Rising Anti-Semitism in Germany: An On-the-Ground Assessment

June 3, 2019Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

As we have done in the past, my wife, Vickie and I currently are spending five weeks in Germany speaking about the Shoah and reconciliation in several schools. In addition, I am teaching interfaith groups in synagogues and preaching in Christian churches, encouraging Germans to learn from the past to create a better future.

I was not surprised, therefore, when several people back home sent me a link to the feature story, “The New German Anti-Semitism,” which appeared in the May 21st edition of the New York Times Magazine.

Anti-Semitism, like the Hydra of Greek mythology, is a monster with many heads. I often characterize it as a chronic condition that can be kept under control, but not cured. Anti-Semitism comes from both the left and the right; politics, economics, religious beliefs, and racist theories all have provoked it throughout history, and each of these forces plays a role in its re-emergence in Germany.

Two additional factors are at play as well. The first is that the Jewish population of 20,000 left in Germany after the Holocaust has swelled to 200,000. This increase is the result of an influx of immigrants and refugees from the former Soviet Union. The second factor is the flow into Germany, since 2015, of Syrian refugees who have been raised in an atmosphere where Israelis – synonymous in the minds of many, though not all, with Jews – are the enemy.

The paradox is that Russian Jews because of their native land’s longtime support of the Arab war effort against Israel align themselves in Germany with the right-wing AFD (Alternative for Germany) party. That party is under scrutiny for promoting neo Nazi activities. But their staunchly anti-Syrian refugee stance is what attracts many Russian Jews to them.

A complicated scenario, indeed.

As the New York Times Magazine article notes: “It can be difficult to determine the root of anti-Semitic crimes. When researchers looked at all reported anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in 2018, they were unable to determine the ideological motivation in nearly half the cases.”

However, it is not difficult to understand this statistic, published in an article by Jewish News Syndicate: “Anti-Semitism in Germany is on the rise, with 60 percent more violent attacks and almost 10 percent more anti-Semitic incidents overall in 2018.” Equally easy to comprehend is this one: Thirty percent of those who responded to a 2015 ADL survey in Germany “hate Jews because of the way they behave.”

As detailed in James Angelos’ article, Felix Klein, Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany cares less about parsing the different Hydra heads of the new anti-Semitism in Germany and more about controlling it. “The right strategy,” he says, “is to denounce any form of anti-Semitism. I don’t want to start a discussion about which one is more problematic or dangerous than the other.”

Fortunately, those whom Vickie and I have encountered in our travels to speak and teach in different parts of Germany have, without exception, treated us with respect and dignity and as most welcome guests.

Nonetheless, there is a “fear factor.”

We are not naïve. Our minds’ eyes cannot ignore what we envision we see from our trains’ windows through the Black Forest region en route to Freiburg and along the way to our other destinations, including Kiel, Neumünster, Bad Oldesloe, Hamburg, Berlin: Rottweilers and S.S. soldiers searching for Jews in the forests.

Our “fear factor” intensifies because we both acknowledge that what James Angelos reports about Germany is occurring, too, in an eerily similar way in the United States today.

In both countries, the government and educational authorities should take to heart Felix Klein’s advice:  Denounce anti-Semitism through educational forums, public service announcements, and school programs such as the one Vickie and I present. Schools should educate students to learn from the horrors of the past so as not to repeat them. In addition there should be swift sanction for anti-Semitic speech and severe punishment for anti-Semitic acts of violence.

No Jew should ever fear to wear a Star of David or a kippah (yarmulke) in public, nor should Christians should fear wearing a cross, Muslims a hijab, or Sikhs a turban. Germany, the United States and all other countries, too, must do all in their power to become places in which people – no matter their religion – are safe to identify publicly with their faith.

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