November 15, 2018

Ambassador Grenell Commemorates Kristallnacht Memorial on 80th Anniversary

United States Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell paid his respects at a memorial for Kristallnacht victims on Friday.

Grenell can be seen walking down Track 17, where tens of thousands of Jews were deported from Berlin to the Nazi concentration camps:

Grenell also tweeted out a video of a tribute to the Kristallnacht victims from the Central Council of Jews:

Friday marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. The Nazis used the assassination of a member of the German embassy in Paris to incite mobs into attacking Jews and ransacking their businesses.

“At least 96 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned (and possibly as many as 2,000), almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed, cemeteries and schools were vandalized, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps,” Jewish Virtual Library states.

Night of Broken Jews: Remembering Kristallnacht

The massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh has prompted comparisons to the 1938 attacks on the synagogues of Germany, which occurred 80 years ago this week and became known as Kristallnacht. While the two events cannot be equated, they impose profound burdens on our memory.

In the aftermath of Pittsburgh, we have seen an outpouring of reaction against hatred directed at Jews. Pittsburgh’s mayor and police chief were on the scene at the synagogue and condemned the violence. The media have covered the story with sympathy for the victims and disdain for the killer and the hatred for which he stands. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team showed support for the community by incorporating a Jewish star in its logo, and some of its players wore the star during their Nov. 4 game. The Muslim community put political differences aside and raised more than $200,000 in solidarity with the Jews. Innumerable other actions across this country voiced condemnation for anti-Semitism and concern and support for the Jewish people. 

Indeed, the events since the Oct. 27 massacre have been moving, haunting, angering — and, at times, heartwarming. They provide us with a perspective to the events of 80 years ago that enables us to reflect upon how our world has changed, but also to clarify the persistent challenges that continue to confront us.

On Nov. 9-10, 1938, a series of pogroms took place throughout Germany. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, their pews destroyed, their sacred Torah scrolls and holy books set aflame. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses were ransacked and 30,000 men from ages 16 to 60 were arrested and sent off to newly expanded German concentration camps, most especially Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. These pogroms were given a fancy name by which they are best known: Kristallnacht.

Over the past 35 years, Germany has ceased to use the term Kristallnacht, but rather refers to the event as the Reich Pogroms of November 1938. Crystal is beautiful. Crystal has a certain delicacy to it. Reich Pogroms tells a much deeper truth: state-sanctioned violence against the Jews.

There were 2,200 synagogues in Germany for 525,000 Jews — an average of nearly 240 members per congregation. Those synagogues became part of the public presence of Jews in German society, often built in triangulation with Roman Catholic cathedrals and Protestant churches to indicate that Germany was a pluralistic, multireligious society. Synagogues were an expression of the great progress that the Jews had made within Germany. By constructing buildings of significance, Jews made their presence and their prominence manifest.

So what the Nazis essentially did that night — in the most physical, most public way imaginable — was to show how far they were willing to go, what price they were willing to pay to tear the Jewish community out of the fabric of Germany. (Quite the opposite of the reaction we have seen in the United States after what happened in Pittsburgh.)

The Anti-Semitic Prelude

Hitler came to power with an anti-Semitic, racist and expansionist agenda. He told the world what he was going to do in his book, “Mein Kampf,” and in many public addresses. But there was a disconnect between what his audiences heard him say and what they believed he might do. He simply was not believed. Conservative political leaders presumed that once he was in power, the responsibility of office would force him to moderate. They would be there to guide him, to control him.

Yet, Hitler was allowed to do what he said he was going to do, and German policy evolved from 1933 onward to pursue his two main goals: the racial policy — to establish the supremacy of the master race; and the expansionist policy — to give Germany “Lebensraum,” or living space to be able to breathe, prosper and expand. 

The anti-Jewish policies happened in waves.

Hitler came to power on Jan. 30, 1933. The Nazi Party’s first attack was on Germany’s political institutions — the burning of the Reichstag and then the enabling legislation that suspended parliamentary rule and gave Hitler dictatorial powers. On March 22, 1933, the first concentration camp was established in Dachau; and on the following April 1, the first attack was committed against Jews — the boycott of Jewish businesses. The boycott was followed seven days later by the expulsion of Jews from the civil service, which included teachers in high schools, professors in the universities, doctors and nurses who worked in hospitals, lawyers and judges as well as ordinary civil servants.

And on May 10, on Hitler’s 100th day in office, books deemed un-Germanic were burned — primarily, but not only, those of Jewish authors. Books by Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, but also by Jack London and Helen Keller went up in flames. (A century earlier, the great German writer of Jewish origin, Heinrich Heine, had said, “People who burn books ultimately burn people.” The time between book burning and people burning would be eight short years.) 

“I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.” — Field Marshal Hermann Göring

After the book burnings, anti-Jewish policy stabilized for a time and a “new normal” came into being. Jews lived in enormous insecurity, not knowing if things would get worse, get better or be stabilized. 

If you believed the situation was terrible and only going to get worse, you took necessary steps to leave. If you believed the situation could not get much worse, would be stabilized and you could endure it, then you stayed. If you stayed too long, you were murdered. 

Until the outbreak of war, German policy was designed to force the Jews to emigrate. If German national policy and the behavior of ordinary non-Jewish citizens would make life difficult for the Jews, they would leave. About 30,000 Jews (roughly 5 percent of the country’s Jewish population) left in the first months that Hitler came to power. Sadly, some returned after a time and some did not go far enough. They came under German domination again in 1940 when the Western European countries to which they had fled were invaded by the Wehrmacht.

In 1935, the Nazis defined Jews biologically, based on their grandparents’ religion. Their policy created a bizarre situation in which many Roman Catholic priests and nuns, and Protestant ministers and theologians who had Jewish grandparents but had been baptized as Christians were defined by the state as Jews. The policy also created a peculiar anomaly in which the Christian churches fought the state primarily over those people of Jewish origin whom they regarded as Christian, but the churches did not raise the larger issue about the general policies of discrimination and anti-Semitism.

