Outside the Jewish community center here, where only the portal of Berlin's main synagogue survived a violent Nazi rampage in 1938, the constant police vigil testifies to the unique anxieties that linger in the minds of German Jews who inhabit the legacy of their nightmare.
The events leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Nazi surrender, including the dispute over President Reagan's plan to visit a German military cemetery, have stirred powerful emotions here and prompted some Jewish leaders to speak out about what they see as uncomfortable trends in the German postwar generation.
Reagan's planned visit to a cemetery that contains graves of Nazi SS troops also brought condemnation today from Gideon Hausner, prosecutor of war criminal Adolf Eichmann, but a leading West German politician accused U.S. senators who criticized the visit of insulting German soldiers.
In 1932, the year before the Nazis came to power, about 600,000 Jews called Germany home. Many were leading figures in business, banking, music and literature, assimilated into German culture and society in ways matched in few other European countries at the time.
Today there are 28,000 Jews living in West Germany, and perhaps 2,000 in East Germany. Within their small communities, they have coped with past traumas by upholding Jewish traditions and leading normal lives without attracting the kind of attention that might beget discrimination.
Now, some German Jews have discerned a creeping desire among Germans to disengage themselves from the burdens of the past. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was 15 when the war ended, often emphasizes his role as the first truly postwar chancellor in West Germany since he, like two-thirds of his compatriots who were either too young or unborn, experienced no direct involvement in the war.
German Jews also have been troubled by the sense of victimization imbued in current documentaries and other German recollections of the final phase of the war. Newspapers have been filled with reminiscences of bombing raids and fleeing refugees, while commentaries have mourned the war's climax as the division of the German nation into communist and capitalist camps.
"Too many Germans have been looking at May 8 as the day of capitulation, of the collapse of their nation," said Heinz Galinski, an Auschwitz survivor and the leader of West Berlin's Jewish community. "We would prefer to see more talk about that day as the triumph of the anti-Hitler coalition and the birth of German democracy."
The most important reason to pound away at the message of Hitler's defeat is to instill in the minds of German youth the tragic consequences of the Nazi era, Galinski says. In that context, he worries that Kohl's efforts to underscore themes of postwar reconciliation will be misconstrued as liberation from German responsibilities to remember their past.
"All this talk about a new generation after the war with a clean slate does not wash," Galinski said. "I realize one cannot linger in the past, but German youths must be taught more about the lessons of the war in order to safeguard the future."
Such concerns have been exacerbated by the handling of President Reagan's itinerary for his stay in West Germany May 1 to 6. A public outcry from Jewish groups and U.S. war veterans arose after Reagan decided against a visit to Dachau but approved laying a wreath at a German military cemetery that includes the graves of more than 30 Waffen-SS troops.
Reagan has added a ceremony at the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen to his schedule, but the gesture has not appeased Jewish dismay at the handling of the trip by governments in Bonn and Washington.
"It's become an awful, embarrassing mess," Galinski said. "The White House and the chancellery should have shown better instincts in dealing with these emotional events. The political damage that has been done should by no means be underestimated."
Reagan's decision to proceed with the Bitburg ceremony, in spite of heated opposition from Jewish leaders and members of Congress, was apparently a reluctant favor granted to Kohl. West German officials said the White House sought to substitute a less controversial site for Bitburg, but Kohl argued in a long telephone call with Reagan that such a shift would spark a hostile political reaction in West Germany.
Kohl, mindful of a symbolic meeting at Verdun with French President Francois Mitterrand to mark French-German reconciliation, said he wanted to demonstrate a similar show of postwar fraternity at a graveside event with the American president.
For German Jews, the handling of Reagan's visit has served as another grim reminder of the volatility of wartime memories, so easily ignited even today.
"We Jews regret each and every one of the dead, no matter how they were killed," said Werner Nachmann, head of the Central Council of German Jews. "But the Jews and other Nazi victims cannot be compared with those soldiers who could choose for themselves what to do."
Nachmann, like other Jewish leaders here, stressed that Reagan should seek to repair the damage by insisting on Germany's continuing responsibilities to the past, so that young Germans understand that peace and freedom can be protected in their country by harnessing historical guilt about the war.
"Reagan should speak clear words that the young generation in Germany can understand," Nachmann said. "He should not just point out blame, but show that reconciliation, and a free democratic future, can only be maintained if one does not forget history."
Even though West German Jews feel relatively secure in a country that has established an admirable record of peace, freedom and prosperity, there is still apprehension about different forms of racism that they see around them.
Neo-Nazi violence and desecration of Jewish graves remain isolated phenomena. But prevalent hostility toward Turkish migrant workers often summons up the demons in their minds of the anti-Jewish campaigns that spread through Germany in the 1930s.
Among West German leftists, whose sympathies for the Palestinian cause often are expressed in anti-Israeli diatribes, German Jews find a chilling ignorance of history.
Such real or imagined threats have kept alive the "packed suitcase" syndrome even among German Jews born after the Holocaust.
Peter Sichrovski, a German Jewish writer born in 1947 who published a book this year probing the thoughts of young Jews now living in West Germany and Austria, discovered that the horrors of the concentration camps still burn in the minds of a new generation.
"If there is something that we descendants of victims of the Nazi period have in common, it is the almost sacred obligation to flee in time," Sichrovski wrote.
"The fear that we might fail to do so is the greatest, perhaps the only fear that we have. Never again will we believe when we see the first signs that things are not going to get that bad."