AHRENSFELDE, EAST GERMANY -- Igor Bershadski has little time for religion or politics. A Soviet Jew, he came to East Germany for other reasons.

Bershadski said he left Moscow mostly out of fear that long-supressed Russian antisemitism might resurface in the open atmosphere promoted by President Mikhail Gorbachev. But unlike tens of thousands of his fellow Jews in the Soviet Union, Bershadski had no interest in emigrating to Israel. He heard business was bad there.

A visa to the United States was out of reach but not out of mind. So the burly 29-year-old jeweler drove to East Germany with his pregnant wife and 5-year-old daughter. The pretext for leaving the Soviet Union was a visit to relatives. In fact, Bershadski has started a new life and wants to get busy here as fast as possible.

More than 100 Soviet Jews have come to the East Berlin area in recent weeks, seeking residence visas and awaiting German reunification so they can dive into the free-wheeling economy they have heard flourishes across the fast-crumbling Berlin Wall. If all goes well, dozens of relatives plan to join them in the coming months. After that, the horizon looks limitless.

"We are all qualified and intelligent people," Bershadski said in a conversation at a former Stasi secret police barracks here that immigration authorities have made available to newcomers. "We don't have to travel around {to Israel}. If we are in one place, we want to stay there, and we can start something new. We can contribute something."

The emigrating Jews have taken their place among more than 50,000 East Europeans who have flooded East Germany in the last two months, taking advantage of an automatic 30-day visa. The visa originally was designed for temporary visits from fraternal East Bloc countries, but many travelers, lured by the promise of prosperity once East Germany melts into West Germany, clearly plan to stay.

The East German government has tried to tighten immigration rules to stanch the flow, but it apparently is considering making an exception for Soviet Jews.

Kathrin Weiler, of the newly formed East Berlin Jewish Cultural Association, said her group, after hearing that Soviet Jews were experiencing trouble at home, wrote to the East German government in February asking that they be given asylum here. The letter was never answered, Weiler said, but last month the families of Soviet Jews began trickling in with the tolerance of East German immigration authorities.

About 60 have taken up temporary residence at the Stasi barracks in this suburb on East Berlin's northeast fringe, where the government provides food and 2 marks a day for telephone calls. Others have gone to live with relatives. Meanwhile, the government has said it is studying their cases but can make no final decision on residence visas until new legislation is drawn up.

If a favorable immigration law comes out, significant numbers of relatives, friends and others more drawn to life in Europe than in Israel can be expected to show up, the Jews here said. "They all want to come," said Boris, a Leningrad engineer who declined to reveal his family name out of concern for relatives back home.

Boris, his wife and their 14-year-old daughter flew to East Berlin a month ago, also on the pretext of visiting relatives, after they heard the new government may be willing to grant visas. Like Bershadski, he said his goal is to get a final decision from the government, leave the temporary quarters here and get work in East or West Germany, wherever a good job can be found.

"We don't care about politics," he said. "We will go anywhere where we can find an apartment and a job. No, first a job, then an apartment."

Israel holds no special place in his heart, Boris said, because he was not brought up in a strong Jewish tradition. As an adult, he added, his concerns have been mostly for his family and his profession.

"We had no time for those things," Bershadski explained. "We had to think about feeding our families and arranging things like that."

Although the influx of foreigners has prompted several signs of hostility in East Germany, including damage to a Jewish cemetery, the two expressed confidence that Germany's World War II slaughter of Jews belongs to the past.

"Germans have laws that protect individuals, and that's why we came here," Boris said. "The Soviet Union doesn't have these laws, even though it, too, has a past."

"Germans want to forget," Bershadski added.

Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere's government, in one of its first acts after winning the March elections, apologized for East Germany's part in the Nazi past and for the refusal by its former Communist rulers to make such an apology earlier. In that spirit, Protestant residents of Ahrensfelde have sought to enroll Jewish children here in government or Roman Catholic kindergartens, and Weiler's lay group is competing with an orthodox Jewish congregation in organizing German lessons for the parents.

While they said they appreciate the hospitality, Bershadski and Boris made little effort to hide their impatience to get started on new careers and communicate with relatives they said they have in Detroit, New York, Chicago and other U.S. cities.

"The American businessmen will not be able to ignore us," Bershadski said with a laugh. Boris immediately responded with an English-language expression he clearly has learned for future use: "Green card."