OBERAMMERGAU, WEST GERMANY -- As the German people move rapidly toward reunification, there is an apparent rise in prejudice against minorities, including even other Germans -- of the eastern variety.
Our visit to several cities in West Germany and to East and West Berlin, fed our fears of an increasingly homogenized German state whose nationalism doesn't bode well for either Germany's minorities or even for neighboring nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, which are hoping Germans will find it in their economic hearts to help their sluggish economies.
Nowhere were these concerns more pronounced than in this beautiful Bavarian village made famous by its decennial production of a Passion play about Jesus Christ. Leading local citizens were candid in their views about Jews and Gypsies as well as the impoverished East Germans swarming into the village: They feel they're too much trouble to deal with and nowhere near as capable, honest or reliable as fellow Bavarian Germans.
The discontent with Jews traces directly to their 1970 boycott of the Passion play and continued complaints that parts of the six-hour extravaganza are antisemitic. The play depicts the New Testament story of Jesus' triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
The play has been staged here roughly every 10 years since the early 17th century. While there have been many revisions of older scripts, townspeople are loath to make changes that would modernize it today -- especially to appease Jewish sentiment. The villagers have eliminated portrayals of Jews as Shylocks. Some lines were added to the play to make clear Jews' race and teachings produced the Jesus of Nazareth in the Biblical story. But the blame for Christ's fate remains.
The most powerful line still left in is the so-called blood guilt line, in which Pontius Pilate shouts after condemning Jesus to the cross, ''Blood be on us and on our children.'' Only now, the text sold to the thousands of tourists who attend has a five-page explanation on why the line was left in.
We heard complaints by citizens that ''the Jews create too much trouble for our play.'' Locals said they were tired of hearing them. Surveys say in today's Germany there remains a firmly antisemitic core of 15 percent.
There is a also a resurgent prejudice in Germany against Gypsies, who, like Jews, were the targets of Nazi extermination programs in World War II. In Oberammergau, the storekeepers told us they must be extra vigilant when Gypsies come fiddling and dancing through their streets because -- to hear every shopkeeper interviewed -- the Gypsies are thieves.
It's all alarming, but what's more surprising is the growing resentment among West German townspeople toward East Germans. They are routinely stereotyped here and elsewhere in West Germany as a lazy people who grew indolent during four decades of Communist rule. Food prices had been subsidized in the Communist East, and everything from employment to medical care was guaranteed.
With the Berlin Wall's fall last November, dozens of East Germans came to this famous village of 4,900 to seek work in a year when the number of tourists flooding in for the Passion play already burdens services.
Store owners and citizens contend most newcomers couldn't take the pace of the work. Many reportedly quit after only one or two days on the job, claiming they had never worked so hard. East Germans we interviewed agreed their work ethic had eroded badly under Communism. To them, West Germany is the ''elbow society'' because everyone seems so aggressive.
Some 500,000 East Germans have crossed the border looking for work so far, and 150,000 of them are now unemployed. The numbers are rising. West Germany already had its own unemployment problem; the newcomers only fuel resentment.
A Germany whose heart has turned cold toward its own minorities and lower class is unacceptable today for such an economic powerhouse and world leader. With that status comes a responsibility to embrace nobler human values.