German Jews wary after bombing of leaders grave

BERLIN — The bombing of the gravestone of one of German Jewry's most prominent postwar leaders is triggering a discussion about the security of Jewish institutions and the spread of right-wing extremism.

The bomb that destroyed the tombstone of Heinz Galinski over the night of Dec. 19-20 was hidden in the lid of a bottle of gas. The explosion was so strong that pieces of metal were found in a wide circumference around the grave, located in one of Berlin's five Jewish cemeteries.

Germany's chancellor condemned the bombing.

"I am certain that the vast majority of Germans are deeply appalled by this horrible crime," Gerhard Schroeder wrote in an open telegram to the leader's widow, Ruth Galinski.

This week, a group reportedly claimed responsibility for bombing the grave of the former leader of Germany's Jewish community, according to the Berlin police.

In the letter to police, the group claimed that it carried out the bombing to protest the recent naming of a Berlin street for Galinski. Berlin officials, who are investigating the authenticity of the letter, offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to the bombers' arrest.

Heinz Galinski, who died in 1992, was one of the most prominent Jews in Germany after World War II.

The survivor of three Nazi concentration camps — Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen — Galinski led the Berlin Jewish community for 43 years. He also headed the Central Council of Jews in Germany from 1988 until his death.

"Galinski is a symbol," said Ignatz Bubis, who succeeded Galinski as head of the German Jewish community. "I consider this an attack on the Jewish community in Germany and on me personally."

Bubis is "certain that it is an attack by the right wing, which wants the Jews to get out of Germany."

Jewish cemetery desecrations have unfortunately become part of everyday life in Germany, added Bubis, calling for better security measures.

Authorities said Galinski's grave is patrolled hourly. The unknown assailants possibly gained access to the grave from an adjacent military cemetery by scaling a barbed wire fence.

The head of Berlin's police is reviewing security at the city's Jewish institutions. Most synagogues, Jewish community centers and cemeteries in Germany are patrolled by German police.

Police authorities in Berlin said they had no leads. But they are investigating possible parallels between this attack and other Jewish cemetery desecrations in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany. A previous attempt to damage Galinski's grave in September caused only minor damage.

In 1997, there were 40 Jewish cemetery desecrations in Germany, compared to 26 in 1996 and 40 in 1995.

Meanwhile, German President Roman Herzog and Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen were criticized after commenting that the cemetery attack was the work of confused loners.

That description of the assailants "is an attempt to show that such an attack has nothing to do with the society at large," said Wilhelm Heitmeyer, a professor at the University of Bielefeld and a leading expert on right-wing extremism.