Bodo Ramelow

Thuringia’s prime minister is “committed to the principles of the Torah as well as to a cosmopolitan understanding of Jewish life and culture”…. 

Your first journey abroad as prime minister of Thuringia led you to Israel. It was however not your first visit. Why?
Israel is an exciting and fascinating country. You can say without a doubt that Israel is the country where world history began. Also, the world religions have their roots in Israel and its neighboring regions. As I am personally devoted to the training of cantors and rabbis in my function as a foundation board member of Abraham Geiger College, I have long been curious about Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the whole of Israel. So I first visited Israel to attend the 2008 ICCJ interfaith congress and returned to Germany full of new impressions and a huge curiosity to come back again.
I also met Avital Ben-Chorin who was born in Eisenach and escaped Nazi terror with a Kindertransport [a rescue mission for Jewish children] to Palestine. It was my special wish to help in adopting a resolution across party lines in the city council of Eisenach to grant Avital Ben-Chorin honorary citizenship and to accompany this process.


Thüringer Staatskanzlei Barbara Neumann

Thüringer Staatskanzlei Barbara Neumann

What is unusual about your first journey is that it had Israel as its sole destination.
My first journey abroad as newly elected prime minister in 2015 was focused solely on Israel especially because Thuringia with the concentration camps Buchenwald and Dora has an obligation not to forget or relativize Nazi terror or the Holocaust. I wanted to make a point with my journey and had a Buchenwald survivor, Natalie Fürst, accompany me throughout my entire journey. With a large business and scientific delegation we visited many universities and companies in Israel and made new contacts. The first journey was a great success and we promoted Thuringia specifically in Israel to make people curious about our state.
What makes the relationship between Erfurt and its partner city Haifa so special?
Haifa is a beautiful city on the sea. Cosmopolitan and modern, relaxed and curious, and fits to Erfurt. The partnership has been alive and well for a long time. For instance, the Leo Baeck Education Center has visited Erfurt with its great musical program “Step by Step – Sauwa Sauwa”. Thus, during my Israel journey, it was a pleasure for me to visit the mayor of Haifa together with the mayor of Erfurt to also set a sign of friendship.


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The “Old Synagogue” in Erfurt

You emphasize time and time again how important it is for German-Jewish reconciliation to cope with the past.
Definitively. From our perspective it is more than important to emphasize that Erfurt embraces its responsibility for its past during the Nazi era. Thus, the memorial Topf & Söhne, the place where the incinerators where built, plays an important role in Erfurt as a place of gathering, as well as the Old Synagogue where the Jewish gold treasure is on display. History, the present and the past, is together connected with the UNESCO World Heritage proposal for Jewish life in Erfurt. The bright and the dark sides are connected in Erfurt so that we actively live with this responsibility, so that a “Never Again” to anti-Semitism has a lively home in Erfurt. We are happy to welcome guests from Haifa but also Jewish visitors from all over the world.



What significance does the fostering of and support for Jewish life in Thuringia have for you and the state?
We are grateful for the new Jewish life that enriches our cities and communities. It gives our home state Thuringia a fresh and sappy thrust of vitality, dynamics, future, and perspective. Every year we celebrate Jewish-Israeli cultural days in Thuringia that attract a growing audience. Thanks to the general enthusiasm for klezmer the Yiddish Summer Weimar has become one of the most renowned festivals for Yiddish music and culture worldwide. The Achava Festival that in 2015 took place in Erfurt for the first time has become something of a tradition. Dialogue stands at the center of the festival and allows for many interfaith and intercultural encounters. I am pleased that at the beginning of the 21st century we can witness how in a new, democratic Germany Jewish culture and Jewish faith are taking root again.
What role does the Jüdische Landesgemeinde [the Jewish community in the state] already play and what role will it play in the future?
For me as prime minister it is especially close to my heart that the Jüdische Landesgemeinde can shape Jewish life in freedom, protected as best as possible by the state and supported by society. The state government supports the state community in its efforts to preserve Jewry in all its traditional diversity and identity, is committed to the principles of the Torah as well as to a cosmopolitan understanding of Jewish life and culture.■






Bodo Ramelow is the prime minister
of Thuringia

Photo Credit: Thüringer Staatskanzlei Barbara Neumann

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