I. Thesis Statement
IV. Judaism in Germany
I. Thesis Statement
Because of the terrible losses suffered by the Jewish people as a result of the Nazi Holocaust, dialogue with the German people will never be free of the anguish and pain suffered by the Jews and guilt on the part of the Germans.
Today, more than 100.000 Jews live in Germany. The Jewish world in Germany, with 83 local communities, is the third largest in Western Europe and the fastest growing in the world after Israel itself. After the horrors of the Shoah, this comes close to being a miracle. Jews have lived in Germany for almost 2.000 years, ever since Roman times, and the Jewish history and heritage in Germany are amazingly rich and diverse. However, the German-Jewish relationship will forever be marked by the Shoah. The memories will never disappear, and the Jewish people’s relationship with Germany will for a long time, if not forever be strongly influenced by the Shoah.
Today 100.000 members live in a Jewish community in Germany, of which more than 70.000 originate from the states of the former Soviet Union, since the liberation in 1945 by American, British, French and Russian forces. Universities, schools, kindergartens and homes for the aged are indications of a Jewish community that is not only settling down and rebuilding, but also discovering its Jewish roots and living an active Jewish life in this country.
This paper will discuss the possibility and opportunity of an authentic German-Jewish dialogue and the consideration of the Jewish people which has become one of the strongest driving forces of postwar Germany’s foreign relations, in both the political and civic sphere. This has also been one of the most complex goals to achieve, which raises the question of to what extent should the German past dominate the German-Jewish dialogue and agenda in the present? The possible answer to this question will be exhibited and discussed in this paper with regard to history and future concerns.
IV. Judaism in Germany
Both sides German and Jewish, share a high Holocaust awareness. Recent events have once again augmented that consciousness. Ceremonies in early 2005 commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps are just one example. Many leading Jews and Germans participated. In the postwar German-Jewish dialogue the major question has always been, still is, and will continue to be: How can Jews and Germans deal with the legacy of the Holocaust, the most harrowing experience in Jewish as well as German history? There are many answers given to this question, official ones and very private ones, said former Chancellor Schroeder:
„The vast majority of the Germans living today bear no guilt for the Holocaust. But they do bear a special responsibility. Remembrance of the war and the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime has become part of our living constitution. For some this is a difficult burden to
bear. Nonetheless this remembrance is part of our national identity. Remembrance of the Nazi era and its crimes is a moral obligation. We owe it to the victims, we owe it to the survivors and their families, and we owe it to ourselves.”
This position is widespread in Germany, not to evade the past, but to face Germany’s history and above all, the Holocaust, to exemplify the right lessons for life in Germany and for its external relations, including establishing a dialogue with the Jewish people that aims for understanding, and maintaining a special relationship with Israel. Finding expression through not only the important political speeches (like the one by former President Richard von Weizsaecker in 1985 or the one by Chancellor Schroeder in 2005) and formal ceremonies, continue German awareness of the Holocaust.
The question is what is called in German “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung” (translated as “coming to terms with the past”). There is not one German view or one Jewish view of this very much discussed question. The individual answers to it depend on many aspects, often more on personal experiences, emotions, and psychological characteristics than on objective facts. Many individuals cannot find any terms to express themselves or are unable to overpass the deep hole between their feelings and their rational assessment. But those that speak and those who stay unspoken have one thing in common: They usually know what had happened maybe not all the details, but in essence. What differentiates Germans from one another is not their knowledge, but what conclusions they determine from it. The reactions of Germans to their situation nowadays can be portrayed as on one side a small radical extremists of neo-Nazis and their ideological gurus who try to deny and disparage the Holocaust for their political ideas. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, punishable under paragraphs 130, 185 and 186 of the Criminal Code. Even they, of course, know what happened (the far-right National Democratic Party). A larger group of Germans basically does not want to think about the Holocaust anymore, or be reminded of it or made to feel guilty about it by others. In a recent examination (by Prof. Wilhelm Heitmeyer of the University of Bielefeld) more than 60 percent of the respondents said that they more or less agreed with the statement:
“I am sick of hearing again and again of the German crimes against the Jews.” And more than two-thirds agreed with the more extensive statement: “I get annoyed when still today the Germans are charged with the crimes against the Jews.” More than half of Germans expressed the view that Jews use the Holocaust today for their own advantage. In a most recent survey
(Stern Magazine, January 2005) 20 percent of the respondents answered confidently when asked: “Do we Germans still have to feel guilty today for Auschwitz?” Seventy-nine percent answered negatively. On the question: “Do Germans still have a special responsibility towards the Jews?” the Germans opinion polls were split: 47 percent did feel such a responsibility, 48 percent did not. Thus, a large majority of Germans today decline the idea of guilt and do not want to be constantly reminded of the past. They are the ones that would like to draw a “Schlussstrich,” a final stroke, behind this chapter of German history. Most Germans nowadays see the Holocaust in a historical context of “before” and “after.” For them, unlike for many people outside of Germany, German history and identity are not centered on the Nazi period, but primarily associated with Germany’s postwar history and present. Sixty years after the end of World War II and of the Holocaust only the very minority of Germans living today (those seventy-eight or older) could, at least theoretically, have been personally involved in the Nazi crimes. All others carry no personal guiltiness. These Germans may certainly recognize some kind of collective accountability or feel some kind of shared or national shame.
 Rolf H. Grossarth: Israel zwischen heute und morgen (Pg. 53)
 www.stern.de (article from 27.01.05)
 Informationen zur Politischen Bildung (Magazin No. 140)
 Stern Magazine, article from 27.01.05 http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/535750.html?q=judentum%20in%20deutschland