This article first appeared in 2002. It is still relevant today.
THE RETURN OF ANTI-SEMITISM TO GERMANY: IT NEVER REALLY LEFT by William E. Grim
I'm not Jewish. Nobody in my family died in the Holocaust. For me, anti-Semitism has always been one of those phenomena that doesn't really register on my radar, like tribal genocide in Rwanda, a horrible thing that happens to someone else. But I live in a small town outside of Munich on a street that until May of 1945 was named Adolf-Hitler-Strasse. I work in Munich, a pleasant metropolitan city of a little over a million inhabitants whose Bavarian charm tends to obscure the fact that this city was the birthplace and capital of the Nazi movement. Every day when I go to work I pass by the sites of apartments Hitler lived in, extant buildings in which decisions were made to murder millions of innocent people, and plazas in which book burnings took place, SS troops paraded and people were executed. The proximity to evil has a way of concentrating one's attention, of putting a physical reality to the textbook narratives of the horrors perpetrated by the Germans.
Then the little things start to happen that over a period of time add up to something very sinister. I'm on a bus and a high school boy passes around Grandpa's red leather-bound copy of Mein Kampf to his friends who respond by saying "coooool!." He then takes out a VCR tape (produced in Switzerland) of "The Great Speeches of Joseph Goebbels." A few weeks later I'm at a business meeting with four young highly educated Germans who are polite, charming and soft-spoken to say the least. When the subject matter changes to a business deal with a man in New York named Rubinstein, their nostrils flair, their demeanors attain a threatening mien and one of them actually says, and I'm quoting verbatim here: "The problem with America is that the Jews have all the money."
They start laughing and another one says, "Yeah, all the Jews care about is money."
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I half expected one of them to start talking about the historical veracity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here were four young, charming, well-educated Germans spewing forth anti-Semitic bilk that would have made Julius Streicher proud. I found that this type of anti-Semitic reference in my professional dealings with Germans soon became a leitmotif (to borrow a term made famous by Richard Wagner, another notorious German anti-Semite). In my private meetings with Germans it often happens that they will loosen up after a while and reveal personal opinions and political leanings that were thought to have ceased to exist in a Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.
Maybe it's because I have blond hair and my last name is of German origin that the Germans feel that I am, or could potentially be, "one of them." It shows how much they understand what it means to be an American. Whatever the reason, the conversations generally have one or more of these components: (1) It was unfortunate that America and Germany fought each other in World War II because the real enemy was Russia. (2) Yes, the Nazis were excessive, but terrible things happen during wars, and anyway, the scope of the Holocaust has been greatly exaggerated by the American media, which is dominated by Jews. (3) CNN is controlled by American Jews and is anti-Palestinian. [Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but even among the most highly intelligent Germans, even those with a near-native fluency in English, there is the widespread belief that the news network founded by Fidel Castro's best friend Ted Turner, who until recently was married to Hanoi Jane Fonda, is a hotbed of pro-Israeli propaganda.] (4) Almost all Germans were opposed to the Third Reich and nobody in Germany knew anything about the murder of the Jews, but the Jews themselves were really responsible for the Holocaust. (5) Ariel Sharon is worse than Hitler and the Israelis are Nazis. America supports Israel only because Jews control the American government and media.
For the first time in my life, then, I became conscious of anti-Semitism. Sure, anti- Semitism exists elsewhere in the world, but nowhere have the consequences been as devastating as in Germany.
Looking at it as objectively as possible, 2002 has been a banner year for anti-Semitism in Germany. Synagogues have been firebombed, Jewish cemeteries desecrated, the No. 1 best-selling novel, Martin Walser's Death of a Critic, is a thinly-veiled roman à clef containing a vicious anti-Semitic attack on Germany's best-known literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki ( who is a survivor of both the Warsaw ghetto and Auschwitz), the Free Democrat Party has unofficially adopted anti-Semitism as a campaign tactic to attract Germany's sizeable Muslim minority, and German revisionist historians now are beginning to define German perpetration of World War II and the Holocaust not as crimes against humanity, but as early battles (with regrettable but understandable excesses) in the Cold War against communism. The situation is so bad that German Jews are advised not to wear anything in public that would identify them as Jewish because their safety cannot be guaranteed.
How can this be? Isn't this the "New Germany" that's gone 57 straight years without a Holocaust or even a pogrom, where truth, justice and the German way prevail amidst economic wealth, a high standard of living that is the envy of their European neighbors, and a constitution guaranteeing freedom for everyone regardless of race, creed or national origin? What's changed? The answer is: absolutely nothing.
My thesis is quite simple. While Germany no longer has the military power to enforce the racist ideology of the Nazis and while all extreme manifestations of Nazism are officially outlawed, the internal conditions--that is, the attitudes, worldview and cultural assumptions--that led to the rise of Nazism in Germany are still present because they constitute the basic components of German identity. Nazism was not an aberration; it was the distillation of the German psyche into its essential elements. External Nazism may have been utterly defeated in May of 1945; internal Nazism, however, remains, and will always remain, a potential threat as long as there exists a political and/or cultural entity known as Germany.
