Transcending memory is not the same as erasing it, and in my experience there has been no sign that the Germans are in any danger of forgetting. They know they need to remember the Holocaust - not as a mea culpa to the Jews but for their own sake -- and none of the Germans I know, born, like me, in the 1970s, have personally done anything that needs to be forgiven. There is, of course, a dangerous strain of antisemitism apparent in the German Left, where it masquerades as anti-Zionism or anti-globalization. Yet this is endemic to the Left in general, and is very different from the small neo-Nazi groups on Germany's lunatic nationalist fringe; in Germany just as in the rest of Europe, the larger problem is antisemitism of the Left, not antisemitism of the Right. It is neither a specifically German problem nor a vestige of old-time German antisemitism. For better or for worse, the old hatred remains papered over in family histories and buried deeply in closets along with all the old army medals. In fact, the antisemites of the left are usually among the most vocal opponents of those of the right, and quick to distinguish between criticizing Israel and hating Jews. Regrettably, they are fundamentally incapable of seeing how much more malignant their politics are than those of the sometimes spectacular but ultimately irrelevant cranks on the far-right, but again, this is hardly unique to Germany.
My claim, then, is that Germany is not unique in its Leftist antisemitism, and that there is nothing particularly German about it. Recently, for example, some German politicians equated Bush with Hitler - just like the French ones -- deliberately traversing the taboo for shock value. Some claimed that this was proof that the old German disease is back. But it is far more instructive to observe the haste with which Germans - unlike the French - condemned the remarks.
What has our Germanophobia bought us? The tendency to rebel against the institutionalized posture of guilt on the part of young Germans, who often say that they are tired of always having to face up to the sins of their grandfathers. Too much history. Too much apologizing. Too little national pride. Indeed, Germans, unlike Americans, are taught to be ashamed of their country. They don't like flags. They never sing their national anthem. I was once in a Freiburg beer garden when, upon hearing news of the latest victory of the local soccer team, the band led the crowd in a rousing rendition of the national anthem of the once independent duchy of Baden. According to my host, regional pride remains alive precisely because everyone understands that national pride is unacceptable.
If American Jews respond to Germany differently from how they respond to France, they will be playing into the tricks of those who blend antisemitism with anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. Here they go again, we will hear, telling us how guilty we are. If, instead, American Jews engage with ordinary Germans without the crushing weight of history on their shoulders, I think Germans possess more than enough good will for a rapprochement to work. In my anecdotal experience, the awkwardness that I invariably encountered whenever I had to "out" myself always dissipated fast. The trick was not to ignore differences, like blacks and whites afraid to talk about race, but to recognize them for what they are - which turn out, of course, to be , much less than they first appear. Only by engaging with reality rather than myth can we prevent that which so many Jews have begun to fear.
Zeek in Print
Buy your copy today
The Art of
Josh Plays the Sitar