Israel honours memory of anti-Nazi "European Union"

Published: Tuesday, June 20, 2006, 15:43 [IST]

BERLIN, June 20 (Reuters) Israel's ambassador to Germany presented medals of honour to relatives of five members of the first ''European Union'' -- an anti-Nazi resistance group whose members hid and fed Jews during World War Two.

This European Union, which had the same name but nothing to do with the modern 25-nation bloc of European countries, was an underground, Marxist-oriented group with around 50 to 60 German members, according to a protocol prepared by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

To honour them, Israel's ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein presented special Yad Vashem medals to surviving members of the families of ''European Union'' activists Georg and Anneliese Groscurth, Robert Havemann, Paul Rentsch and Herbert Richter at a ceremony at Stein's official residence in the German capital yesterday.

The group was founded in Berlin in 1939 and its members strove to establish contact with the thousands of foreign slave labourers they came into contact with on a daily basis. They aimed to create a unified socialist Europe.

''The 'European Union' resistance group acted true to its name, trying to make contact with slave labourers from the Soviet Union and France,'' Manfred Wilke, a professor of history at Berlin's Free University, told guests at the ceremony.

Yad Vashem's protocol explains that the group's members went to great risks to feed, hide and procure false documents for Jews on the run from the Nazis, who wanted them all deported to concentration camps for systematic liquidation.

In September 1943, the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, arrested the group's leaders, including its founder and visionary, chemist Robert Havemann.

Of those arrested, 37 were charged and 15 sentenced to death, though Havemann's execution was postponed repeatedly. He survived and died in communist East Germany in 1982.

Nearly half of the Jews documented to have been helped by the five activists died in Auschwitz, the protocol says.

According to a spokesman for the Israeli embassy, Israel usually bases such awards on the testimony of Jews. But in this case, Yad Vashem was able to use Nazi court records themselves, in which the judges slammed the defendants for helping Jews.

''How shameless the attitude of the four accused was. It is also clear that they systematically supported Jews who were living illegally, even feeding them. But not only that, they procured false documents so that they could disguise themselves as if they weren't Jews but Germans,'' read one example.

Another section of the decision refers to Havemann, saying he ''purchased out of his own pocket for Jews black market butter, veal fat, cereals and ration coupons for bread.'' The German government has never honoured the European Union anti-Nazi resistance group.

REUTERS PDS BST0447

 

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