The Right Coast

February 17, 2006
Germany Remembers: and How Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism are Entwined
By Maimon Schwarzschild

January 27th is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945: and it is the official holocaust memorial day in Germany. The German Bundestag (the federal parliament) observed the memorial this year by hearing an impressive and touching speech by Ernst Cramer: 92 years old, a German Jew born before the First World War; an inmate, briefly, of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the round-up of German Jews in 1938; an American citizen who was present -- as an American soldier -- at the liberation of the Buchenwald; a well-known Berlin writer, journalist, and foundation officer. Cramer speaks reflectively and simply about his own life, and about the crimes and catastrophes of 20th century Germany. He ends his talk by making explicit the link that everyone in Europe quietly understands, but that's so very rarely mentioned out loud: that today's anti-Americanism is often wrapped up in anti-semitism, and vice versa.

Cramer begins with the story of his own life, and he says:
In my early years the Reichstag building... was akin to the nation’s temple, a cathedral of democracy, a guarantee of the values of the Enlightenment. I believed that this palatial building was the very embodiment of freedom, liberality, tolerance, human dignity and the true spirit of Germany.

[O]n 15 September 1935, the Reichstag, which by then consisted solely of National Socialists, meeting in Nuremberg where the [Nazi] party held its conventions, passed the laws... which robbed all German Jews, including me, of their civil rights. Overnight I and all the other German Jews were deprived of the rights which our forefathers had won by dint of living and working for centuries in German lands. I – and hundreds of thousands like me – had ceased to be German citizens. A few years on from then, in November 1938, I was sent to a concentration camp.

Today, a biblical lifetime later, I stand here in the Reichstag, before the highest organs of the reborn and reunited free Germany, and have an opportunity to recall, for all of us, the atrocities perpetrated by Germans between 1933 and 1945. Together with all of you, I am able to mourn the many million victims who were killed by Germans or on German orders.

For making this total transformation possible, for enabling Germany to re-emerge as a free state, upholding freedom and profoundly aware of its responsibilities, but also for enabling us today to commemorate the many victims of that time here and right across the world, I thank all those who played their part.

I thank the soldiers of many nations who fought and triumphed over Nazi Germany; I thank the politicians and statesmen who after World War Two avoided repeating the mistakes of 1919 - I am thinking of Versailles - and instead gave a redeemed Germany the chance to renew itself; I thank all those who helped to clear the rubble of the fallen regime, as well as the emotional and physical debris left behind, and to rebuild our Germany.
There is a small but growing Jewish community in Germany today -- almost all arrived from the former USSR. Says Cramer:
Today there are virtually no “indigenous” German Jews still living in Germany; I am one of the last of them. Yet, on the other hand, the Jewish community is growing. This is a strong sign of trust. There is – largely as a consequence of the Nazi policy of extermination – a land of the Jews, Israel. Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with the State of Israel for 40 years.

Jews are living in Germany again. Unfortunately – not for this reason, indeed completely independent of it - anti-Semitism is resurfacing, as in other parts of Europe. It is there even if hostility towards Jews is today often largely concealed or camouflaged as criticism of Israel – sometimes one can even hear the absurd claim that the Israelis are today’s Nazis.
And now Cramer draws the parallel between today's anti-semitism and the wave of European anti-Americanism:
Anti-Americanism is also quite often closely allied to anti-Semitism. Along the lines of one of Hitler’s arguments, it is often claimed that the Jews have too much influence in the USA, that they determine – mainly on account of Israel – American foreign policy. That is humbug, but there are those who believe it.
A memorable and brave talk. Here is the original, in German, from the Bundestag website. And here (as a Microsoft Word document) is the unpublished English text, from Ernst Cramer's office in Berlin. It's an extraordinary speech. Do read the whole thing.