Now hold on a second, I hear many people saying. You can't possibly claim that Germans are as anti-Semitic today as they were during the years 1933-1945. It is true that Germany today is much different than during the Third Reich. What is different is that due to its total defeat by the Allies, Germany today is a client state of America and must do its bidding. That means repression of overt anti-Semitism. It's bad for business.
The other thing that has changed is that, even though Hitler lost World War II, he was phenomenally successful in carrying out his ideological agenda. Germany, indeed virtually all of Europe, is essentially "Judenfrei" (free of Jews) today due to the efficiency and zeal of the Germans as they perpetrated the Holocaust during the Third Reich. In fact, a very convincing case can be made that Nazism is one of the most successful political programs of all time. It accomplished more of its goals in a shorter amount of time than any other comparable political movement and permanently changed the face and political structure of several continents. Germany is wealthy, stable, relentlessly bourgeois and for all intents and purposes, free of Jews.
Yes, there is a tiny minority of Jews mostly centered in Berlin, and yes, there have been a number of Jews from the former Soviet Union who have emigrated to Germany, but most of the immigrants from Russia are not practicing Jews and do little if anything to promote a unique Jewish-German identity. The result of all this is that Germans today are able to reap the benefits of Hitler's anti-Semitic policies while paying lip service to the "need to remember."
Young Fritz doesn't have to be overtly anti-Semitic today because his grandfather's generation did such a bang-up job of the Holocaust. There just aren't that many Jews left to hate any more, and besides, the Germans have their old buddies, the Arabs, to do their hating for them. You might call the overwhelming German support for the Palestinians to be a form of anti-Semitism-by-proxy.
The German government has made cash payments to the State of Israel, as well as to individual Jews, to settle claims of murder, torture, false imprisonment, slave labor and genocide. Talk to most Germans and you'll soon discover that they think that the score has been settled between Germany and the Jews, that somehow the return of just a portion of what the Germans stole from the Jews is fair recompense for the deliberate murder of millions of people. If you think the Germans are truly sorry for what they did to the Jews, think again. There's never been an official "tut mir leid" offered by the Germans to the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants because that would admit culpability. Germany GmbH has paid off all claims against it without acknowledging responsibility in the same way that the Ford Motor Company engages in recalls of automobiles. It's all done to avoid liability.
German dialogue about the Holocaust is largely done in the subjunctive, passive mood: "Mistakes were made." But never: "We were wrong." The reason for this, I believe, is the myth of German superiority, overtly stated during the Nazi years, but still a major component of the German psyche.
Why is it that the Germans believe they are superior to all other nationalities? It is true that there have been many great German (and especially Austrian) composers, but Verdi is every bit as great a composer as Wagner. Literature? Yes, Goethe is one of the most important writers of all time, but as a dramatist he is a pale shadow compared to Shakespeare, and as a novelist he hardly compares to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Engineering and science? Perhaps, but making good-quality cars is not on the same level as sending men to the moon and returning them safely. And we all know who figured out first how to make an atomic bomb. Cuisine, lifestyle, architecture? Now you've got to be kidding. Just think France and Italy.
No, the German belief in their superiority is a form of self-delusion and is based upon pretty thin gruel. Ironically, it may be that bad boy of German philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche himself, who supplied the reason for this phenomenon. Nietzsche believed that moral systems and notions of national chauvinism were largely the result of ressentiment, that is, the members of a politically weak people band together in their resentment of their more powerful neighbors and convince one another that, while they may be politically weak, they are somehow "morally superior" to their competitors. This could very well explain the German superiority complex in the face of political weakness from the time of the Roman Empire to the Wilhelmine period beginning in the 1870s. It surely goes far to explain present-day German notions of superiority in the face of their devastating military defeat in World War II and subsequent relegation to second-tier status among the community of nations.
I have peviously mentioned that Germans overwhelmingly support the Palestinians as opposed to the Israelis, and that this overwhelming support represents a form of anti-Semitism-by-proxy. Germans may claim to be supporting the Palestinians because they think they are an "oppressed people," but let's be honest -- they are supporting the Palestinians and their Arabs handlers because the Palestinians and Arabs share the same ideals as the Nazis.
There's a long-standing history of German co-operation with the Arabs. In 1942 Hitler personally assured the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem that as soon as German forces conquered Great Britain, the Jews in Palestine (which was then under control of the British Mandate) would be exterminated. We should also keep in mind that the Arab terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 atrocities did their planning in Germany. There are several reasons for this. The first is the well-known bungling and decentralized chaos of the German federal bureaucracy where literally the "links" hand doesn't know what the "rechts" hand is doing. The second is that Arab terrorists can count on a substantial number of Germans who share their anti-American and anti-Semitic views. The former members of the SS and Hitler's praetorian guards, along with their neo-Nazi supporters, who gather weekly in Munich beer halls, made Osama Bin Laden an "honorary Aryan" after the 9/11 attack.
