Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’


New Media Project: The Last Yekke

June 12, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote a profile of Walter Schnerb, a German-Jewish bookbinder who fled the Nazis and settled in New York. I offered the article to The New York Times, but because the paper had just run an article about a Jew with a similar story, it hesitated to print my piece as well. Eventually, they shortened my article considerably and ran it under the title “As an Age Recedes, a Craftsman Soldiers On.” Their version focused on Schnerb being a bookbinder and left out any substantial description of his character and his community.

But Mr. Schnerb is too interesting a person to be reduced to 300 words. So I took all my leftover reporting, added some new media elements and created The Last Yekke, a fuller portrait of not only the man, but the German-Jewish community he represents so well. Please see for yourself by clicking on the photo.


German Chancellor’s Historic Israel Visit

March 19, 2008

Merkel in the Knesset 

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, just returned from a historic visit in the Holy Land. Israel changed one of its laws to allow her to become the first foreign politician who is not a head of state to address the Knesset. Although she held her speech in German, she opened and closed her remarks in Hebrew: 

Frau Präsidentin, Ani moda lachem sh’nitan li ledaber elechem kan b’bayit mechubad zeh. Zeh kavod gadol bavuri. (Mrs. President, I am grateful that I am allowed to address you in this honorable house. This is a great honor for me.)       

Mazal tov lechagigot shishim shana lemedinat Israel. Shalom. (Congratulations to the sixtieth anniversary of the state of Israel. Shalom.) 

A German politician in Israel obviously provokes controversy, however Israel-friendly she is. Naturally, some Knesset members boycotted Merkel’s speech. Yeshiva World reports: 

A number of elected officials decided to boycott the address, objecting to the chancellor being permitted to address the plenum in German. MKs (Labor) Shelly Yacimovitz, a daughter of Holocaust survivors opted not to remain as was the case with MK (National Union-NRP) Rabbi Yitzchak Levy, Yisrael Katz (Likud), Limor Livnat (Likud), Uri Ariel (National Union-NRP), Yaakov Cohen (UTJ). MK (National Union) Prof. Aryeh Eldad was among the more outspoken opponents of permitting the chancellor to address the Knesset in German. Eldad explained that the Knesset law is quite explicit, stating only a head of state is permitted to address in the Knesset in a foreign tongue, but in this case, a decision was made to ignore this reality to permit her to address the Knesset in German. Eldad explained earlier this week that this is the crux of his protest, that he did not see it fitting to make an exception in this case. Eldad also commented that he dreads the day when the sound of the German language is no longer a source of discomfort to members of Knesset.         

However, it is maybe noteworthy that over 1,000 guest listened to her speech in the Knesset, among them Holocaust survivors. She received standing ovations, especially for her efforts to speak Hebrew.


Comeback for the Iron Cross?

March 5, 2008
eisernes_kreuz_klasse2_wk1_.pngSPIEGELOnline reports that a comeback of the Iron Cross is being debated by some German politicians and army officials. Apparently, many soldiers are no longer satisfied with the Bundeswehr’s current award system. The famous emblem, called Eisernes Kreuz in German, was already used in WWI and WWII. Many people still associate Nazi crimes with the symbol.
Most politicians, however, don’t see the need for the Iron Cross or find that the burden of history weighs too heavy on the medal.
(For German readers: A worthwhile article about Jewish soldiers who fought in German armies can be found here. Tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers died for the fatherland before the Nazis eradicated every trace of evidence.)

Coming to terms with terms of the past

February 18, 2008

Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache. The German language presents many pitfalls, especially for native Germans. There are so many words that are taboo because the Nazis used them, for example Anschluss or Endlösung. If somebody uses these words out of their well-known historical context, it will most definitely mean the immediate end of their career. “But you don’t even need to use Nazi-tainted terms to get into trouble,SPIEGELOnline writes in a review of Thorsten Eitz’s and Georg Stötzel’s new dictionary, Wörterbuch der ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’ (Dictionary of ‘Coming to Terms with the Past’).

Just using the same rhetorical techniques as Joseph Goebbels, king of Third Reich propaganda, and other leading Nazis can land you in hot water. Former Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering found this out the hard way in 2005 when he described hostile foreign investors as “locusts.” Müntefering, who belongs to the left wing of the Social Democratic Party, was criticized for comparing people with animals, a trope considered deeply problematic due to the Nazi practice of portraying Jews as parasites and vermin.

The dictionary, which discusses around 1,000 words and phrases, was published last December. Read the entire review here.


Germany’s Jewish community is growing fast – without me

February 12, 2008

Tonight, Rabbi Josh Spinner gave a lecture at Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus. Rabbi Spinner is the vice presidenRabbi Spinnert of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, a well-intended organization that aims at rebuilding and strengthening Jewish life where the Holocaust has left few traces of it. The topic of Rabbi Spinner’s presentation: Why does Germany have the fastest growing Jewish community in the world today?

I don’t know Rabbi Spinner personally, but I know his yeshiva in Berlin and I guess the answer to his question involves the tens of thousand East European Jews who came to Germany after the collapse of Communism, some of which have children studying at the yeshiva…

In any event, I was wondering if Rabbi Spinner had read the brilliant article, which recently appeared in The Economist. The article basically said it all:

By the time the Berlin Wall fell, Germany’s Jewish community had only 30,000 ageing members and was dwindling rapidly. Today it is the third-largest, and the fastest-growing, Jewish population in western Europe, after France and Britain. Between 1991, when the country was unified and immigration rules relaxed, and 2005, more than 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Germany… In some parts of Germany, immigrants—usually referred to as “the Russians”—make up 90% of the local Jewish population.

Besides statistics, the article also pointed out, unfortunately quite correctly, how dissatisfied many German Jews are with this wave of immigration:

Established Jews find the newcomers anders (different from us), suspect that they are not “real” Jews and think they are mainly coming in search of prosperity and material help from the state and the community. “They take whatever they can get,” sniffs one.

It is toward the end of the article, however, that the authors brings the point home:

Germans will have to adapt to having a big, largely secular Jewish community. Established Jews will have to accept that the glory days of sophisticated German Jewry—from Albert Einstein to Kurt Weill—are gone forever.

At first, I was tempted to attend Rabbi Spinner’s lecture, not only because I grew up in Germany and thus witnessed the often-quoted “growth” first hand. But then I decided to spend my time on something else: filling out some paperwork for my upcoming aliyah… Good luck with your growth, Jewish Germany, you need it!


Carnival: Tasteless in Munich, more fun in Cologne

January 31, 2008

Cologne / Köln:A German rapper being ousted from a TV reality show for lifting his arm for the Hitler salute, carnival celebrations in Munich on the same day Auschwitz was liberated: there was no lack of news this week. We won’t go into detail here, the issues were widely covered in Israeli and Jewish media. Do see this Jewlicious article about the whole carnival in Germany issue, as it provides a little bit more insight.

By the way: Tomorrow is Weiberfastnacht, the official start of the carnival, or Karneval, season in Köln/Cologne. Or Fastelovend, as real Kölsche Jung would call it. Need a place to celebrate? Loreley, a Köln-themed restaurant and biergarten has Karneval parties all weekend. Kölle Alaaf!


The NY Times about how Germany deals with the Holocaust

January 30, 2008

Finally an article that addresses the question I hear time and again from American Jews when they learn that I grew up as a Jew in Germany. How do “the Germans” feel about the Holocaust? Did they sincerely regret or are they just waiting for a chance to murder us again?