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New German president faces touch of apprehension in Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By RAPHAEL AHREN 03/19/12)Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com/new-german-president-criticized-for-equating-nazism-with-communism/ TIMES OF ISRAEL TIMES OF ISRAEL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Popular anti-Communist dissident, Joachim Gauck is blamed for marginalizing Holocaust

At home Germany’s newly elected president enjoys widespread public and political support. But in Israel not everyone is happy about Joachim Gauck, with a prominent Israeli Nazi hunter accusing him of having marginalized the Holocaust when he signed a declaration equating Nazism with Communism.

Gauck, 72, a former Evangelical pastor and political dissident in Communist East Germany, became well known for his role as federal commissioner for the archives of the Stasi, the East’s fearsome secret police. Not belonging to any political party, many Germans see him as a symbol of the peaceful struggle against oppression and human freedom. On Sunday, the German Bundestag voted for him to become the new head of state with nearly 80 percent support; only the far-left party Die Linke fielded an alternative candidate: Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld.

“He will certainly bring fresh wind into politics and should, as a moral authority, bring our diverse society closer together,” said Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

President Shimon Peres is expected to congratulate his new German counterpart upon his election.

“He will be a very interesting president,” said Avi Primor, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Germany from 1993 and 1999 and has met Gauck many times. “He will arouse discussions that will have an influence on public life, which doesn’t mean that everyone will like it. I guess he will irritate many people.”

Indeed. While Germany’s far-left has always been critical of Gauck for his anti-Communist stance, at least one Israeli has already spoken out against Gauck, for having signed the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, which likens the crimes of the Nazis to those of the Communists.

“The claimed exchangeability of both phenomena ignores the fact that the Holocaust was without precedence and overstates the actual historical meaning of Communist crimes,” Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, wrote Sunday in an article in the German leftist daily Taz. “The impact this equation has can hardly be underestimated. On a practical level, it will mainly help post-Communist countries cover up the role countless citizens of Eastern European countries played in the mass murder of European Jews.”

Signed by more than 50 members of the European parliament and a few other prominent politicians – including Gauck and the late Czech president Václav Havel – the Prague Declaration asserts that the “millions of victims of Communism and their families are entitled to enjoy justice, sympathy, understanding and recognition for their sufferings in the same way as the victims of Nazism have been morally and politically recognized.” The text further states that “both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes … should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century.”

By declaring the crimes of the Communists as genocide, the signatories of the Prague Declaration aim to transform “nations of perpetrators” into “nations of victims,” Zuroff lamented. The signatories’ call to establish a day of remembrance for the victims of both Nazi and Communist regimes on August 23 – the day the Hitler- Stalin Pact was signed – shows they consider the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany equally responsible for World War II and the Holocaust, he added.

Zuroff lauds Gauck for his efforts to raise attention to the villainy of Communism. But the “rewriting of European history books in the spirit of an incorrect equation of Communist and National Socialist crimes would let future generations grow up with a wrong image of the Holocaust, and therefore level the important difference between perpetrators and victims, consequently freeing the perpetrators from any responsibility,” he writes.

“I’m really very apprehensive about what direction Germany will take on a wide range of Holocaust related issues, given his position which is so problematic,” Zuroff told The Times of Israel on Sunday afternoon, immediately after Gauck’s election was announced. Zuroff added that the president in Germany holds almost no political power, rather, similar to the Israeli presidency is mainly representative in nature.

“Gauck is supposed to be a moral compass — in that capacity, the president has tremendous influence on historical issues and issues of Shoah,” Zuroff added.

Ambassador Primor, who is also a former president of the Israel- Germany Association and the Israel-Germany Chamber of Commerce, said that he disagrees with the conclusions of the Prague Declaration but added that Gauck should not be criticized for bringing the matter up for debate.

“I would welcome a discussion about that. Why not clarify it?” he told The Times of Israel. Many German officials are eager to always be politically correct — not Gauck. ”He has an opinion – which I don’t share – but I’m glad that the opinion will be debated,” Primor said.

Representatives of German institutions in Israel likewise said that the Holocaust must not be compared with the misdeeds of the Communists, but that Gauck’s signing the Prague Declaration does not render him unfit for president.

“From the personal conversations I had with him I can categorically state that he does not belong to those who relativize the Holocaust,” said Michael Mertes, who heads the Jerusalem office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is close to the governing center-right CDU party. The fact that Gauck signed the Prague Declaration needs to be seen in the context of the desire of Eastern European countries to draw attention to the misdeeds of their former Communist rulers, but that does not mean he disagrees with the mainstream opinion of German historians who see the Shoah as a genocide without parallels, Mertes said. (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 03/19/12)


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