Monday, July 2, 2007

Jews in Germany, again

As I leave Berlin, I find myself a complete tangle of emotions. On the one hand, I have great respect for what the Germans have done in wrestling with their past. The Holocaust should not overshadow all of the rest of German history; neither should it be forgotten. I think Germans are really trying to manage that. However, there are really no Jews in Germany. Oh, I don’t mean there aren’t synagogues here and there. Deborah went to one in Bremen; I went to one in Berlin. But I felt like I was part of a dead piece of history, not something that could ever come alive again. Native Americans in the US are dead and gone in a similar way. That is, we Americans have wiped them out so completely that the few who exist cannot have a healthy society. Then we build museums and explain how it usta be before we came along. Here there was a tribe; there a confederation. But fact is, the population isn’t there to recreate what once was. The customs, the languages, are going. And the dominant society appropriates what symbols it will and tells the story through its own eyes—separate and apart from “real” American society.
So it seems with the Germans and Jews, only Jews in Germany are still under threat both from neo-Nazis and from Muslims. I think of France or England as having anti-Semitic strands, but the reality is that there is a whole section of kosher restaurants in France. The mere presence of that many restaurants, along with visibly Orthodox Jews on the streets of Paris speaks to a very different climate.
I do not blame today’s Germans for the Holocaust—they bear the sins of their fathers—I saw only a handful of Germans who could have been old enough to be in any way responsible. (And even in those cases, I am old enough now to wonder what I would have done in their places. I am not at all sure I would have acted, rather than simply hoping for better days.) But I think that one thing they—and the rest of the world—may not have fully reckoned with is a country that is ultimately Judenrein, although one which is condemned to tell the story of why that is the case.

No comments: