Germany's main Jewish organization elects female leader for first time

Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch appointed head of Central Council of Jews; Chancellor Merkel "looking forward" to working with her.

Germany's main Jewish organization on Wednesday unanimously elected its first female leader, a Holocaust survivor from Munich. Charlotte Knobloch, 73, replaces Paul Spiegel, who died April 30 of cancer after leading the Central Council of Jews since 2000. "With her engagement Ms. Knobloch has contributed again and again to the development of Jewish life in Germany," said Thomas Steg, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Chancellor Merkel is looking forward to working together with Ms. Knobloch." The World Jewish Congress called Knobloch an "outstanding personality" who has gained "recognition and popularity with her work on a national and international level." "This will not only be good for the Jewish community but for Germany as a whole," the statement quoted Maran Stern, vice president of the WJC. The Central Council of Jews is the main organization representing Germany's Jewish community of some 100,000. Knobloch, who served as council vice president since 1996, is widely considered a transitional candidate for the organization. She could not immediately be reached for comment. Born in 1932, Knobloch was hidden by her family's Catholic housekeeper on a farm in Bavaria during World War II. Her grandmother was killed in Auschwitz, and her father survived the war as a slave laborer. After the war, Knobloch attended a commercial college and worked in her father's law practice in Munich before she married Samuel Knobloch and raised three children with him. Knobloch co-founded the International Zionist Women's Organization, and for 21 years has led Munich's Jewish organization _ Germany's second biggest. She has supported the integration of thousands of new Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and has been involved in the development of a new community center in downtown Munich. "Ms. Knobloch is an experienced president of a big Jewish community, and she is very, very assertive," Michael Fuerst, the president of the Jewish community in the state of Lower Saxony, said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. "She has a very, very close relationship to cultural life in Judaism and to Jewish religion." Dieter Graumann, a 54-year-old financial expert from Frankfurt, was elected vice president to replace Knobloch.