In mid-June, the German government modified its laws regarding Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union (CIS). Jewish groups immediately protested the changes to the laws.
Following consultations with leaders of Germany’s Central Council of Jews in Germany as well as the Union for Progressive Judaism, the very restrictive regulations were loosened by the beginning of July.
This is the first time that government representatives met officially with leaders of the Union for Progressive Judaism - UPJ (the umbrella organization of the Reform movement in Germany) in order to resolve disputes involving the Jewish community as a whole. In the past, the government would only fund and negotiate with the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Although it was founded in Germany and made up the majority of its pre-war Jewish population, the Reform Jewish movement was no longer recognized by postwar German governments due to the stonewalling of the Central Council [made up primarily of immigrants from the CIS], until late last year. In 2004, the government finally bowed to pressure from Liberal Jewish groups in the United States, and has since forced the Central Council to negotiate with the UPJ the fair division of federal funding of the Jewish communities.
It is common belief that many of the non-religious CIS immigrants would feel more comfortable in Reform congregations which, to date, had not received any government funding. However, most of these immigrants [who live on welfare] would not be able to afford the membership fees which Reform congregations have been forced to collect in order to survive.
|The Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland |
The Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland ("Central Council of Jews in Germany") is a federation of German Jews organizing many Jewish organisations in Germany.
It was founded on July 19, 1950 as a response to the increasing isolation of German Jews by the international Jewish community and increasing interest in Jewish affairs by the (West) German government.
Originally based in the Rheinland (Dusseldorf and Bonn), it currently has its seat in Berlin.
The Jewish community in Germany has around 100,000 registered members. From its early years, the organization has received strong financial and moral support from the government.
Since the fall of the Berlin wall, about 200,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union have come to Germany as contingency refugees, those who could prove Jewish ancestry and therefore gained a status that almost guaranteed a visa to Germany.
“Jews from Russia and the other CIS countries are technically not refugees at all because there is no war, hunger or epidemic persecution happening there,” an official of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior told EJP.
“Still, the German government granted CIS Jews the status of refugees. By doing so, it hoped to better its image with Jewish organizations worldwide [giving itself some extra leverage in ongoing compensation claims by victims of Nazi persecution] – something the government has been very successful at,” he said.
An Interior Ministry source confirmed the accepted belief that Germany has become the country with the fastest growth rate of a Jewish population since 1990.
“Jews from the former Soviet Union have only two places where they can go to relatively easily. That is Israel or Germany,” he told EJP.
“Germany, being closest to Russia climatically, geographically and culturally tends to be the choice most Russian Jews would prefer today. Most of the CIS emigres seem solely interested in reaping economic benefits in Germany or Israel – rather than going for religious or ideological reasons,” he said.
Recently, members of Germany’s Jewish communities began to voice their objections to this mass immigration that has, in the end, not enhanced its own memberships.
Since most Jews are not coming for of religious or ideological reasons, at least half have not sought membership within the Jewish Community.
Before the government approved the new rules, it was sufficient for a CIS citizen to claim Jewish ancestry without proving it – regardless of whether maternal or paternal and, if applicable, irrespective of whether a conversion was conducted through Orthodox or Liberal jurisdiction. The applicant could also, in theory, bring his entire immediate, non-Jewish family with him.
Until July, no more was required of a person seeking “asylum”, as a Jew, in Germany. The old immigration policy was extremely lenient to Jews.
The next step for the applicant was basically to wait for his number to be called. Approximately 25,000 applications are currently being dealt with.
According to Russian sources, many Russian Jews did not come to Germany to seek a better life or escape persecution. Some only came to Germany with the sole purpose of having a future door open to them – “just in case things get worse,” Jana S. of Nishny Novgorod, Russia told EJP.
Speaking from Russia, Jana S. said she only applied to come to Germany at the insistence of her parents, who emigrated to Dresden years ago. “Now that my number has been called, I will go to Germany.
“Life is not good in Russia, but I have my friends and work here – it could be worse,” she said
Soon, Jana S. will go to Germany with the sole purpose of establishing her residency there. Once done, she plans on returning to Russia and continue working there.
Unlike the so called Volga-Germans [Russians of German ancestry], who must prove without a shadow of a doubt their German heritage in order to get a German residency, Jews did not need to do this.
The new rules now require for a citizen of the CIS to prove their Jewish ancestry. Also, an applicant must apply for membership within a German-Jewish congregation that will vouch for him throughout the application process.
Of the some 190,000 “Jewish” immigrants who have come to Germany since 1989, only 80,000 have joined the Jewish community, AFP reported recently.
Many voices throughout German-Jewish congregations believe that about half of the immigrants to Germany are not Jews at all.
Many Russian members of the Jewish community feel that such a statistics are no more than a discriminatory rhetoric by irritated Jews [of German ancestry] who feel their voices are no longer being heard in Germany’s Jewish community – in which Russian is the main language today.
One disgruntled member in Dresden’s Jewish community told EJP that she is certain that half the members in her synagogue are not really Jewish at all. “They are here for the free food, drink and social welfare benefits.”
A recent statistic distributed by the Central Council of Jews in Germany shows that over half of its members are living to some extent off of government subsidies – a fact that has kept its 80 affiliated communities from coming out of their serious budget deficits.
Now, most Jews applying to immigrate to Germany must show a qualification that would make their chances at finding employment more likely. Also knowledge of basic German is required.
This would be a potential advantage to the already financially strapped Jewish community.
Victims of Nazi persecution and “extreme cases” [people who can prove persecution, for example] are still exempt from the employability requirements.
In theory, only Jews from the CIS who had never emigrated from the CIS prior to coming to Germany could qualify as contingency refugees. But many who did qualify had already tried their hand in Israel first – returning to their respective CIS country and then applying to Germany for a refugee visa.
A prominent member of Berlin’s Jewish community, who is currently divorcing his Ukrainian-born wife, finds the circumstances surrounding the immigration into Germany of his mother in law “highly dubious.”
“She had already been to Israel before having been allowed to immigrate to Germany”, he told EJP. “She certainly did not qualify as a contingency refugee,” he said.
Perhaps these are only the words of a disgruntled, almost former, son-in-law. Perhaps they are insight into the lax attitude of the immigration regulators of the past – which has led to the changes in the immigration policy.