Hope Moves Slowly

German-Jewish relations have a lot in common with the topic of love and hate: we know nearly everything about it but still understand next to nothing. Over and over again, we find ourselves surprised by the violent intensity as well as the intimacy of this relationship. Progress in German-Jewish coexistence in our time may only be achieved at turtle’s speed. But hope remains…



(C) Kushi Press

German-Jewish relations have something in common with the topics of love and hate: the subject matter has been studied extensively, we know nearly everything there is to know about it, and countless books have been published on the subject. But still, we understand next to nothing. Over and over again, we find ourselves surprised by the violent intensity as well as the intimacy of this relationship.
My entire adult life, including as editor of the Jewish Voice, has been spent in engagement with this topic. Jewish-German relations has become a central theme of my life. In this final issue of our newspaper I would like to share it with you.
Duration. Jews have lived in Germany for at least 500 years longer than the nation has existed. Jews are an inextricable part of German society, economy, culture and language.
Language. The Yiddish language is an integral component and symbol of the German-Jewish symbiosis. Yiddish is comprised mainly of German vernacular with a smattering of Hebrew. The Yiddish language is written in Hebrew script but follows the rules of German grammar. In return, the German language, including what is called “high German”, includes many smatterings of Hebrew.
Hatred of Jews. Initially, Jews lived largely undisturbed in Germany. After the beginning of the Crusades in the 11th century, hostility against Jews spread from France to Germany, where it combined with animosity, prejudice, aggression and avarice to form a powerful hatred that found its culmination under the Nazi dictatorship.
Persecution and achievement. Until 1871, Jews were denied legal equality in Germany. Nevertheless, Jews were extremely successful. Half of private banks were owned by Jews, as were 80 percent of department stores. In Berlin, half of all lawyers, a quarter of all doctors, as well as many scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and journalists were Jews. Many Nobel Prize winners were German Jews.
Assimilation. Jews attempted to escape this hatred through a variety of means. Like Heinrich Heine and Fritz Haber, many thought that by renouncing the belief of their fathers, they could gain access to German society.
The industrialist, writer and politician Walther Rathenau called the Jews a “German tribe”. His lifelong wish was to be accepted as a German. Nonetheless, he was assassinated by far-right anti-Semites in 1922. Ten years later, the National Socialists became Germany’s largest political party. Not every Nazi voter was an anti-Semite, but all were complicit in the party’s hatred of Jews.
“Reparations” and evasions. The majority of Germans did not actively support the genocide of the Jews. But they followed the maxim: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. This continued even after 1945 and Germany’s defeat. Most Germans preferred to believe the country had made a final break with the past. As a result, most Germans thought it unnecessary to bring the perpetrators to justice, or to provide material compensation to Jewish survivors. Despite opposition from within his party, Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, was determined to provide material compensation to the Jews and the State of Israel. To achieve this goal, Adenauer was even prepared to ally himself with the Social Democratic opposition. In the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952, West Germany agreed to provide material compensation and payments to surviving Jews in the amount of nearly two billion deutschmarks. Over the years, the amount of compensation totaled many times that amount.
Former Nazis dominated the West German judicial system. This was what allowed most of those who had participated in the Jewish genocide to escape unscathed.
Anti-Semitism. Hostility towards Jews is frowned upon in today’s democratic Germany. Anti-Semitic incitement is punished in Germany. But anti-Semitism is wont to reappear in new guise – today it hides behind the slogan of “anti-Zionism.” Israelkritik – or “criticism of Israel” – questions or even denies the validity of the Jewish state. Nonetheless, Israelkritik has become socially acceptable under the guise of freedom of opinion. Nearly every Jew in Germany today is in a sense held hostage to the State of Israel. What can be the Jewish response when Israel is held to higher standard than any other country in the world? In an address before the Knesset in 2008, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s raison d’etre. Seven years later, Germany was a signatory of the nuclear deal with Iran – a deal that makes no mention of Israel’s right to exist. Tehran continues to threaten Israel militarily and brazenly proclaims the destruction of Israel.
Dialogue and comprehension. Jewish life in Germany today receives reinforcement and support. Germany is popular in Israel. Yet anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli attitudes and activities remain ongoing in Germany. Endowed university chairs for the promotion of research on anti-Semitism and government commissioners on anti-Semitism will not succeed in putting an end to such animosity. Hostility towards Jews is as certain as death itself. Education and enlightenment can make a difference, and it should not be limited simply to the genocide and its history. Like Ignatz Bubis, I believe that dialogue is the bridge to understanding. But when I interviewed Bubis in 1999, just a few weeks before his death, he said with resignation, “I have achieved almost nothing.” Progress in German-Jewish coexistence in our time can only be achieved at turtle̕s speed. But we will not give up – ever. Hope remains.

Photo Credit: JVG

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