In 1936, anti-Jewish policy stopped for a time when the Summer Olympics came to Berlin. Graffiti was removed, segregated benches were covered and the Nazis were instructed to be on good behavior.

The Role of the Synagogue

Let’s talk for a moment about the synagogue. But before we do, I want to establish a principle often overlooked in Holocaust history: Just because Jews were powerless, it did not mean they were passive. The problem was not that Jews didn’t want to leave. The problem was that there was nowhere to go that could absorb so large a population.

The way that synagogue use evolved tells us a lot about the strength of Jewish activism. 

On Monday night, the synagogue became a theater because Jewish actors could not perform on the German stage. On Tuesday night, it became a symphony hall as Jewish musicians were dismissed from German orchestras. On Wednesday night, it became an opera house, because opera singers needed a place to earn a living.

“Most Jews were without illusions. Jewish life in the Reich was no longer possible. Some committed suicide. Most tried to leave. They had nowhere to go.”

On Monday morning, the synagogue became the place for distribution of welfare. Throughout the weekdays, the synagogue served as a school for Jewish children expelled from German schools. Their teachers were often professors, writers and artists struggling to survive in a new world. The art teacher might be a world-class artist; the music instructor, a concert pianist. The Jewish school was the safest place for a Jewish child, yet the most dangerous part of the students’ day was walking to and from school. Harassment was routine, bullying was accepted, violence was sanctioned.

Adult classes also were convened in the synagogue, teaching Jews “mobile professions” because the best way to survive and the best way to leave the country was to have those types of jobs. Plumbers, electricians, agricultural workers, bookkeepers, nurses, architects and musicians were mobile professions. Doctors, lawyers and accountants — whose licensing and/or knowledge of the law was fundamental to their work — found resettling cumbersome, as did writers whose expertise in the German language might limit their opportunities in a new land.

The synagogue also was a place where people who didn’t know what it really meant to be Jewish were taught about Judaism.

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber stayed until March 1938, almost to the very end, because he had founded an institute for adult Jewish studies. He tried to give people inner resources with which to face extreme degradation and humiliation, and the spiritual capacity to wear the Jewish star with pride.

The synagogue remained a place where prayers were recited, but prayers took on a new meaning.

Rabbi Leo Baeck wanted to teach the Jews how to respond to the life they were living. He composed a prayer for Yom Kippur 1935, which was read in synagogues throughout Germany on Kol Nidre. The prayer included, “We bow before Him, and we stand upright before men,” which was a way to tell the community on the most sacred of Jewish nights that part of being a Jew meant to stand against the idolatry and injustice surrounding them. 

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, one of the last rabbis in Berlin, was prohibited from preaching in 1937. He asked a Gestapo officer: “Can I lead my congregation in prayer?” The Gestapo officer complied. So Prinz read aloud the line that traditional Jews read three times a day, and he had his congregation read it again and again in Hebrew — a language the Gestapo officer could not understand: “Ve chol a choshvim olay ra’ah, meheyra hofer atzotam ve kalkel maschshevotam”  “And all who plan evil against me, quickly annul their counsel and frustrate their intentions.” In other words, “Let God confuse our oppressors.”

The Event Itself

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, anti-Jewish violence erupted throughout the Reich, which now included Austria. The outburst appeared to be a spontaneous expression of national anger at the assassination of a minor German embassy official in Paris on Nov. 3 by a Polish-Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan, who was angered by the expulsion of his family from Germany and the Polish foreign ministry’s refusal to allow their return to their homeland by invalidating their passports.

The assassination became, in fact, the pretext for what was to follow, with the violence choreographed in detail. At 11:55 p.m. on Nov. 9, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Mueller sent a telegram to all police units: “In shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all Germany. These are not to be interfered with. …” Police were to remain bystanders to the violence, but they were to arrest its victims. Fire companies were instructed not to protect the synagogues, but to ensure that the flames did not spread to adjacent Aryan properties.

Within 48 hours, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned, along with their Torah scrolls; 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps; 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were smashed and looted; and 236 Jews were killed. Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes were destroyed.

Hour after hour, the pace of the pogrom intensified. No Jewish institution or business or home was safe. The terror directed at the Jews was often not the action of strangers but neighbors. Most Jews were without illusions. Jewish life in the Reich was no longer possible. Some committed suicide. Most tried to leave. But they had nowhere to go!

The Aftermath

The Nazis, too, had learned important lessons. Many urbanized Germans held bourgeois sensibilities and opposed the events of Kristallnacht. Consequently, the sloppiness of the pogroms and the explosive violence of Nazi storm troopers soon were replaced by the cold, calculated, disciplined and controlled violence of the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi Party. The SS would dispose of the Jews out of the view of most Germans.

“What the Nazis essentially did that night was to show how far they were willing to go to tear the Jewish community out of the fabric of Germany.”

On Nov. 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Göring convened a meeting of Nazi officials to deal with the problems that resulted from Kristallnacht. Historians are fortunate that the stenographic records of that meeting survived, for few documents reveal more candidly and more directly the German policy toward the Jews at this transitional moment. Several government ministries had much at stake in the outcome of the meeting. They had urgent justice and economic matters to deal with, including how the insurance industry, which stood to lose huge sums of money if it were to pay claims from those whose property had been destroyed.

Göring was clearly disturbed by the damage from the two-day rampage — not to Jewish shops, homes or synagogues but to the German economy. He said it would be insane to burn a Jewish warehouse and then have a German insurance company pay for the loss. Why should Germany suffer, not the Jews? The idea was introduced to solve the Jewish problem once and for all, but in 1938 its meaning was in economic terms. (Only later, by 1941, would the language be genocidal.) By a series of policy decisions, the Nazis transformed Kristallnacht into a program eliminating Jews from German economic life.

