- Speaking Out—Jewish Voices from United Germany
An anthology of outspoken members of the Jewish community of united Germany, this book gives an articulate account of their increasingly diverse opinions and experiences. It deals with concerns such as German-Jewish relations, the recent influx of Eastern European Jewry, Jewish identity formation after the Holocaust, the development of Jewish religious life in Germany, the challenges of mixed marriages, and the economic life of Jews in Germany, past and present.
As is to be expected, the conflicted relationship between Jews and Germans is the common denominator of all these contributions. Generally speaking, Jews with deep(er) roots in German culture are on the whole somewhat more optimistic about life in Germany, regarding German democracy “with a prudently sceptical optimism” (Ralph Giordano, p. 48), or in other words, “I am confident in the future” (Ernst Cramer, p. 58), and “Germany is healthy at heart” (Michael Wolffsohn, p. 131). Wolffsohn, the Israel-born son of German Jews who re-emigrated to Germany in 1954, is well known for his German-Jewish patriotism. In excerpts from his recent book, Verwirrtes Deutschland? (Confused Germany? 1993), he explains his elective affinity with Germany:
My national feelings [ . . . ] were stronger in relation to Germany than they were to Israel [ . . . ] I had stronger vibrations when I came to Germany and the Germans. [ . . . ] Without the weekly irritations of Der Spiegel, the irritation was only half as irritating [ . . . ] without the dry humor of the Schaubühne, theater was not really theater. And even the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, as good as it was, could not take the place of the Berlin Philharmonic . . . Germany was my native soil, my nature—my nation(p. 128).
This Jewish allegiance to German culture certainly represents the most emphatic and virtually extinct version of a once strong German-Jewish identity. (It also doubles as an ironic subversion of the Nazi dogma that Jewish “Asphaltliteraten” have no roots in German “blood and soil”).
In general, younger members of the Jewish community, for example, Henryk Broder, Richard C. Schneider, and Rafael Seligmann, are much more ambivalent about German-Jewish relations. Henryk Broder, probably the most vocal and prolific Jewish journalist and author in Germany since the heyday of the German student movement, probes the murky waters of German antisemitism, which he calls a “free-floating phenomenon which has lost its subjects—and its objects” (183). In his examples of antisemitic slurs he lists respected journals such as Die Zeit and prominent professors such as Walter Jens, along with journals of notoriously [End Page 186] bad taste, such as the German satirical magazine Titanic and its fictitious McDonald’s ads, “Happy Jew Burger” and “Yellow Star Cheeseburger” (p. 185). Whereas the latter is clearly distasteful, the former seems innocuous [enough?] to be acceptable. Broder himself appears to be at a loss as to where to draw the line with regard to genuine German antisemitism, and he eventually escapes into a Jewish American inside joke: “Jews there take in stride the role of the scapegoat that is assigned to them. Antisemitism, they say, well, antisemitism is when people can stand us even less than is actually natural” (p. 189). That might be funny to American Jews—but not to German Jews. Susan Stern, the editor of Speaking Out, and herself a Jew who has lived in Germany for many years, cautiously concludes from the available data that “there appears to be less antisemitism in Germany than in such countries as France or even the United States” (p. 18). An intriguing and certainly timely observation, considering the present international debate about Goldhagen’s Germany of “Willing Executioners.”
Whereas Broder tends ultimately to explode vexed issues into comic and not so comic relief—“The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz” (p. 242) is probably his most well-known phrase—authors like Richard Schneider and Rafael Seligmann go deeper, exploring their own painful wounds of guilt and self-doubt, questioning their “excuses” (p. 93) for living in the country of their people’s murderers. Seligmann’s article is most incisive about...