Contemporary Anti-Semitism – A Jewish View from Germany


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Perhaps more than many other countries, Germany is inextricably linked to anti-Semitism. And, yet it still struggles with anti-Semitism. This is not only demonstrated by historical facts but also in today’s anti-Semitism in Germany. A recent book on anti-Semitism published by Germany’s Reclam-Press puts the spotlight onto this.

Like Penguin, Germany’s Reclam has made literature accessible to ordinary readers. Still, Reclam’s history is not all good. During Nazi-Germany, Reclam Press eliminated authors like Thomas Mann from its programme.

To align themselves with the Nazis, Reclam also culled Jewish authors such as Ferdinand Lassalle, Heinrich Heine, Stefan Zweig, Arthur Schnitzler, and Franz Werfel. Reclam was so thorough that the Nazi’s second-most anti-Semitic newspaper – after Der Sturmer – the Völkischen Beobachter announced in 1938,

In general, we are satisfied with the big cleanup at Reclam. Thousands of German readers, especially the Volk and the youth, can no longer access those unswervingly dangerous Jewish poets and writers.

Today, more than 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and thousands of other concentration and extermination camps, things have changed, particularly in the way which books and which authors are available to the public.

On anti-Semitism in today’s Germany, one might start with an account of a recent anti-Semitic attack, the attempted killing of fifty Jews at the synagogue in the East-German city of Halle in 2019.

Failing to kill them, the shooter murdered two random victims on the street. With the right-wing terrorist’s obvious anti-Semitic motives: he set out to murder Jews. He had a “vernichtender Hass auf das Judentum” – a destructive hatred for Jews. And the German anti-Semite was using the very word the Nazis chose for their eradication – Vernichtung.

The Halle killer Kevin Schwarze believed in a rather common right-wing, white-supremacist’s trope conspiracy theory that Jews want to replace their beloved white race. While the Halle attack has been one of the most serious anti-Semitic crimes in recent post-war Germany, anti-Semitism often takes on other more traditional forms as well.

Even the author of the bookMicha Brumlik – can still recall that his German class-mates abused him, calling him, Jude, Jude! when he was six years of age. Later his teacher asked him, “Ha, Brumlik … so who nailed our Lord to the cross?” As an adult, a stranger in a restaurant confronted him, “You know, you remind me of the lead character in Jud Süß” – one of the most anti-Semitic movies ever made by the Nazis.

Like the Nazis then, today’s Neo-Nazi and adjacent anti-Semites still follow a worldview of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion in which secret Jewish organizations pull the strings and govern the world. Anti-Semites grossly overestimate the influence and the power of Jews.

This sort of anti-Semitism became the background for the “state organized crimes” [Staatsverbrechen] committed by the Nazi’s Third Reich. It led to the uniqueness of crimes against humanity. Apart from Germany, no other country has ever built factories solely to kill people and organized trains throughout an entire continent to eradicate an entire group of people – Die Vernichtung der jüdischen Rasse in Europe.

Indeed, modern anti-Semitism is a racist form of hatred towards Jews [Judenfeindschaft]. Unlike the anti-Semitism of modernity, the older mode of religious anti-Semitism dates back centuries to the Roman Empire and the early Christian Church.

Apion, for example, two-thousand years ago, bigots in the classical world claimed that Jews are the descendants of leprosy-infected slaves that worshipped a donkey. When Christianity started to make an appearance, things got even worse – systematic anti-Semitism was kick-started as Christianity spread. Yet, already the Roman crypto-philosopher Cicero believed that, Jews have too much influence over legal affairs.

Then as today, Jews were held responsible for the death of Jesus. The myth remains part of the anti-Semitic canon well beyond the Late Antiquity and even beyond the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, the Children of Israel were often discriminated against but state-run pogroms were largely absent. Jews were limited in what they could do and where they could live, even in how they could dress. In legal affairs, for example, Jews had to present seven or nine witnesses while non-Jews needed just three.

Simultaneously, traditional Catholic theology disallowed Christians, Jews, and Islamists to engage in the banking business of giving credits. As a consequence, the money lending trade was imposed on Jews.

At the same time, Jews were excluded from traditional medieval craft and professional guilds. In the year 1096, during the first crusade, murderous attacks on Jews occurred in the German cities of Speyer, Worms, and Cologne. Very few Jews were able to avoid looting, arson, beatings, and even death by converting from the Jewish religion to Christianity. Most were martyred.

With the second crusade in 1147, such anti-Jewish riots were repeated. By 1215, dress codes demanded that Jews had to be identifiable via clothing, such as the grotesque Jew’s hat and the wearing of coloured patches. Increasingly, Jews were – often violently – excluded from owning land, farming, and pursuing many trades.

Throughout the medieval period, anti-Jewish violence occurred in large parts of Western Europe and Germany. Expelled from England, France and parts of Italy, Jews fled to Poland and Russia. Worse, the Protestant Reformation did not end the pogroms. One of the worst anti-Semitic excesses came following the 1543 publication of Martin Luther’s sermons on The Jews and Their Lies featuring seven anti-Semitic directives:

  1. to burn down Jewish synagogues and schools and warn people against them;
  2. to refuse to let Jews own houses among Christians;
  3. to take away Jewish religious writings;
  4. to forbid rabbis from preaching;
  5. to offer no protection to Jews on highways;
  6. for usury to be prohibited and for all Jews’ silver and gold to be removed, put aside for safekeeping, and given back to Jews who truly convert;
  7. to give young, strong Jews flail, axe, spade, and spindle, and let them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow.

