Sunday, February 19, 2012

The fact remains

Reading the Forward, the following quote, from an expert in this area, jumped out: "'[T]he fact that 20% of Germans have anti-Semitic attitudes does not necessarily mean the remaining 80% do not also harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.'" I should have prefaced this with, I recently began receiving the Forward, unsolicited, and was feeling kind of profiled, until I learned that it is in fact a gift from my parents. In any case, the quote left me lost in time and place. Was this the 1840s French-Jewish press? The 1970s British-Jewish? What could make for a more classic line in a Jewish newspaper than something about the possibility of 100% of Germans being anti-Semites?


Yes, yes, I confess I'm a parochial if exiled New Yorker, but would it really be that different, in this day and age, to be Jewish in Minnesota than in Germany? This story about an American-Jewish hockey player whose German citizenship - via reparations - led to his presence on a German hockey team is at any rate possible evidence that those Düsseldorf ads worked. And gosh, the nose anecdote.

But are young American Jews really that wary of Germany? I suppose it's different if your very presence in Germany relates to the Holocaust, but overall? My impressions are no doubt skewed, because a) American Jews I've met who live some or all of the time in Germany are academics and thus not wearing a uniform with the German flag or otherwise representing Germany, and b) I know far too much about the unsavory history of other European countries to be unnerved in Germany but not, say, Paris, where the plaques commemorating all the children rounded up in various schools have a way of making the 21st-century croissant-to-ballet-flat-hopping somewhat less carefree. Of course, the nightmares that I - a child of parents who didn't believe in waiting until I was 'old enough' to learn the gory details, and now, an adult who can't remember a time when I hadn't known them - had throughout my childhood never involved Céline and Drieu la Rochelle chasing me through Europe.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think these surveys serve as anything more than a reminder of previously held attitudes, or for those who are too young to remember, an informer of commonly held beliefs about jews?

That said,I do think there is a method. I feel that while the Muslim diaspora likes to portray itself as invincible and routinely intimidates their hosts, the Jewish world relies on pessimism to unite (and attract political and financial support from) world Jewry, hence all the holocaust imagery, red alerts about incidents involving antisemitic graffiti, and infommercials about the perils of assimilation/intermarriage. It is not appealing and does not convince young jews to maintain jewish lifestyles; all it does is keep elderly Jews in a perpetual state of fear, and that is a crime, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. That should read There is a method to their madness.

Anonymous said...

Germany has paid her dues and more. It's time to let her move on. Must future generations bear this collective burden for the rest of eternity, while other cultures proudly display their ill gotten gain? Germany culture should not be defined by the holocaust and neither should jewish culture.

Britta said...

Yeah, I would also be interested in a greater demographic breakdown, including age (if very old people are anti-Semitic and young people not so much it would be unsurprising and not particularly worrying, since we already know that about them and they're dying off anyways), region (my W. German friends like to talk about how Neo-Nazis are all in E. Germany, which might have some truth, though also smacks of some snobbery and also a slight anti-Slavic vibe which is still more socially acceptable (i.e., my German friends similarly like to talk about how Poles are anti-Semitic, which again, may be true but is also uncomfortable coming from people whose not so distant ancestors who declared Slavs "untermenschen" tried to wipe Poland and its people off the map.)) Also, it would be interesting to look at ethnic background, because Germany's population is about 20% immigrant/non-ethnic German, and unfortunately it's not unlikely be the case that Muslim Germans might be more anti-Semitic than non-Muslim Germans.

There is the phenomenon of holocaust fatigue, but I don't think it translates as anti-Semitism, but more that young Germans don't want to hear about Hitler 24/7 or to be defined by Nazism, not that they think the holocaust was no biggy. To be honest, I have a tiny bit of holocaust fatigue just from being mistaken as a German in the US or other countries and having random strangers/bare acquaintances (yes, this happens) ask me if I'm related to Hitler, or if my grandfather was an SS officer, or if I feel bad about the War, or "did you know you look really Aryan/like a Nazi" or even just shout "Heil Hitler" etc. Having really ignorant people say things like this on even an irregular basis is really annoying and offensive, regardless of actually being German or not, and getting ticked off rather than apologizing profusely says absolutely nothing about one's actual feelings about the war (or even willingness to talk about the war in a different setting.)

Phoebe said...


I'm certainly on board for a) not holding contemporary Germans responsible for WWII, and b) not calling blond people Nazis.

I also thought the "Holocaust fatigue" description didn't quite add up. It is a huge burden to be told that your nationality is inherently evil, to know that Americans and even other Europeans associate your language and culture with the most famously and unambiguously evil political movement. Much as it is (and it certainly is) distressing even for contemporary Jews to know that underlying hatred of us was (is?) great enough that given the right political conditions, so many former neighbors, etc., agreed upon genocide, it's got to be unsettling for Germans to hear it constantly debated, implicitly and explicitly, why Germany of all places was the one to come up with that. I don't equate the two, but I also don't think there's much to be gained by defining contemporary Germans who refuse self-flagellation as anti-Semites. Nor, for that matter, do I think white Americans in 2012 are racist if they fail to express personal guilt for the history of slavery in this country. It's nevertheless important to keep in mind (keep in mind, but not overly obsess over, if this makes sense) the legacies of such tragedies, and that it's still an advantage to be one-who-would-not-have-been-a-slave, one-who-would-not-have-been-rounded-up. Which brings us to...

In terms of the burden on the blond-but-not-German, I'll take your word for these comments a) happening, and b) bothering you (and why wouldn't they! beyond rude, indeed.). But I'm not sure, overall, it's not still an overall advantage, in most settings, to be, for lack of a better description, German-looking. (Although most of the actual Germans I know are all too dark-haired/complexioned to possibly elicit that kind of commentary.) That's still what society considers most attractive, so if I'm to bring up the dreaded expression "privilege"... I guess what I'm saying is, on the one hand, wrong and offensive to call blond people Nazi-like, and on the other, blondness is not, broadly speaking, a burden. And I don't think "Holocaust fatigue" is about Germans feeling bad about themselves on account of looking German - Germans do tend to look German, and certainly if they're living in Germany, they're not being harassed on that basis.

I'm thinking also of the peculiar situation of blond Jews - who are after all the blonds who probably get these comments the most. On the one hand, they get told (or maybe did, in previous generations?) that they're inauthentic, that they look like they'd be leading the pogrom, not a victim of it. On the other, they experience something akin to light-skinned blacks in terms of in-group popularity. At my high school, there were a handful of blonds/blondes (the rest of the class being Asian or Asian-American and, with one albino exception...), and they were by definition the heartthrobs.