Project of IISHJ

German Reunification

The Jewish Humanist, April 1990, Vol. XXVI, Number 9

The impossible is taking place.  What everybody vowed would never happen has happened!  Germany is coming back together again. 

For many Jews and for many other victims of the Nazi terror, the thought of a reunified Germany is terrifying.  They see antisemitism.  They see fascism reborn.  They see military rearmament. 

How realistic are their fears?  Is the coming together of West and East Germany a danger to Europe and the world?  Or will it turn out to be something positive? 

The Poles are apprehensive.  Over one-third of their territory was taken from Germany after World War II and its German population expelled.  Will a united Germany demand its restoration?  The French are apprehensive.  For over a century the Germans were the traditional enemies of the French, conquering and occupying France twice.  In recent years, West Germany, deprived of German unity, has sought a European alliance with France.  Will this alliance now collapse?  Will a renewed German nationalism and militarism again threaten France?  The Russians are apprehensive.  Over twenty million Soviet citizens died in the German invasion  One third of the nation was devastated.  Will the Germans turn against Russia again?  Will they threaten the security of the Russian state? 

The setting pf German reunification is important to note.   

West Germany is a success.  East Germany is a failure.  The West Germans will dominate the union. 

Unlike the Weimer (sic) Republic when Hitler took over, West Germany is experiencing no catastrophic depression.  It is (with the exception of the Scandinavians) the most prosperous and productive country in Europe. 

West Germany has a vital functioning democracy.  The ruling Christian Democrats, like their opposition Social Democrats, are in the political center.  Extremist parties have small constituencies.  The neo-Nazi Republican party is vocal and visible.  But it has no significant following. 

Russia, France, Britain were well-armed.  They would never allow German rearmament.  And for the Germans rearmament is counterproductive.  It is very expensive and it would subvert the economic relations with other nations that give Germany her present power. 

The West Germans, like the Japanese have discovered that the most effective way to ‘conquer’ the world is not through armies but through trade.  The German work ethic and scientific know-how are far more powerful guarantors of success than German militarism. 

Young West Germans are quite different from their Nazi grandparents.  They have been raised in prosperity and with real democratic opportunities.  They are attached to ‘yuppie’ ambitions and ‘yuppie’ life styles.  They do not seem to be terribly nationalistic.  Polls have indicated that many of them are apprehensive about merger because they fear the economic cost of absorbing so many East Germans. 

The dream of a united Europe is a very powerful ideal in West Germany.  In 1992 the bonds of union will be tightened.  A common currency will be established.  Europeans nationals will be able to live wherever they want to in Europe.  The union will add more power to the German economy but it will diminish the separation necessary for chauvinism. 

The Christian Democrats are now the dominant party in both Germanies.  The East Germans defied the pollsters and repudiated the socialists in their recent election.  Their motivation was less nationalism than economics.  They want to be ‘yuppies’ too.  And they believe that the capitalistic Christian Democrats can do for them what they did for their ‘western’ brothers and sisters. 

Reunification for all practical purposes, has already taken place.  The East Germans do not want a separate East German state.  That reality has been apparent ever since the Berlin Wall fell.  But unification will not be easy.  Merging two incompatible economic and social systems will take a long time.  Hating socialism is different from being willing to give up the benefits and security of the welfare state.  Satisfying the demands of the East Germans will provide many opportunities for crisis. 

So what does this all mean? 

It means that formal reunification will move fast-not as fast as many East Germans want it to, but fast enough.  First will come currency merger (sic) this year.  Then all-German elections will follow next year.  The Christian Democrats are likely to win these elections. 

The new Germany will dominate the new united Europe.  This domination will be economic, not military.  Berlin (as the restored capital of a united Germany) will become the unofficial capital of Europe.  And Europe will become the dominant economic power in the world.  Many former Soviet satellites-like Poland  and Czechoslovakia-will join a united Europe. 

The new economic environment will serve to dampen nationalism.  Vocal and visible fascists will be spurning their hatred.  But there will not be a large sympathetic audience for what they have to say.  Nazism no longer fits into the economic realities of a united Germany and a united Europe.  Changing boundaries through military aggression is highly unlikely.  Poland is more valuable as an economic ally and market than as a resentful and hostile neighbor. 

Jews will return to Germany.  Some will be Russian refugees.  Some will be financially frustrated Israelis.  Some will be expatriate Americans seeking their fortune.  Jews have always gravitated to places of economic opportunity.  A peaceful Europe will be no exception. 

How do we respond to all these changes?  It is all happening so fast.  First the Communist empire falls apart.  And then the Germans get back together again. 

Cautious optimism is a good strategy.  The unification of Germany means the end of the Cold War.  And the end of the Cold War is the best guarantee that holocausts will not happen in the future. 

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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