The remarkable story of American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) pioneering relations with Germany is told in a new publication, “AJC and Germany: History in the Making 1945 – 2020.” Authored by Deidre Berger, director of AJC Berlin from 2000-2019, with a foreword by AJC CEO David Harris.
Founded in 1906 by Jews of German descent, Germany is in AJC’s DNA. But it was the profound decision of AJC leaders in the late 1940s, very soon after the Holocaust, to reengage Germany that set AJC, uniquely among international Jewish organizations, on a journey that has yielded a range of productive partnerships with the German government and civil society.
“AJC was the first Jewish organization to seek contact with Germany after the Holocaust, and AJC remains today an important partner for Germany,” says Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her sentiments towards are echoed by other senior German political leaders throughout the story told in the publication.
The pathbreaking policy statement on Germany that AJC leadership adopted in 1951 was indicative of the AJC approach. While vigorously criticizing the lackluster German confrontation with the crimes of the Nazi regime, AJC rejected the idea of collective German guilt, choosing instead to emphasize policies that encouraged democracy.
“In its postwar quest to anchor Germany in the community of Western democratic nations, AJC has remained resolute in its search for a better future, while never forgetting or minimizing the crimes of the past,” Berger writes.
Active engagement through diplomacy and education to promote democracy and fight antisemitism has been at the core of AJCs approach to Germany. Many ground-breaking projects and programs AJC initiated with the government, foundations, faith groups and educators, are detailed in “AJC and Germany: History in the Making 1945 – 2020.” Notably, the Konrad Adenauer exchange program between American Jews and Germans, now in its 40thyear, and the special partnership launched in 1994 between AJC and the Bundeswehr are two of the most creative examples of successful efforts to foster enduring understanding and cooperation.
Over the past 75 years, AJC has been a trailblazer at pivotal moments in Germany’s history. AJC was the first global Jewish organization to commit itself to Germany’s renewed sovereignty, as well as to the reestablishment of Jewish life in Germany. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, AJC was again the first major Jewish organization to support German unification. And, in 1998, AJC became the first international Jewish organization to establish a permanent presence in Germany, with the visionary help of Lawrence and Lee Ramer of Los Angeles, California.
“The momentous decision to open an office in Berlin was a powerful signal of faith that a newly united Germany was taking important steps to atone for its past and demonstrating responsible partnership and leadership in the reunification of Europe,” Berger writes.
For more than 20 years, AJC Berlin has acted on the ground as a watchdog to monitor extremism and antisemitism, ensure the maintenance of accurate historical memory; support the renewal of Jewish life; strengthen Germany’s ties with the U.S. and Israel; and serve as a partner in confronting challenges to transatlantic security and democracy.
“The involvement of AJC in Germany for more than a century is an outstanding example of the vital role that an organization can play in creating a safer world for Jews and all minorities, addressing threats to democracy, and working toward mutual understanding and peace among nations,” writes Berger.
The key role of David Harris, the son of survivors, in steering the evolution of AJC’s relations with Germany is central to the story. Since he became AJC CEO in 1990, Harris has built on the groundbreaking achievements of his predecessors at the helm of AJC, and continued to expand the ties to levels that were unimaginable on May 8, 1945, when World War II ended.
In her conclusion, Berger writes: “AJC’s work in Germany has demonstrated over and over again the power of an outreached hand and a bold vision to overcome the consequences of unparalleled human depravity during the Holocaust. It is a telling case study in AJC vision and methodology, and the mind-boggling, history-changing results of seven decades speak for themselves.”