Bubis, Ignatz

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BUBIS, IGNATZ (1927–1999), German-Jewish political leader. Born in then German Breslau to Polish-Jewish parents, Bubis returned with his family to Polish Deblin in 1935. After his mother died of cancer, Bubis was forced into the Deblin ghetto in 1941 together with his father, who was murdered in Treblinka a year later. Spending the rest of the war in the camps of Deblin and Czestochowa, Bubis was liberated in January 1945. He first moved to the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, and in 1949 settled in West Germany. He became a successful businessman, specializing in jewelry and later real estate.

In 1978 Bubis was elected president of the Frankfurt Jewish community. In 1985 he aroused public attention as one of the leading opponents of the staging in Frankfurt of the allegedly antisemitic play The Garbage, the City, and the Death. In this play the renowned film writer Rainer Werner Fassbinder depicted a wealthy real estate owner, according to some based on Bubis, as "The Rich Jew." Bubis and other members of the Jewish community successfully prevented the staging of the play and were thus responsible for the first major public demonstration among Jews in postwar Germany. In 1992 Bubis was elected president of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, successor to the late Heinz *Galinski. During his seven years in office, Bubis became enormously popular with the German public and was once proposed as a candidate for president of Germany, an offer he rejected immediately. He visited hundreds of schools to discuss Jewish matters with German pupils and was a regular guest on German tv talk shows. He was also active in the Liberal Free Democratic Party, heading their list in the Frankfurt communal elections in 1997.

In 1998 Bubis accused the German writer Martin Walser of relativizing the Holocaust after Walser's acceptance speech for Germany's most highly regarded literary prize. The Bubis-Walser debate split the German public and was one of the most fiercely contentious issues in the Germany of the late 1990s. In his last interview in July 1999, Bubis distanced himself from his earlier optimistic tone regarding German-Jewish reconciliation when he stressed that he had not been able to achieve much during his period in office. He asked to be buried in Israel out of fear that his grave might be desecrated in Germany. Shortly after his burial an Israeli artist desecrated his grave.

An autobiographical volume, Ich bin ein deutscher Staatsbuerger juedischen Glaubens. Ein autobiographisches Gespraech mit Edith Kohn, appeared in 1993.

[Michael Brenner (2nd ed.)]