Several concrete actions were taken: The community was fined 1 billion Reichmarks ($400 million), Jews were declared responsible for cleaning up their losses and were barred from collecting insurance. Göring ordered that the booty in furs and jewels stolen from Jews by looters belonged to the state, not to individuals.

In the end, Göring expressed regret over the whole messy business. “I wish you had killed 200 Jews and not destroyed such value,” he said, concluding on a note of irony: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”

On Nov. 15, 1938, Jews were barred from schools. Two weeks later, authorities were given the right to impose a curfew. By December, Jews were denied access to most public places. By January, all Jewish men had to adopt the middle name of Israel; all Jewish women, Sarah.

The November pogroms were the last occasion of street violence against Jews in Germany. While Jews could leave their homes without fear of attack, a lethal process of destruction that was more effective and more virulent was set in place.

The Jews who were arrested and sent to concentration camps were the “lucky ones.” At that time, if they could get a visa to leave the country, they could be released from the concentration camp. And Jewish women — mothers for their sons, wives for their husbands, sisters for their brothers, friends for friends — left no stone unturned to get their men released. It was no longer a question of whether to leave or when to leave, but only how to leave — and no price was too steep to pay.

The American response to the 1938 pogroms was mostly rhetorical and symbolic. By 1938, the United States understood and internalized the value of freedom of religion. No other event garnered such universal condemnation. From the extreme right to the extreme left, Catholics and Protestants of every denomination condemned the violence. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the U.S. ambassador to Germany home — the most powerful response among world leaders — but he didn’t sever diplomatic relations.

At the same time, American public opinion showed little support for changing immigration policies to take in Jewish refugees. It was as if the American people said: We despise what Germany is doing, but that doesn’t mean our immigration policy has to change. We don’t want the Jews here. They can’t take American jobs. 

“Just because Jews were powerless, it did not mean they were passive.”

In Germany, some Jews were so certain that events were only going to get worse that they sent their children to England, into the arms of strangers on what became known as the Kindertransport. Ten thousand Jewish children were sent to England, many of whom never saw their parents again.

An effort to bring 20,000 children to the United States, led by Sen. Robert Wagner of New York and Congresswoman Edith Rogers of Massachusetts, failed. Congress feared the children would grow up and take American jobs.

By attacking the synagogue, the Nazis attacked not only the heart and soul of the Jewish community but the institution that had responded to the catastrophe. The Nazis deprived Jews of anything roughly resembling a public life or a communal life. And they violently ripped Jews out of German society. 

This was the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

Today, the response to the Pittsburgh killings exemplifies another way to respond to such violence. Hatred can be defeated if people of good will and elemental decency join together to show that they will not tolerate it, exacerbate it or encourage it.


Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.

Dutch Man Assaulted in Berlin After Being Asked If He’s Jewish

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Dutch man was reportedly assaulted by a couple of men in Berlin on Sept. 29 after being asked if he was Jewish.

According to Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the 31-year-old man, who has not been publicly identified, was asked by two men if he was Jewish. The man responded by asking why they wanted to know, and the two men allegedly proceeded to assault him.

The two men reportedly left in a taxi.

Andrew Srulevitch, the ADL’s director of European Affairs, tweeted that the man “wasn’t Jewish, but this is still an anti-Semitic assault.”

In July, a Syrian-Jewish man was reportedly assaulted in a Berlin park by 10 teenagers and young adults after they noticed that he was wearing a Star of David emblem. In June, a 19-year-old Syrian Palestinian man admitted to using a belt to attack a 21-year-old Israeli student wearing a kippah.

According to German government data, attacks on Jews in Germany increased by 10 percent in the first half of 2018 from the first half of 2017; around 20 percent of those attacks in the first half of 2018 occurred in Berlin.

Israeli Professor Assaulted by Palestinian in Germany; German Police Respond by Beating Professor and Apologizing for It

An Israeli professor was visiting Germany, only to be assaulted by a Palestinian. The police responded to the incident by attacking… the professor.

The Times of Israel (TOI) reports that the 50-year-old University of Baltimore philosophy professor, who has not been publicly identified, was walking through a park in the city of Bonn with a friend. The 20-year-old Palestinian, who has also not been identified, took umbrage at the yarmulke the professor was wearing and knocked it off numerous times as he shouted “No Jew in Germany!”

The Palestinian also smacked the professor’s shoulder and shoved him.

The professor, who was in Germany as a guest lecturer, attempted to defend himself, as he chased after the Palestinian. The police, however, according to TOI, thought that this meant the professor was the aggressor – especially after he didn’t comply with their calls to stand down. They initially went after the professor, resulting in an altercation where “he was hit in the face and wrestled to the ground” by police, according to TOI.

Eventually, the professor’s friend explained to the police what had transpired, prompting the police to arrest the Palestinian and apologize to the professor.

“A terrible and regrettable misunderstanding in the field, for which I have expressly apologized to the professor concerned,” Bonn police chief Ursula Brohl-Sawa said in a statement. “We will examine exactly how this situation came about and do everything possible to avoid such misunderstandings in the future.”

The Palestinian was eventually released from detainment, but he faces charges of assault and incitement. The police are saying he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the assault.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper slammed the Bonn police’s actions in a statement.

“It is difficult to fathom how a middle-aged professor wearing a kippah would be identified as the perpetrator,” Cooper said. “Then comes word that the suspect, rather than being held in jail, received a psychiatric evaluation and then sent home? We are deeply concerned that in Germany, France, and The Netherlands, that ‘psychiatric evaluations’ are being used to whitewash anti-Semitic acts instead of confronting and dealing forthrightly with violent Jew-hatred.”

