time as proof that German democracy had the will and the strength to withstand a serious terrorist threat.