Germany is still haunted by its Nazi past.
Some 20% of residents in the country that gave rise to the Holocaust still harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, according to a recent study sponsored by Germany’s own government. The study, “Anti-Semitism in Germany,” which consolidates available information from previous surveys, was authored by a commission of nine academics and released on January 23. The report is now considered an official government finding.
The study finds the national 20% incidence of anti-Semitism unchanged in recent years. But the German government finds stability at this level unacceptable. “That is 20% more than we should have in Germany,” said Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, speaking during Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, the date commemorating the 67th anniversary of the Russian liberation of Auschwitz.
A recent poll conducted by the Forsa Research Institute and published in the magazine Stern found that one-fifth of young Germans know nothing about Auschwitz despite the fact that Holocaust education has long been mandatory in Germany. Almost half of those polled have never visited a concentration camp, although Germany has made such sites permanent memorials.
The report indicates anti-Semitism is not limited to fringe groups but is common in mainstream Germany. Dr. Juliane Wetzel, co-author of the report, told the Forward that people’s feelings are not always expressed openly. That may be in part because public expressions of anti-Semitism are illegal in Germany.
According to Wetzel, Die Zeit, one of Germany’s most respected weeklies, recently published an article about the anti-Semitism report and received 400 comments. Many of the comments were blocked from posting because of expletives, and the majority of the comments were anti-Semitic. “It’s incredible,” said Wetzel, “to see so much anti-Semitic feeling and anti-Israel criticism that appeared online after this article.”
Dr. Beate Kupper, who produced the Bielefeld report, one of the surveys reviewed for the commission’s report, said the fact that 20% of Germans have anti-Semitic attitudes does not necessarily mean the remaining 80% do not also harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.
The government report faults Germany’s schools for their failings. “There is the belief that if you teach young Germans about the Holocaust and the Nazi period, they won’t become anti-Semitic,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. ”This is simply not valid, particularly so many years after the Holocaust.” The report calls for the study of anti-Semitism separate from the Holocaust, with better teacher training about anti-Semitic stereotyping.
The report also cites anti-Semitic criticism of Israel. More than 40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways the commission members deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the Beilefeld findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.
“What we find is a big rise in anti-Semitism based on hostility toward Israel,” said Kupper, “and a lower rate of traditional anti-Semitism.” Lars Rensmann, an anti-Semitism expert and visiting fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin, told the Forward that German textbooks play a role in this by branding Israel as the sole aggressor in confrontations with the Palestinians. “Jews are portrayed as vengeful people with evil intentions,” said Rensmann.
There has been no systematic examination of the anti-Semitic attitudes of Muslims in Germany. Wetzel said this was a topic that remained to be researched. The 4-million-member Muslim community in Germany watches satellite transmissions from Iran, Turkey and Syria, transmissions that Wetzel says spread anti-Semitism. Some believe inclusion of Muslim attitudes would produce a much higher level of German anti-Semitism.
Why is anti-Semitism still a problem in Germany? It has a long tradition, says Kupper of the Bielefeld report, one that is transmitted from generation to generation. Gert Weisskirchen, a 67-year-old retired Bundestag member, said he felt dirty on hearing that 20% of Germans have anti-Semitic views. “I’m of the generation that was willing to criticize our fathers and grandfathers because they were involved with the Nazis,” said Weisskirchen, “But we are still facing problems we thought we solved.”
Contact Don Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org