Cooper added, “During his recent visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we told German President Steinmeier of our concerns that German authorities aren’t doing anything to confront the anti-Semitism that many Arabs and Muslims in Germany harbor. The incident in Bonn is yet another indication that Germany is not yet taking this source of anti-Semitism seriously enough. The Wiesenthal Center urges Chancellor Merkel’s government to expand the budget and powers of Felix Klein the Anti-Semitism Commissioner to ensure police and other state entities are properly trained to respond to such hateful attacks.”

Did Germany lose its balls because of a few turkeys?

It was a humiliating defeat. The defending World Cup champs struggled throughout all of its mere three preliminary games, starting with its loss against Mexico, 1:0. They played erratically, haphazardly trying their luck on goals, which happened to pay off in the game against Sweden, at the last minute–a moment of hope which quickly ended in an upset by South Korea.

Not only do German soccer (fußball) games provide Germans with community (giving them a chance to drink, socialize, and experience real emotions together), they offer Germany a rare opportunity for collective pride. The World Cup is the only time an ordinary German can raise a German flag from his or her balcony and not risk being called a “Nazi.”

Many fans proud of the modern German flag argued that the team went into the World Cup with bad energy due to actions of players of Turkish descent. Players Özil and Gündogan met Turkish President Erdogan and signed his jerseys: “To my President, respectfully.” World Cup players must be team nationals, but these two seemed to have displayed allegiance to another nation, one being ruled by a dictator, no less.

Some fans called on Joachim Löw, the longtime coach, to boot them from the team.

Germany’s embarrassing performance and “Erdogate” reflect the split in Germany regarding how the government handles citizens of Turkish descent and a new Muslim population who may not be loyal to modern Germany’s values of democracy and individual rights. Many fans couldn’t wholeheartedly root for the team if the coach didn’t have the “balls” to take a stand for the country on the field by getting rid of the “turkeys.”

The World Cup is like a modern, pacifistic form of warfare—it allows countries to flex their muscle, fight, and win. “Soldiers” must show camaraderie and loyalty to their team and their flag, otherwise, lack of full trust might play out into mistakes, which is exactly what happened for Germany. There was a lack of cohesion among the players. Rumor has it there was locker room tension, too.

But Germany is mishandling its balls on more than just the soccer field. In life, they are often afraid of displaying any form of healthy nationalism, including cracking down on non-natives who behave badly. This also includes fiercely protecting its women and Jews from Islam-motivated attacks.

That’s why I’m here, as a Jew, to give Germans their balls back. Take a look at the third webisode of “Germany on the Couch with Dr. Orit” to find out how Germany could get its balls back so that it could stand up for the best of what she can be.

The most pro-Jewish speech Germans have heard in a while

I was invited to speak at the “Women’s March” (#FrauenMarsch) that took place on June 9, 2018 in Berlin, a march that is nothing like the anti-Trump “women’s march” in the US. This one speaks out forcefully against Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies ever since attacks against women by Muslim migrants have made many German women feel vulnerable and unsafe. The March took on more urgent overtones with the recent rape and murder of a German-Jewish 14-year-old, #Susanna Feldmann (of blessed memory), at the hands of an Iraqi “refugee” with a criminal record.

Despite some warnings that “neo-Nazis” attend the march (which I discussed with the organizer, a Kurdish convert to Christianity, Leyla Bilge, who naturally rejects such people), I decided to stick to my guns. I’m too familiar with such smears, especially against healthy German nationalism (which doesn’t equate with Nazism just because it has the word “nationalism” in it). The people who I knew to be involved couldn’t despise Hitler more, and they have much sympathy for the Jewish people and Israel, especially in its struggles against Islam. Besides, I don’t believe in backing out of an accepted invitation, as too many people often do to Israel (like Natalie Portman), which then serves to play into the hands of bad people.

So I think what happened is this: I gave what may be the  most pro-Jewish speech that Germany has ever heard on its streets in recent times. I addressed all the haters whereever they may be. You can tell from the crowd’s reaction how much they appreciated my words, how far they are from the libels and smears. Many Germans were in tears by the time I was done. The speech has been published in German in Die Achse Des Guten.

Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on the speech, but you can follow with the English translation below the video.

 

I really wanted to give my speech in German. I wanted to tell you Germans: we are connected.

My friends laugh at me: the language that murdered 6 million Jews, including my grandparents’ families. Yes, that was a terrible part of your history, but I think we can get through this period. But we have to do it together. Jews and Germans. Israelis and Germans.

I was warned: there are antisemites at the Women’s March! “Neo-Nazis!” You’re using me as a Jewish Israeli woman to help you improve your image. So, let me say to every antisemite here: Stay here, listen to my speech until the end. And to the others: use me!

I was fortunate. Leyla didn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t say. She believes in freedom, especially freedom of speech and expression. It’s a pillar of a free society.

Maybe there are some people here who hate Jews, especially those in the counter-demonstration. What should we do? Build a fence? A poster that says: “No antisemites here”? That’s not a bad idea. Okay?

If it’s so important to prevent Jew-haters here, why did Chancellor Merkel accept so many anti-Semites into this country? Where was the fence at the border? Why didn’t the police check who was antisemitic and who wasn’t? Maybe it’s not so important for this government to prevent Jew-hatred. It just says so.

And now I’m here, in Berlin, in Germany, and I’m afraid because I’m Jewish. Because I’m a woman. Because I’m a critic of Islam.

Recent surveys show that most “refugees” bring with them Jew-hatred from their violent Islamic dictatorships. But when you say what I say, you’re a “Nazi”! Speaks against Islamic hatred of Israel and against the attacks on women and you are a “racist”! In what world do we live in?

If in Germany today friends of Israel and critics of Islam are called “Nazis”, then Germany has not learned anything important from its history.

I have an important message for Germany: Muslims are not Jews. Judaism is not Islam. They are opposites!

