Weizman in Germany: I cannot forgive sins

BERLIN — Israeli President Ezer Weizman, visiting Germany this week, said it was difficult for him to be in a place where he heard "voices crying to me from the earth" from the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims.

The four-day visit is the Israeli president's first to the reunited Germany.

The visit broke a deadlock over financing the $137.2 million in annual pensions for East European Jews that has lasted since German Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised in 1989 to pay them.

Under pressure because of the visit, Kohl's coalition Tuesday reportedly made it possible for the parliament to approve payment of German pensions to 35,000 aging Jews from formerly Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

Speaking to the German parliament Tuesday, Weizman thanked Germany for helping Israel and for fostering the peace process. But he also said he could not forgive Germany for the crimes of Nazism.

Weizman said he could mourn and commemorate Jewish Holocaust victims, "but I cannot forgive in their name."

"It is not easy for me to stand here and speak to you, my friends in this house," he said.

Weizman also called on Germans to combat neo-Nazism and the radical right, and said Israel and Germany needed to "find common ground."

The call was echoed by parliamentary speaker Ruth Sussmuth, who told Weizman,"You are visiting a different, a democratic, a European Germany that has learned its lesson from hate and genocide, war and expulsion, and is aware of its responsibility."

Earlier, Weizman provoked the German Jewish community and its leaders when he said soon after arriving here that he could not "understand how 40,000 Jews could live" in Germany.

Weizman, speaking with young Germans, also said "the only place where a Jew can be a Jew is Israel."

Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, defended Jews' right to live here. "The Germany of today is not the Germany of the Nazi times," Bubis reportedly said.

Michel Friedman, a member of the council, said Weizman's comments "were a cause of irritation in the Jewish community."

Today's Germany is based on democratic principles, he added.

Weizman began his visit by paying homage to Jews who died at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin.