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 Posted Thursday, September 30, 1999

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Ignatz Bubis: A Memoir (written for AR in 1997 while he was still alive)

The Problem with Boobies

London -- IGNATZ BUBIS, current Vorsitzender des Zentralrates der Juden in Germany, was the self-appointed chief of the minuscule community of 60,000 Jews in that country, which now includes a substantial number invited to live in Germany from the Soviet Union.

On Jan. 12 [1997] he celebrated his seventieth birthday in stately splendour in the presidential palace, Schloss Bellevue in Berlin.; the next day he celebrated it again in the centre of real power in Germany, Frankfurt am Main. These lavish functions were attended by everybody who, as Dr Goebbels would have put it in his diary, had "power and an appetite" - the Speaker of the House, the Federal President, the Chief Justice, the heads of the parties, and the leaders of the religious and trades union communities.

They find him a worthy successor to Werner Nachmann, the former scrap-metal dealer who headed the community before him from 1967 to his probable suicide in Jan. 1988 -- after which demise it turned out that he had embezzled twenty million marks of German taxpayers' hard-earned funds poured into the [Holocaust] restitution funds, to shore up his own bankrupt empire. Bubis himself heaped excoriation on Nachmann in his memoirs, Damit bin ich noch längst nicht fertig (1996), admitting that "between 1982 and 1988 Nachmann stole almost twenty million marks of restitution funds for the victims of National Socialism," a crime which, Bubis had to concede, damaged "not only the image of the Zentralrat [in Germany] but that of the entire [Jewish religious community worldwide."

With what glee right-wingers now cite the oleaginous funeral eulogies for Nachmann spoken by the then Federal president, the odious Richard von Weizsäcker, and that printed by the Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung on Feb 5, 1988, just before Nachmann's thieving was discovered; it was all rather reminiscent of the British establishment's oily praise for Robert Maxwell (a.k.a. Jan Hoch), publishing mogul, who literally jumped overboard one night rather than face the music when his publishing empire began to collapse. Maxwell was safely buried as a hero on the Mount of Olives before it was found he had embezzled millions from his companies' pension funds in a vain attempt to patch up the wreck.


WHICH brings us back to Herr Bubis: several countries of the world may find cause to exclude him, on account of his own, ahem, criminal record. In Dresden, then one of the major cities of communist East Germany which had been devastated by the war, in 1952 he was one of a thirty-five strong "gang of racketeers" (Bande von Spekulationsverbrechern) indicted for "anti-social, greedy and conscience-less behaviour" which had done serious damage to the community. By racketeering in huge quantities of communities the accused, says the charge sheet, were enabled to live a life of luxury. Bubis, declared by the court to have been their ringleader, was sentenced in absentia to twelve years jail and the confiscation of his property.

Right-wingers found and published the criminal record recently. Bubis, visibly embarrassed, tried to claim that the sentence was a political ideological sentence handed down by a communist regime against an active opponent. But the present German government, which has taken over the records of the former Soviet-controlled occupation government of east Germany, has been unable to find any evidence of such political opposition by Bubis. In his own memoirs, in fact he describes how he managed a barter-organisation "in behalf of the Soviet military government." He had sold goods which he obtained from the Russians in exchange for precious metals like gold and silver. "I had a lot to do with the Russians," he wrote. "You had to do some hard drinking with them." He boasts that the Russians even gave him the luxury Horch limousine of foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (who had been hanged at Nuremberg) to drive around in.

Fleeing justice in Dresden, he turned up in west Germany and founded a real estate empire in -- where else? -- Frankfurt am Main which had by the 1970s made him a multi-millionaire and the target of both extreme left- and right-wing opponents of all that was rotten in the new Germany. Bubis and his ilk managed to prevent the staging of leading playwright Rainer Werner Fassbinder's latest work Der Müll, die Stadt und der Tod, claiming that the play's grotesquely antisemitic passages were aimed specifically at him, as no doubt they were.

Related file:
Jewish Chronicle, London, assesses Bubis' life.
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