Judaism is in its essence a religion of freedom! Freedom from slavery. Judaism is the true religion of peace, not Islam. Judaism, just like women, have significantly shaped our civilized society. That is why Israel is a free country for Jews, non-Jews, and women.

Islam is a religion of submission, of religious tyranny. Therefore, there is no freedom, especially for Jews, non-Muslims, and women, in Arab Islamic countries. No wonder Hitler sympathized with Islam, and vice versa.

Today, we have the same problem. You and I. Israel and Germany. We’re very afraid of what other people say and think about us.

We are afraid to pronounce the word “Islam” and fight our enemies. We’re afraid people will call us “Nazis” and “racists.” We allowed this religion to divide us.

Our society in Israel was also once broken. The Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 cut us in half. But too many Islamic terror victims have united us again. How many more attacks on women and victims of terrorism will it take for this country to reunite?

So, we need each other. We, the brave women and men. The women and men with no fear. The women and men who swim against the stream. The women and men who would have fought against the Nazis eighty years ago because we love freedom!

Back then, Germany destroyed itself by crossing the borders. Today, Germany is destroying itself by allowing undemocratic, antisemitic and anti-feminist people to cross over its border.

I’m here to tell you–me, a granddaughter of holocaust survivors– that you should take care of your beautiful country. It is not racist to protect your families, especially your women and girls, from harm.

Although Israel seems strong, my country and my people still have to fight for our lives. Maybe I’m a little jealous. Many don’t know how good they have it here while our suffering doesn’t end. It could be a paradise for women and Jews…

And I must ask you to help us. We need you Germans to protect us against antisemitism and Islamic violence, which today expresses itself as hatred of Israel.

I am not so religious, but I believe in this statement: Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, whoever curses Israel will be cursed. And let me add: Whoever blesses women will be blessed, whoever curses women will be cursed.

Germany has a choice again. The blessing or the curse. Will Germany stand with Jews, women and a free Israel? Or with Islam, which oppresses Jews and women. Which one will it choose?

Please, don’t fail me. But most of all, don’t fail yourselves. Not again.

German Jewish Girl Allegedly Raped, Murdered By Iraqi Refugee

Screenshot from Facebook.

A 14-year-old Jewish girl was allegedly raped and murdered by an Iraqi refugee in Germany, according to German media reports.

The girl, identified as Susanna F., went missing on May 22. Her body was discovered near a railroad line in Wiesbaden on June 7, a city in the western part of Germany. According to media reports, it appears as if she had been raped and strangled to death. The suspect, 20-year-old Ali Bashar, is believed to have been her boyfriend.

Rabbi Aharon Ran Vernikovsky, who leads the Mainz Jewish community, where Susanna was from, told Juedische Allgemeine, “I am as shocked, sad and aghast about the violent death of Susanna as one can be.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany issued a statement that read, “With deep concern, the Central Council of Jews in Germany heard the news of violent crime on 14-Year-old Susanna from Mainz. A young life has been put in a cruel way. Our deep compassion applies to relatives and friends.”

The suspect seems to have fled Germany, with one German outlet reporting that Bashar headed to Iraq. He is also wanted for robbery at knifepoint, among other alleged crimes.

A second suspect, a 35-year-old Turkish national applying for asylum status, was also detained on the matter but was later released.

More to come.

German Jews Warned to Avoid Wearing Yarmulkes Following Anti-Semitic Attack

Screenshot from YouTube.

Jews in Germany have been warned to avoid wearing yarmulkes after an anti-Semitic attack occurred on April 18.

A 19-year-old Palestinian from Syria who was seeking asylum in Israel whipped a teenager wearing a kippah with his belt while shouting “Yahudi,” which is Arabic for “Jew.” The victim wasn’t actually Jewish; he was wearing the kippah in an attempt to prove to his friend that Berlin was not as anti-Semitic as people made it out to be.

In response to the incident, Josef Schuster, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, advised the country’s Jews against wearing kippot.

“Defiantly showing your colors would in principle be the right way to go,” Schuster told German public radio. “Nevertheless, I would advise individual people against openly wearing a kippah in big German cities, and wear a baseball cap or something else to cover their head instead.”

Not everyone was happy with Schuster’s recommendation.

“He [Schuster] is mistaken in the cure for this serious problem,” said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who heads the European Jewish Association. “To not wear the kippah in fear of anti-Semitism actually fulfills the vision of anti-Semites in Europe.”

Avi Mayer, spokesperson for The Jewish Agency, tweeted that according to the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS), “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin is at its highest point since the organization started collecting data, with several incidents reported every day.”

Earlier in April, The Wall Street Journal reported that there were 1,453 anti-Semitic incident recorded by police in 2017, which was “more than in five of the previous seven years.” The report adds that the number is likely higher than that because most anti-Semitic incidents in Germany aren’t reported.

A couple such incidents highlighted in The Wall Street Journal’s report included a Jewish student being “mobbed by Arab and Polish classmates” and another student being tormented with chants “gas for the Jews!”

The report pointed to the influx of Muslim migrants as a key factor in the alarming return of anti-Semitism in Germany.

“It is wrong to generalize or to stigmatize Muslim communities,” Levi Salomon, who heads the Jewish Forum for Democracy Against Anti-Semitism, told the Wall Street Journal. “But to say there is no specific problem there is even worse. We need to devise urgent strategies to deal with this.”

THE POLISH JEWISH STORY: A Historian Examines A Complex Relationship

A Jewish platoon of the Polish Underground in Hanaczow, Lwów district. Photo courtesy of Leopold Kozłowski.

Some books are timely, others are useful and still others are good. Joshua D. Zimmerman’s “The Polish Underground and the Jews 1939-1945” (Cambridge University Press) is all three.

