Friday, 8 November 2013

75 years after Kristallnacht Germany deserves admiration for the way it has dealt with its past

75 years ago today was Kristallnacht, the terrible pogrom against the Jews in Germany which foreshadowed the Holocaust. The BBC covered of the anniversary with an article by Stephan Evans, posing the question: "how strong is anti-semitism in Germany?"

By implication, this headline suggests that anti-semitism is still a negative force to be reckoned with in Germany today. Evans acknowledges that the Holocaust is taught in schools, "but how much anti-semitism lingers despite the knowledge of what happened?" The answer to this question is said to be a "complex picture."

Evans quotes a study conducted in 2011 which apparently showed that anti-semitism was strongest in Poland and Hungary, but that also in Germany, "anti-semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries." The evidence for this is shaky at best. Nearly half of respondents in Germany agreed with the statement: "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era", compared with 22% in the UK and 32% in France. With no exact figures or information regarding the phrasing of the questions, there is no proof that these responses are representative, nor that the answers themselves are anti-semitic.

But the refusal to believe that Germany has come to terms with its past is also reflected in Germany itself. Evans refers to a study carried out by the German parliament in 2012 which found that 20% of Germans hold at least "latent anti-semitism." Anetta Kahane of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation claims that "anti-semitism is acceptable again". Moreover, the AAF found that in 2011 there were 811 attacks on Jews in Germany, of which 16 were violent. On the basis that this increased to 865 in 2012 and 27 acts of violence, the AAF infers that anti-semitism is on the rise. The other 838 attacks are not defined, and there is no indication whether the 27 violent attacks were racially motivated.

These figures show that the extent of anti-semitism in Germany today is not a "complex picture" at all. To say that anti-semitism  has become "acceptable" is obscene. Even the extreme far-right neo-Nazi NPD party, while openly hostile to the Roma and Sinti, doesn't dare to even mention the Jews. Rather than ban NPD posters inciting racial hatred, the German government tolerated them, safe in the knowledge that hardly anybody would be persuaded by them. The recent elections proved them right, with the NPD failing to secure one single MP.

At an open-air karaoke event I attended in Berlin several months ago, a drunk blundered on to the stage and began telling an anti-semitic joke. A chorus of hundreds of voices from the crowd booed him off stage. While anecdotes such as these do not conclusive proof, they are indicative of attitudes in Germany today.

To claim that 27 violent attacks is evidence of mounting anti-semitism is a gross distortion of reality, and trivialises the attacks on thousands of Jews that took place on Kristallnacht. The real headline ought to have been that 75 years after that terrible night in 1938, anti-semitism in Germany is negligible. Contrary to popular belief in the UK, the Holocaust has been taught in German schools for decades. Berlin is full of memorials, museums and exhibitions about  the Holocaust and in 2011, 58 000 Germans visited Auschwitz.

Germany deserves admiration for the way in which it has come to terms with its past, something which Britain, still clinging to its "one world cup and two world wars" mantra would do well to follow.

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