This week is devoted to the topic of reconciliation. I have only questions, no answers when thinking about reconciliation in numerous contexts. In this regard I seem to be in the company of minds smarter than mine and outside of the realm of souls more generous than mine. I will try and present conflicts that are between people, between groups, and within a single person. As far as I can tell, all of the conflicts I picked have a monumental structural component.
Since January 27, last Saturday, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’ll ask if reconciliation between Germans and Jews is possible when antisemitism is not only alive and well, but on the rise in both frequency and intensity of acts that attack and hurt Jews. Let me add right at the start, that antisemitism expressed by Muslim migrants and refugees in Germany is part of the story, but that 90% of the factual crimes are committed by Germans, as government statistics show.
I will report what I read in my daily dose of German news on 1/27.
On this day you found Angela Merkel expound on the shame that Jewish institutions, be they synagogues, kindergartens, community centers or schools in today’s Germany need constant police protection. She warned against rising antisemitism and xenophobia and announced the creation of a bureaucratic office in the new administration that is going to be in charge of these issues. It fell to Charlotte Knobloch, the past president of the Zentralrat der Juden, to point to the fact that the third largest elected party in that administration not only tolerates antisemitism and historical revisionism among its members, but encourages racism, rightwing extremism and populist nationalism.
A commentary in one of the largest daily’s on 1/27 was titled: What happened to us? It pointed to the fact that from early on Germans lacked the courage to address justice: of the 70.000 concentration camp SS personnel only 1650 received punishment by the courts after the war, often ridiculously small sentences with probation granted. And today’s acceptance of genocide across the world and of hate speech and violence within our own societies indicts us as having learned nothing from the Shoah.
Also on 1/27 a left-leaning daily interviewed Michel Friedman, member of Merkel’s conservative party, lawyer and TV moderator, who lost large parts of his family in Auschwitz. I found two of his arguments particularly resonant: Most Germans condemned the endpoint, the final solution, after 1945, but continued to be silent on what happened in the beginning. Millions of Germans were enmeshed in the looting, the destruction of synagogues and stores, the turning a blind eye to deportations. Do we find echoes of that silence in our own times?
Secondly, he argues that we need to educate the next generation to know how to engage in conflict. Rather than being silent in the presence of mental arson, as he calls it, latent or expressed antisemitism and xenophobia, people need to speak up and argue to avoid becoming a collaborator. Verbal sparrings solidify your own orientation, your political point of view, they need to be practiced in schools and at home, acknowledged as valuable tools against conformism.
I can only think of what Adorno wrote in 1959 when trying to point to the difficulty of internalizing the horror associated with German guilt (in my mind a prerequisite for reconciliation.) Loosely translated: You want to leave the past behind: rightfully so, since it is impossible to live under its dark shadow, and because the horror is unending …. wrongfully so, because the past you want to escape is quite alive and well.
Finally here is a new documentary that looks at the relationship between Germans and Jews. It can be seen in full on the web with registration or a small price at iTunes.
Photographs are from last Friday at the Portland Holocaust Memorial which is a strange beast, but obviously visited; I found freshly picked flowers stuck into the spaces in the wall.