From now on, any Jew who lived among Christians were to be identified as an alien [Fremdling]. Much of this Jew-hatred influenced Nazi anti-Semitism when, for example, Bishop Sasses announced that, on Martin Luther’s birthday, 10th of November 1938, synagogues in Germany were to be burned to the ground. This event is now known as Kristallnacht. Seventy-two years later, a young German Neo-Nazi tried to kill fifty Jews at a synagogue in the heart of the German city of  Halle.

But before such recent manifestations of anti-Semitism, a new version of biological racism in Germany increased severely throughout the early 19th century in the wake of anti-Napoleonic nationalism. Romantic nationalism had a strong anti-Semitic component. Parts of the Germanic-nationalistic movement can be exemplified by the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). And, worse was yet to come.

Among Wagner’s anti-Semitic associates were Friedrich Jahn, Ernst Moritz Arndt, and Gottlieb Fichte. It was a period also defined by the so-called Hep-Hep-Hep riots that occurred throughout German-speaking lands – mostly in Catholic areas. It was signaled by the student chant Hep-Hep, supposedly based on an anti-Semitic rallying-cry Hip-hip-hooray, meaning Hierosolyma Est Perdita meaning H[J]ierusalem is lost.

Although Jews received full German citizenship under the so-called Iron Chancellor Bismarck, anti-Semitism grew in the writings of the self-proclaimed anti-Semites’ Wilhelm Marr and Otto Glagau. They confused a family of languages (Aryan) with a cultural tradition (Teutons and Huns) and with a racial typology (modern Germans).

From then on, Jews were no longer seen as belonging to a particular religious group; instead they became a wholly different race – even a different specie.

Unlike religious anti-Semitism which permitted Jews to convert and thus get exiled or escaped death, under race-based anti-Semitism, this choice was no longer given. Pseudo-biological racism set the stage for the gas-chambers and ovens in Auschwitz.

Typically, this new version of judeophobia of the dehumanization of Jews included the vicious idea that Jews are vermin that have to be exterminated. Hitler’s SS and other goon squads Einsatzgruppen would gleefully do exactly that.

Back in the 19th century, the Contagionists believed that just one act of intercourse between a non-Jewish woman and a Jewish man would lead to the contamination of his blood. To justify anti-Semitism even further, H. F. K. Günther (1891-1968) invented a pseudo-scientific definition of the Aryan Race.

Together with Marr’s Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthum über das Judenthum – The Way to Victory of Germanism over Judaism – that appeared in no less than twelve editions by 1879, the movement grew steadily and even produced its own Anti-Semitic League (1880).

Together with the convinced anti-Semite Richard Wagner, Ludwig Schemann became an activist for organizational anti-Semitism together with the French racial semi-theorist Arthur de Gobineau’s blood-racism.

Wagner’s Teutonic operas Parsifal (1882) became the spiritual precursor for an anti-Semitism that seeks extermination – exterminatorischer antisemitismus. Well, Mark Twain once said, Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

With Richard Wagner’s hideous brochure, Das Judenthum in der MusikJudaism in Music – which argued that Semites lacked the sensitive and creative soul of great Aryan composers. With that, the period of early anti-Semitism came to a close at the end of the nineteenth century only to be continued with something far worse.

During the middle of the 1920s, Ernst Jünger talked of the Hochzucht des Blutes – the noble breeding of blood – believing that only the destiny of the blood identifies a person’s worthiness to live. Two decades later, such delusionary thinking became a reality. Much of the details did not need to be invented as these were deeply imbued in German culture.

Even with the defeat of the Nazi Reich, anti-Semitism did not end in Germany. Instead, the Holocaust itself became part of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. With the creation of the state of Israel, it too, became a focal point of contemporary anti-Semitism.

In the United Nations, Zionism was castigated as a racist ideology, instead of being recognized as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. German historian Brumlik supports the policy for combatting anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as outlined by the European Union’s own definition of anti-Semitism. It has two elements, besides denial or trivialization of the Holocaust:

  • Manifestations of anti-Semitism includes the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective entity.
  • Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms, and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Two further – most recent – examples of German anti-Semitism are AfD-Führer Alexander Gauland’s belittling of the Holocaust as just a little event. The French National Front’s Jean-Marie LePens calls the Shoah a side show. Meanwhile, Gauland thinks that the Holocaust was just a bird shit on Germany’s otherwise glorious history. Together with AfD demagogue Björn Höcke, Gauland’s l’idée fixe is that Berlin’s Holocaust memorial is a monument of shame – implying that it should be removed. Both of these Neo-Nazis are high-level spokesmen for AfD politicians.

One might add that AfD-leader Björn Höcke and other high ranking AfD apparatchik frequently talk about the infamous Volksgemeinschaft. Volksgemeinschaft was one of the key terms in Hitler’s vocabulary. The high school history teacher, AfD strongman, and former Neo-Nazi – featuring as Landof Ladig – is the current AfD-Thuringia boss and prone to issue Neo-Nazi statements with – often hidden – anti-Semitic messages, for example, about George Soros.

Höcke also suggested a 180-degree change in how history should be seen. A turn of 180 degrees means a complete turn-about. As a consequence, the SS becomes the good guys and the Jews – pushed into the gas-chamber – became villains. Höcke’s statement marks yet another low point for post-war German anti-Semitism.

In the end, the question remains, what can we do? One sensible suggestion is to read a classic on Holocaust’s literature, such as, for example, The Complete Works of Primo Levi. In this, Levi has illustrated a crystal clear and sobering report on his survival in Auschwitz and his description of absolute inhumanity and degradation.

Finally, one might propose that we should all work towards the implementation of a universal education system as advocated in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, in order to create a responsible world citizenship. This would be a worthwhile collective enterprise.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of German Conspiracy Fantasies – out now on Amazon!

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