Mein Kampf is also a best seller in the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia, America's putative "friend." Indeed, there is very little difference between the anti-Semitic rantings of Hitler and those of the so-called "spiritual leaders" of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Al-Fatah. The Arabs also owe Hitler and the Germans big time. Hitler killed off the Jews, and Konrad Adenauer and his "democratic" descendants replaced them with the Turks. Yes, the Turks aren't Arabs, but they are Muslim, and although Turkey is a member of NATO and has foreign relations with Israel, many Turks identify and support their radical Arab co-religionists. Turkey remains as fragile a democracy as Weimar Germany during the 1920s. It wouldn't take much for Turkey to fall into the dark side of Muslim extremism.
The end results of Muslim immigration into Germany have been twofold: (1) It allows the Germans to feign liberalism and being open to freedom and diversity; and (2) By replacing the Jews they murdered with Muslims, who for the most part are as viciously anti-Semitic as were the Nazis, the Germans have cynically assured that those few Jews who remain in Germany will be unable to reassert political power even in a minority role.
German politicians have now begun to express anti-Semitic viewpoints as a means to curry favor with Germany's substantial Muslim minority. The most notorious example of this is Juergen Moellemann, the Jew-baiting second-in-command of the Free Democrat Party, the political faction that is most closely identified with business interests (favoring policies such as lowering taxes and reducing government expenditures) and other issues of a libertarian slant. Moellemann's strategy is quite simple. In a parliamentary system like Germany's where seats are awarded by proportional voting and in a party like the FDP which seldom garners more 10% of the vote, making an extremist anti-Semitic appeal to racist Muslims is an attempt to gain 1% or 2% of the vote which could result in the FDP becoming the minority partner in a coalition government if the Christian Democratic Party as expected wins the national elections in Germany in September. What is particularly worrisome here is that in CDU/FDP coalition governments in the past, the post of foreign minister has traditionally gone to the FDP. If this occurs again, Germany could shortly have the most anti-Semitic foreign policy since the days of Joachim von Ribbentrop.
A final point that I would like to make concerning the reasons for the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany is one that many will find at odds with the prima-facie evidence, or even appear to stretch the boundaries of common sense. Yet, I ask you to consider carefully my line of reasoning.
In many respects Germany got away with the Holocaust without paying much of a price. Yes, many Germans died as a result of German perpetration of World War II and the Holocaust, and yes, there was much physical destruction in the country, but the situation is like the little boy who steals a cookie from the tray when it is cooling on the kitchen table. For his efforts he may have gotten his hand slapped by his mother, but the stolen cookie remains eaten nonetheless.
After having committed the worst crimes in the history of humankind, the Germans were allowed to regain their sovereignty after only ten years, their infrastructure was completely rebuilt thanks to the generosity of the American people, and relatively few Germans were brought to trial for their monstrous crimes. Even those who were tried and convicted received relatively short sentences or had those reduced or commuted in general amnesties. For example, some members of the Einsatzkommandos, those Germans who, before the construction of the death camps, hunted and murdered Jews by the hundreds of thousands, received sentences of as little as five years imprisonment.
If there were true justice in the world, Germany would no longer exist as a separate country, but would have long ago had its territory divided up and dispersed among the Allies. It was an unfortunate historical coincidence that the Cold War began just as Germany was at last being brought to task for its many crimes and atrocities extending back to the First World War. The new threat of the Soviet Union took precedence over a just settling of accounts with Germany. The tragic result is that many of the countries raped and despoiled by Germany, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, are just now coming out of decades of economic decline, while Germany--fat, sassy, arrogant, self-satisfied, and essentially Judenfrei--has enjoyed four decades of undeserved economic prosperity.
We can't turn back the clock to redress all of the historical wrongs that have been committed by the Germans, but there are a number of things that can be done to assure that Germany can never again be in a position to threaten the rest of the civilized world. First and foremost is the realization that, while not all Germans are anti-Semitic, there is an anti-Semitic tendency within German culture that extends back to the time of Martin Luther. Germans are instinctively anti-Semitic in the same way that Americans are instinctively freedom loving. Anti-Semitism has been and unfortunately remains the default ideology of the German people. All things being equal, Germans will instinctively support the enemies of the State of Israel. Therefore, America will need to monitor closely and be ready and politically willing to intervene at a moment's notice in German affairs when it appears that Germany is back-sliding into anti-Semitism.
Additionally, it should be a goal of American foreign policy to oppose and to accelerate the dismemberment of the European Union. We must not allow German domination of the EU to accomplish through parliamentary maneuvering and brokered deals what Hitler and the Germans were unable to accomplish during the Third Reich. Given Germany's resurgent anti-Semitism (and that of France as well), a strong, German-dominated EU that tolerates and even benignly encourages anti-Semitism and is diplomatically allied with the Arab world, is potentially the greatest threat to Judaism since Nazi Germany and a major threat to the United States as well. The enemies of Israel are the enemies of the United States. Let all Jews and Americans stand united as we proclaim never again to both the Holocaust and 9/11.
William E. Grim is a writer who lives in Germany and is a native of Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read more by and about him at The Official William E. Grim Web Site.