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German government, Jewish leaders set to sign landmark agreement • Sunday January 19, 2003

AP, Jan. 18, 2003

Germany’s main Jewish organization will sign on Jan. 27 a landmark agreement with the government giving it the same legal standing as the predominant Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, the leader of the country’s Jewish community said in an interview published Saturday.

“This treaty is a great sign of confidence in this country and its politics,” Paul Spiegel, the head of the Central Council of Jews, said of the agreement, which will be signed on the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

“My parents said in 1945 that there would never again be Jewish communities in Germany,” Spiegel told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. “So it is something special that Jews not only want to live here but can.”

The proposed concordat, announced last November by Spiegel and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, will recognize the importance of Jewish life in Germany and triple the council’s annual allocation to 3 million euros (US$3.2 million), reflecting the surge in the Jewish community over the past decade.

The contract will establish the first legal partnership between the Jewish community and the government since World War II, in the spirit of similar agreements with the churches under which the state finances the costs of some institutions, such as schools.

Germany’s once-strong Jewish community of half a million was decimated in the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were murdered. From some 15,000 Jews living in Germany after World War II, the community grew to 30,000 a decade ago, but has since burgeoned to 100,000 with Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The additional resources will help the community, among other things, train more rabbis and introduce Jewish rites to immigrants who grew up under communism without a religious education.

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