Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Minority Groups

In the mid-1980s, minority groups constituted less than 1 percent of the population of East Germany. At various periods through history, minorities living in Germany have been persecuted. The most systematic and gruesome attempt to eliminate racial and ethnic minorities occurred under Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s. Since World War II, the governments of both Germanies have introduced special measures designed to protect the minorities living under their administrations. The East German Constitution, for example, provides for the protection of minority cultures and languages and guarantees freedom to profess a religious creed.

The Sorbs, a Slavic people who have a culture dating back to the sixth century, are the largest surviving minority in East Germany. In 1984 the Sorbs numbered about 34,000 people. They speak a Slavic language known variously as Sorb, Wendish, or Lusatian, and they share a culture rich in folk traditions, songs, and dances. Most live in and around the cities of Cottbus, Bautzen, and Hoyerswerda, which are located southeast of Berlin near the Polish and Czechoslovak borders.

In the postwar period, the Sorb minority received special (sometimes preferential) treatment from the communist regime. In the early 1950s, the East German government, with Soviet encouragement, contemplated setting up an autonomous Sorb state. The plans, however, gained little support from either the German or the Sorb population and never materialized. The Office of Sorbic Culture was established to introduce Germans to the Sorb cultural heritage and to preserve and foster the development of the Sorb language. In the mid-1980s, schools in areas with a Sorb population had a specially designed curriculum that emphasized aspects of the Sorb culture. Instruction was offered in the Sorb language, and German was taught as a second language. By and large, however, the population is equally fluent in both languages, and the Sorbs are well integrated into the general population.

In the mid-1980s, the only other minority group was the small Jewish community. In 1986 its numerical strength was estimated at several hundred, approximately 400 Jews professing their faith. About 80 percent of those Jews who remained in East Germany were over sixty-five years old. East Berlin had the largest Jewish community. The Jews who remained in Germany were primarily survivors of the Holocaust. They were free to practice their religious and cultural traditions, and they had their own organization, known as the Union of Jewish Communities in the GDR (Verband der Jüdischen Gemeinden in der DDR).

Data as of July 1987