What makes it timely is recently passed Polish law that criminalizes any mention of Poles “being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” The ultra-nationalist Law and Justice Party government is committed to advancing a Polish-centric agenda, openly pushing to rewrite the country’s history to stress Polish heroism and obliterate Polish guilt.

Zimmerman’s meticulously researched, scrupulously balanced and comprehensively written work will create much anguish for those attempting to rewrite that history. For few have done the work to examine all the records and fewer still will balance the evidence without bending it to arrive at seemingly irrefutable conclusions.

Polish nationalistic historians won’t be the only ones upset by his findings. Jewish historians who seek simple answers and don’t want to deal with the complications of the Polish situation will find his balance disconcerting. The story is complicated and Zimmerman does not shy away from presenting the complications clearly, unraveling the puzzle and reassembling its parts so that the reader can understand the complexities.

Among serious scholars, it is axiomatic that good scholarship drives out bad scholarship. And for good scholarship there is no substitute for serious homework, going to archives, reviewing the evidence, reading memoirs and listening to testimony, and weighing all this material to present a coherent picture of the whole.

Joshua D. Zimmerman

Zimmerman’s meticulously researched work will create much anguish for those attempting to rewrite that history.

Some scholars do a marvelous job of presenting an overarching theory and then leave the reader and researcher wanting for particular evidence or indications why contrary conclusions don’t hold up. Other scholars drown the reader in detail but miss the larger perspective. Zimmerman does neither; attention to detail substantiates the general picture he offers and illustrates what he is trying to show. One must appreciate such detail and value his major substantive conclusions.

One of them is that the Polish Underground’s attitude toward the Jews reflected the political views of its major constituent bodies, military officers and individuals in pre-war Poland. Those who were open to a more pluralistic Polish society that accepted minorities as part of the landscape of Poland had a radically different attitude toward the Jews than those whose orientations were more nationalistic in the most narrow sense of the term. I suspect that what was true then is still true today.

The attitude toward the Jews was not only a mirror of pre-war attitudes but depended on geography and on the progress of the war. Why geography? Attitudes in the East (the territories first occupied by the Soviet Union after Sept. 17, 1939) were far different than in territories solely occupied by Germany. Poles in the East did not appreciate why Jews were far more welcoming to Soviet occupation when the alternative was German occupation. They were far more ready to identify Jews with Communism, far less willing to understand the impact that Communism had on individual Jews  — capitalists and merchants — and on Judaism while also protecting Jews in Soviet-occupied sectors from ghettoization and vilification by German anti-Semitism.

Why timing and the progress of the war? The Polish Underground’s attitude toward the Jews also underwent a significant shift when it appeared that the Soviet Union, rather than the Allies, would liberate Poland from Nazi Germany. The Polish Underground opposed Nazi Germany but it also properly feared that liberation by the Soviet Union would be a pretext to Soviet domination, not Polish national independence, and certainly not the post-World War I Poland that the Polish people had enjoyed.

How was the attitude toward the Jews affected by the unfolding of the world war and the war against the Jews? It shifted as the larger fate of Polish Jews under German occupation became clear. As the scope, discipline and progress of the killing unfolded, Poles’ reaction toward the Jews changed. Those who would argue that even Poles who resisted German occupation were not unhappy about Germany’s eliminating Jews from Poland — all the while feeling revolted by the means — will find much in Zimmerman’s work to substantiate their views. But he also brings evidence that as the murder of the Jews became more widely appreciated, some Poles became more sympathetic toward their disappearing neighbors.

While the content of this work is exceedingly disquieting, the work of the historian is deeply satisfying.

Why timing? The attitude toward Jews, and especially toward arming Jews, changed after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the gesture of the ghetto resistance to fly a Polish flag and to proclaim their fight — for our freedom and yours. Zimmerman’s chapters on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising on 1944 are comprehensive and insightful. The Polish government-in-exile faced different pressure than the army in the field. The participation of Jewish representatives in the governing council strengthened the support for the Jews from within the government and the desperate need of the Polish government-in-exile for Allied support, and its physical location in Churchill’s London rather than Stalin’s Moscow made it imperative that they portray their struggle for Poland as a democratic one.

The Polish Underground depended on the dedication of its participants to the cause of the Polish nation and their antipathy toward the occupation. Therefore, it was not as willing to define the meaning of “Polish nation.” It did not want to say aloud that Jews might again be considered second-class citizens and not quite part of the Polish nation, even though they were citizens of the Polish state.

Zimmerman is careful to consider individual responsibility and not just general policy. Officers lead their soldiers, men and women in this case, and they set standards for them of what is acceptable and not acceptable, of what is expected and not expected. Some are motivated by ideology and some by the camaraderie of battle, the ties that bind soldiers to one another. Because he has read memoirs extensively and reviewed testimony carefully, Zimmerman is able to show how the attitudes of individual officers and soldiers shaped the attitude of the Underground to the Jews and determined the fate of individual Jews.

Some will read Zimmerman’s book selectively. For example, he devotes an entire section to the institutional efforts of the Polish underground toward the Jews. The behavior and the values of Zegotta — the clandestine wartime organization dedicated to rescuing Jewish children — are admirable. And he recounts the heroic efforts of couriers, especially Jan Karski, who secretly brought Jewish communiques to the West. Yet he also details craven collaboration and institutional efforts that intensified the risk to Jews and facilitated their demise. Both were present in wartime Poland, and the current government’s effort to eliminate all mention of the latter will force historians outside of Poland to question whether a depiction of the heroic Poles alone is credible.

The publications of the Polish Underground and not just its reports to the government-in-exile give a real-time understanding of what was known about the Jews’ fate — and when and by whom. It makes more urgent the English language publication of these bulletins, which currently are available only in Polish.

Zimmerman has set a standard of comprehensiveness, excellence, meticulousness and balance. While the content of this work is exceedingly disquieting, the work of the historian is deeply satisfying.


Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University. For the past decade, he has taught the Holocaust to teachers at Jagiellonian University in Poland.

Top 10 Fail Moments of Berlin’s Jerusalem Exhibition [Photo Essay]

As Jewish Museum Berlin’s Director, Peter Schaefer, stated in our interview for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, the Museum seeks for its temporary exhibitions, whenever possible, to explore topics of importance to all three major religions (which makes one wonder why it’s called the “Jewish Museum”). No topic captures the interreligious imagination more than Jerusalem, but the “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition seems to serve as a platform for the Museum to subtly impose its political bias regarding Israel, despite proclamations to the contrary.

As someone who has lived, loved, and cried in this troubled and glorious city through some of its bloodiest and most exciting times, I present to you the exhibition’s top ten fail moments:

10. Islam is the rightful heir to Jerusalem. The Islamic crescent topping the Dome of the Rock is the only religious ornament on the Museum’s brochure and initial city ads. Forget the Jewish star. Forget the cross. In the “The Holy City” section, Conrad Schick’s impressive model of Dome of the Rock takes center stage, flanked by a modest model of the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, thereby giving “Haram esh-Sharif” (or Noble Sanctuary) dominance.

9. Theodor Herzl and Yasser Arafat are moral equals. In a strange section on dignitaries buried in Jerusalem, Herzl and Arafat are listed side-by-side, as if this intellectual, non-violent Zionist leader and this antisemitic arch-terrorist are moral equals. As if the Zionist cause that turned swampland into civilization is equal to the Palestinian cause that turned nails and screws into shrapnel. No mention is made of Arafat’s role in mercilessly murdering Jews via suicide bombings at bus stops, cafes, and nightclubs. While Arafat’s mausoleum is in Ramallah, the placard suggests he should be buried in East Jerusalem, as the future capital of “Palestine.”

8. Left-wing perspectives inform the exhibition. In the final hall, a panel consists of excerpts on Jerusalem current affairs from mainly Left-wing publications, allowing for little ideological diversity: Ha’aretz, The Guardian, New York Times, to name a few.

7. Israel is a land hoarder. In an illustration of Jerusalem’s changing boundaries, Israel is blamed for robbing the Palestinians of land, saying: “Arab eastern Jerusalem has become increasingly separated from its hinterland” because of the security barrier. No context is given for it: a response to the relentless, cruel terrorist attacks against Israel coming from the West Bank/Judea and Samaria.

6. Even hotels are political. Another strange exhibit on famous Jerusalem hotels seems to have been devised to showcase the most famous Zionist “terrorist” attack when, in 1946, the Irgun military underground blasted the wing of the King David Hotel housing the British administrative headquarters. (It also affords the Museum an opportunity to portray dignitaries who visited Jerusalem, with an unflattering picture of Trump.)

5. Only Jewish “extremists” exist. Another odd room is dedicated to Jewish fringe groups: the liberal “Women of the Wall”; the anti-Zionist “Neturei Karta”; and “Temple Mount Faithfuls” who seek to rebuild the Third Temple, which, according the Museum, “exacerbate[s] the conflict between Israel and Palestine.” Where’s the room dedicated to the far more numerous Muslim extremists who do more than just practice outdated rituals? Why not dedicate a room to Koran passages that incited the attempted murder of Yehuda Glick (now a Knesset member) who advocated for freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, where the Islamic Waqf forbids Jewish prayer? And what about the terrorist gang that gunned down young Arab Druze policemen who protected Jews during “non-Muslim” visiting hours?

The author posing with the Temple Mount “faithfuls” and cutout of MK Miri Regev

4. Mocking Israeli leaders. Next to the Jewish “extremists,” the Museum placed a cutout of Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev sporting the dress she wore at the Cannes Film Festival whose hem was decorated with the Jerusalem landscape. Next to her are samples of social media posts mocking her. Why pick on an Israeli leader? Why not mock Arab lawmakers who spew the kind of antisemitism that would make Hitler proud?

View of the rotunda film “Conflict”; Jewish Museum Berlin; Photo: Yves Sucksdorff

3. Israel was a “Catastrophe” (Naqba). The climax of the exhibition is a short film, “Conflict,” that paints the conflict with anti-Israel canards. The wondrous 1967 Israeli victory is described to ominous, eerie music; the Museum was clearly not happy Jews won the self-defensive war that enabled them to liberate Biblical lands from Jordan’s illegal occupation. The film describes how hundreds of thousands Palestinians were displaced during the War of Independence and singles out the Israeli army’s Der Yassin “massacre,” which, according the film, became the symbol of the “Naqba” (as Arabs termed Israel’s victory). We are hardly told of the countless massacres against Jewish innocents that Arabs perpetrated since before Israel’s founding. Arafat reappears as a “freedom fighter” against the “Occupation.”

2. Jews are insects. The exhibition hardly includes any original constructions, except for a model of Herod’s Temple, but it doesn’t seem to have been made as homage to Jewish claims to the precinct. Around the Temple, goggles take the viewer through 3D images of esoteric Temple practices, like burnt offerings, as if to portray Jews as primitives who slaughtered sheep for their weird cults. But the strangest choice is the decision to map movements of Jews through black dots. (Who really cares about Jewish foot traffic?) They don’t look like people. They’re ants, recalling the antisemitic comparison of Jews to insects. Anyone up for a job of extermination?

View of the main hall “The Holy City”; The Jewish Museum Berlin; Photo: Yves Sucksdorff

1. Jerusalem is only politics. There is so much more to Jerusalem than just conflict. There’s Arab-Jewish coexistence, culture, cafes, delicious restaurants, colorful souks, new boutique hotels and hostels, student hangouts, university life, beautiful landscapes. Hardly any deep love, intimacy, empathy, or passion for the city comes through. So my suggestion is to go instead to the real thing. This year in Jerusalem.

