Obituary: Heinz Galinski

Heinz Galinski, community leader, born Marienburg Germany 28 November 1912, Chairman Central Council of German Jews 1988-92, died Sunday 19 July 1992.

HEINZ GALINSKI, the pugnacious leader of the small but important German Jewish community, never sought popularity but won widespread respect for his unbending devotion to Jewish communal life.

The death of his first wife and his parents in the Holocaust and his own bitter experiences in Auschwitz coloured Galinski's entire adult life. At international Jewish gatherings he always spoke with deep feeling and a striking intensity, in German, admitting to an inability to speak English, which he had tried but failed to learn. To anyone less pugnacious this would have been a handicap when other Jewish leaders spoke fluent French or English, but he always managed to put across his point of view. Physically somewhat slight, he established himself as an unchallenged leader first of the West Berlin and then of all German Jewry.

He was exceptionally energetic and straightforward in his methods, and would not accept any half-measures or delay. But his tough leadership among the pitiful remnants of the German-Jewish community - once half a million strong, reduced to less than 30,000 by the end of the war - was probably necessary. He won admiration for his courage in denouncing a revived neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.

The son of a German-Jewish businessman in what is now Poland, Heinz Galinski was sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz and Buchenwald but survived the horrors of the death camps. He was moved to Bergen-Belsen and it was there that he was freed at the end of the Second World War by the British army. His parents and his wife were less fortunate and were among the millions of Holocaust victims. He had gone to Berlin as a young man from his native town of Marienburg and experienced at first hand the rise of Nazism. His father, who had been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War, died in a police station soon after his arrest by the Gestapo.

When Heinz Galinski emerged from the death camps, shattered and almost broken, he made a decision which most of his fellow Jews could not understand or appreciate. The vast majority of survivors either chose to leave, if given the opportunity, for liberal- minded Western countries, or for the new State of Israel. But Galinski decided to remain in Germany and help to rebuild the Jewish community.

He became head of the tiny Jewish community in West Berlin in 1949 and concentrated his efforts on ensuring that the few thousand Jews who survived should not be lost among the German population. He organised Jewish old peoples' homes; rabbis and cantors were trained to lead the congregations in prayer and provide spiritual leadership. These methods, which preserved the Jewish communities, resembled those of Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen in Romania, who had an even harder task because he had to work with a Communist government, while Galinski had a co- operative German administration always apprehensive that it would be accused of insensitivity to the Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Both Galinski and Rosen were occasionally criticised by Zionists who felt that there was no place for Jews in Germany or Romania. But both men in the end received tributes from Israeli leaders for their foresight and devotion.

When he took over the leadership of the National Council of Jews in Germany, after a crisis in its affairs, in 1988 - at the same time retaining his position in Berlin - Galinski spoke out fearlessly and with even greater authority about the dangers of a reviving neo-Nazism and Fascism. In 1975 he narrowly escaped a bomb attack from the extreme-left Red Army Faction who objected to his criticism of extremism whether on the right or the left, but the attack in no way affected his attitude.

Despite being a strong supporter of Israel, Galinski objected to the strictures uttered in 1981 by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, against the German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, feeling that Begin was not being fair to the German leader. But he was very critical of the German government for what he saw as appeasement of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

When Germany was reunited in 1990 Galinski warned that a wave of radical rightist violence against foreigners could mean a return to widespread persecution in which the Jews would suffer. Germany, he insisted, should never be allowed to forget its crimes against humanity, though he also pleaded for understanding and reconciliation.

His work as a member of the Jewish Memorial Foundation helped ensure that Jewish communities world-wide did not forgo their cultural heritage, and his activities within the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany were vital in obtaining essential and rightful funds.

Determined that Germans, and particularly young Germans, should always be aware of the terrible crimes perpetrated by the German nation, he was glad that last January a national memorial was dedicated at the Wannsee Villa in Berlin, where Nazi leaders had held a conference 50 years before to plan the extermination of European Jewry. 'The voices are not yet stilled of those who want to minimise the crimes of the Nazi regime,' he said. The memorial has exhibits of documents from the conference and photographs of death camps. It is designed as a study centre to be visited by schoolchildren to combat neo- Nazi claims that the Holocaust did not occur.

In the death of Galinski, as Manfred Stolpe, the State Governor of Brandenburg, has said, Germany has lost 'one of the great witnesses of German history in the 20th century'.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all