„Unfortunately the 1700-year history of Judaism in Germany isn’t complete without also referring to the persecution, genocide and hatred of Jews.“
That’s how the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, Heiko Mass, began his op-ed article for the German newspaper, die Welt, and then he continued to emphasize the history of persecution, genocide and Jew-hatred.
Heiko Maas initially points out the earliest written evidence of Jewish life in Cologne from the year 321. He then briefly mentions the names of Moses Mendelssohn, Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Gustav Mahler, Else Lasker-Schüler, Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka. The remaining eighty percent of his article deals exclusively with the persecution of the Jews.
In his article, Heiko Maas lists certain „universal values“ that need to be defended. First: fight against international anti-Semitism. Second: fight against prejudice in schools. Third: commemoration of the Holocaust. Fourth: fight against Jew-hatred and incitement on the Internet. He concludes with sentences about perpetrators, victims and scapegoats. He can’t even resist a side swipe at Donald Trump.
Heiko Maas wrote his article to celebrate 1700 years of Jewish life on the Rhine. When Jews celebrate, they toast each other with the word, „L’chaim“. It means „Here’s to life“. But, Heiko Maas rather emphasizes death and destruction.
The year 321, when Jewish life in Cologne was first mentioned in writing, is first and foremost a celebration of Jewish life in Germany, not a commemoration of Jewish death in Germany.
Heiko Maas may have meant well, but he put a huge damper on what is supposed to be a joyous event. He comes across like a fellow who comes to a party knowing that some of the guests had experienced trauma, only to say: „I think it’s really terrible what you all had to go through. I’m very concerned. Terrible, terrible, terrible… cheers!“
In Germany, Judaism takes place mainly at memorial events and places. Jews are mere ghosts from the past. In school curriculum, Judaism is dealt with more often in history classes than in philosophy, ethics, religion or social studies classes.
In New York, when people say, „Today we’re going to a Jewish play,“ everyone rejoices. In America, Jewish theater stands for witty dialogue and deep humor, Woody Allen and Neil Simon. But in Germany, if you say, „Today we’re going to a Jewish play,“ you get depressed looks. In Germany, Jewish theater stands for Auschwitz, the Holocaust and Anne Frank. For many Germans, Jews are reduced to victims of an earlier time, not as a vibrant community. This is precisely the problem Heiko Maas embodies, who by his own declaration entered politics „because of Auschwitz.“
In many German cities there are now more “stumbling stones” than living Jews. On the way to work or when shopping, one meets dead Jews everywhere in Germany. Most Germans encounter more dead Jews than living ones in everyday life. Many German schoolchildren who’ve visited concentration camp sites have never spoken with a living Jew.
Of course it’s important not to forget the horrific crimes, however it’s not beneficial to reduce people to the moment of their murder. As long as there are more monuments in Germany for murdered Jews than for those who’ve achieved something from their own creative power, living Jews will have a hard time in this country.
What would you think about neighbors who only show up for family funerals, but never for birthdays? What would you think about people who celebrate every family reunion as a tragedy?
There are people who can’t forget because the pain never quite goes away. Since it’s not their pain, they may be merely virtue signaling. And then there are others who actively remember because they don’t want to forget, because they want to learn something.
Those who say we mustn’t forget should also be thinking about the victims’ descendants and relatives. Those are the ones who can’t forget because the unforgettable and unforgivable is part of their lives. Commemorating should be with purpose while exercising humility towards those who cannot forget.
Jews can’t forget the Holocaust, a brutal part of their own history. Dealing with it is hard enough. But, why must Judaism always be compulsively invoked for the single purpose of fighting racism and xenophobia?
Jews shouldn’t be the forced laborers of the self-pitying German culture of remembrance!
Instead of contacting Jewish organizations only to join in against racism and xenophobia, instead of using a celebration of Jewish life as a platform for the political battle against hatred, how about contacting them in order to celebrate living Judaism and Jewish accomplishments?
Jews don’t need political drama and virtue signaling. Jews and their neighbors can simply celebrate life together in Germany so that Jewish life can flourish again.
„Am Israel Chai“
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(Translation: William Wires)