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Posted Friday, August 13, 1999

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Friday, August 13, 1999

Death of Ignatz Bubis

Champion of German Jews Dies at 72

Associated Press Writer

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Ignatz Bubis, a Jew who survived the Nazis and returned to Germany to become a champion of the nation's Jews and its "Voice of the Conscience," died Friday. He was 72.

Bubis died after a short illness, the Central Council of Jews said in a statement.

Elected chairman and the head of Germany's growing Jewish population in 1992, Bubis often made headlines as an outspoken voice against intolerance, participating in demonstrations against radical rightist attacks and giving interviews to newspapers and TV talk shows.

As the public face of Germany's Jewish community, Bubis never backed down from his insistence that Germans must still actively remember the Holocaust and stood up to those who said the opposite.

"The Jewish world has lost a great champion of human rights who embodied the Jewish experience from the depths of the Holocaust to the renaissance of Jewish identity and peoplehood," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in New York.

In an interview with Stern magazine last month, Bubis said he felt he had accomplished "nearly nothing" in his seven years as the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

"I wanted to do away with these divisions -- here Germans, there Jews," he said.

Bubis was leader of a Jewish community that has been growing again since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since 1989, Germany's Jewish community has grown from about 29,000 to 70,000 due to the migration of East European Jews.

Bubis was born in Wroclaw in what is now Poland on Jan. 17, 1927. His father was a civil servant. When he was 8, his family moved further east because of stepped-up Nazi activity near the border.

When he was 15, Bubis saw his father marched away by the Nazis. He never saw him again. A brother and a sister also died under the Nazis.

Bubis survived a ghetto set up by the Nazis for Jews, and a labor camp that was a munitions factory at Czestochowa, Poland. He was freed from the camp on Jan. 16, 1945, when the Soviet Red Army moved into Poland as the World War II Allies began closing in on Hitler's military. Bubis returned to Germany after the war.

As arguments increased in recent years over building a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Bubis said he supported such a move, but preferred better upkeep of the actual sites of Nazi atrocities -- the concentration camp memorials.

When parliament finally approved the Berlin memorial in June, Bubis said he was pleased because he never thought it would really happen after 11 years of on-again, off-again debate.

That same month, Bubis fell, broke his leg and was forced to use a wheelchair, although he strived to meet his many commitments.

Although Bubis is a German citizen, he told Stern that he wants to be buried in Israel because he fears his grave will be desecrated. The marble gravestone of Bubis' prececessor, Heinz Galinski, was destroyed by a bomb in December. Police suspect right-wing extremists, but no one has been charged.

Bubis is survived by his wife, Ida, and their daughter, Naomi Ann. Funeral plans were not immediately announced.

Our opinion
THE German press has been rightfully crowded with warm obituaries of Mr Bubis. The Times on Monday, Aug. 16, 1999 stated that "a few weeks" after his release by the Red Army in Jan. 1945 he "made his way" to Frankfurt am Main. In a proper spirit of speak-no-evil, the newspapers drew a discreet veil over the post-war years he actually spent in the Soviet Zone of Germany, and none felt it seemly to recall that an East German court in Dresden handed down a twelve-year sentence against him for racketeering in coffee and other scarce black-market commodities in the 1950s. He skipped the country to the capitalist West in time to avoid serving the prison sentence; while no obstacle to his becoming leader of Germany's prosperous new Jewish community, Bubis' criminal record could have proved an embarrassment in those countries like Australia where "good character" is a requirement for obtaining even a visitor's visa. In Frankfurt, he amassed his millions as a property speculator, financing the erection of vast and ugly office skyscrapers. Though not identified by name, Bubis became the target of a vicious left-wing stage play (Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Death, Garbage, and the Property Speculator") against the premiere of which he successfully organised street demonstrations in the best Dr-Goebbels style, forcing its abandonment in 1985. It was recently (1999) presented again in a Berlin theatre. Interviewed in June 1993 by journalists of Helsinki's respected daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, he had words of quiet praise and admiration for this Website's David Irving. Action ReportAccording to an article in the Aug. 16 Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Bubis' grave has already been desecrated by an artist named Meir Mendelssohn. He had asked to be buried in Israel so that his grave might escape the neo-Nazi vandals.

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