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Memories of East Germany

They are Amherst academics who have helped with the reconciliation between Jews and Germans.

Georg and Wilma Iggers also are credited with lifting the Iron Curtain for a unique look at Cold War life in East Germany, revealing clues why the reunified region lags economically.

Perhaps their most unusual postwar German experience took place during a three-month stay in Leipzig, a city of about a half-million people, which "gave us an opportunity to observe daily life," said Georg Iggers, distinguished history professor emeritus at the University at Buffalo. Wilma Iggers is a Canisius College German professor emerita.

Georg Iggers gave a talk recently in Temple Beth Am, Amherst, about establishing ties between the temple and the Jewish community in Germany, the Iggers' second home. In an effort to promote religious freedom and overcome adversity, he notes, "We must strive, even by small steps, for conditions in which all human beings can live in dignity."

About 40 years after the war, and before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were "few opportunities for advancement," and Leipzig workers' "morale was generally very low," said Iggers in his new memoir, "Two Lives in Uncertain Times," written with his wife.

"When I went to a bakery one morning to buy bread, I was told that they had no bread but that they had nice cake," he said.

"There was access to medical services," said Iggers, who, accompanied by his wife, was on sabbatical from UB at the time.

"One was very much aware of the fact that one was living in a dictatorship," he said.

On the positive side, there "was no unemployment, there were no homeless. All basic items were amazingly inexpensive, as was public transportation."

"Streetcar rides cost about one-tenth of what they cost in the West. Good seats in the theater cost a fraction compared with in the West, although it often took connections to get tickets. All this was possible only with gigantic subsidies that ultimately forced the state into insolvency."

East Germans had to wait for many years to obtain a small car and telephone.

"Rents were incredibly low, but the government did little for the upkeep. Therefore, houses were very run-down, and many could be called slums," Iggers said. "Tenants repaired their apartments at their own expense, provided they could find the necessary materials.

"We had a bedroom without a desk, and poor lighting. "But there were subsidized summer camps and child care."

The Iggerses, who fled Europe before World War II, were open to going back after the war and spent happy days in East Germany's Deutsche Bucherei library.

"It was a delight to work in the Deutsche Bucherei," Iggers said. ". . . It was remarkably unbureaucratic. One received books within about 20 minutes, while in many European libraries one had to wait until the next day."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail:

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