Survival Strategies: Historic Preservation, Jewish Community, and the German Democratic Republic
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Following the Second World War, as German Communists worked to establish a new socialist East German state, Jews who survived persecution and imprisonment by the Nazis worked to reestablish a Jewish community at the same time. Though many scholars dismiss the relationship between Jews and the Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party of the German Democratic Republic, as one characterized only by neglect and occasional political exploitation, it was much more nuanced, shaped in large part by the Cold War. Both the party and the Jewish community relied on the other to accomplish their goals, namely, survival in a new world order: The Socialist Unity Party relied on the Jewish community to maintain the German Democratic Republic's claim to legitimacy, and the Jews, few in number, relied on the party for financial support. Despite mutual benefits, however, the state and party nearly always had the upper hand. The power imbalance led Jews to find creative ways to fulfill their needs and, at several points, even prompted protest of the party’s treatment of its Jewish citizens. This paper follows the course of this relationship by focusing on the German Democratic Republic's management of sites of historical significance—which vacillated between outright destruction and dedicated protection—returning particularly to the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe. With this particular lens, this project addresses questions about memory, mythology, and agency in a socialist dictatorship and challenges assumptions about Jewish life in East Germany.
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