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel, Underskin, is a love story of Berlin and Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem Filtered Through a German Museum

A German and an American watched the same clip shown toward the end of the “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition that opened at the Jewish Museum Berlin in December, coincidentally the same week U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At the museum, videos screening on monitors mounted back-to-back told stories of Jerusalem residents via footage from a German documentary titled “24h Jerusalem.” One pair told the story of Zeruya Shalev and her survival of the Jerusalem No. 19 bus suicide bombing, and of Mahmoud from Shuafat, who hasn’t gone to school for several years.

In the video, Mahmoud complains about the “wall” that cuts into the land where he used to fly kites. He and a friend taunt the Israeli guard by flying a kite across the security barrier.

“The pigs and dogs would chase us,” he says in the film, referring to Israelis and suggesting they should throw rocks.

He slammed the museum for alleged anti-Israel bias as reflected in city ads featuring the Islamic crescent as the only religious ornament.

After watching it, the German woman, in her 70s, shook her head in dismay.

When asked why she disapproved, she said, “I don’t like what Israel is doing to the Palestinians,” and pointed to another vignette in which an elderly Arab longs for the home he lost in 1948, still holding the house key.

It didn’t bother her that Mahmoud referred to Israeli soldiers as “pigs and dogs” or that he threatened to throw rocks.

“They’re frustrated and have no weapons.” Like the German government, she’s displeased with Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Then came Jake from Montana, a 20-something on a vacation break in Berlin.

“I’m not sure what to think,” he said, asking for more context. Was Mahmoud a high school dropout? Was he cut off from his school or home?

“What about his threat to throw rocks?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t like it,” he replied. “That only brings more violence.”

Jake preferred not to comment on Trump, who was the subject of ridicule during his European travels. But he said he loves America.

Although the exhibition portrays itself as examining Jerusalem from the perspective of three monotheistic religions, the story it tells is really one of two sides: a showdown between Judaism and Islam, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, and these days, inadvertently, Trump and Germany.

In an interview with the Journal before my visit, museum director Peter Schäfer said the exhibition seeks to impose no political position and instead hopes to offer visitors enough information to reach their own conclusions.

“Having said that, of course, we have our opinions about this, and I have my own opinions about this, and my personal decision is that it’s not a wise decision by Mr. Trump, and that the status of Jerusalem can only be decided at the end of the negotiations in which all parties involved take part and come to discussion and compromise,” he said.

The Jewish Museum Berlin is a public museum with a largely non-Jewish staff. Schäfer is Catholic, having studied at Hebrew University in the 1960s. The exhibition was curated by Margret Kampmeyer, a German of Christian faith and an art historian, and Cilly Kugelmann, a German-born Jew and former museum executive who served in an advisory role. Kampmeyer first visited Jerusalem two years ago for research.

“Welcome to Jerusalem” serves as the main attraction while the museum remodels its permanent exhibition on German-Jewish history, and it features replicas, maps, photographs and artwork of prominent Jerusalem iconography. The topic was chosen because the museum often seeks to address themes of interfaith importance.

“One of our goals with the exhibition, if at all possible, is to address not just Judaism but also, if possible, Islam and Christianity,” Schäfer said, citing recent exhibitions on religious head coverings and on the binding of Isaac as examples.

Jerusalem fits this goal perfectly, but Eldad Beck, the Berlin correspondent for the Israel daily newspaper Israel Hayom, has publicly taken the museum to task for its extensive focus on interreligious themes at the expense of Jewish narratives. He slammed the museum for alleged anti-Israel bias as reflected in city ads featuring the Islamic crescent as the only religious ornament. Schäfer, in defense, told the Journal that the ad was the first of a series.

“If you ask me why did we start with the Islamic crescent, I cannot tell, but of course, the idea you could see easily,” he said. “The idea, of course, is to allude to the Dome of the Rock.” As the religious symbol topping this contentious landmark, he believes it is among the more recognizable Jerusalem icons.

But the same image also appears as the brochure cover, and Beck’s criticism goes further. In his book “Germany at Odds,” Beck dedicates a chapter to the museum, outlining Kugelmann’s affiliation with the “Israelkritik” movement in Germany, which largely blames Israel for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“It’s very typical of the German position, and they’re just using this museum to promote their distorted view of Judaism,” Beck said. “A country with such a history of the Jews should not be allowed to do it.”

He was particularly incensed by the exhibition climax: a short film titled “Conflict.”

“This is amazing because they took out almost everything that has to do with Arab-Muslim violence and put only the Jewish and Zionist violence,” Beck said. “Later on, during the Second Intifada, you have some mentioning of the bombings, but it’s so minor that the overall impression that you get from this film is that the Jews came, took the land, took the city, and the poor Arabs are there to suffer.”

Sympathizers with Israel’s claim to Jerusalem may be bothered by more than just the exhibition’s apparent bias. The portrayal of the Holy City lacks soul, coming across as a chore, a lecture, a collection of clichés — or worse, propaganda.

In my opinion, rather than exacerbate tensions by focusing on conflict, why not dramatize the beauty, depth and liveliness of a modern city that people of all faiths call home? Let’s see Jews and Arabs peacefully coexist. Let us enter the colorful Arab shuk or the happening Machane Yehuda Market. Let us sit at the cafes, bars or walk the rose-lined golden streets. And most of all, let us pray, hope and dream. Because what’s worse than leaving with the impression that Israel is the aggressor is leaving with: “What are they even fighting for?”


Orit Arfa is an author and journalist based in Berlin. For more on the exhibition, go to her blog on jewishjournal.com.

German Government Kills Resolution Condemning Kuwait Airways’ Discrimination of Israelis

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The German government succeeded in killing part of a resolution on Thursday that would have condemned Kuwait Airways’ discrimination toward Israel, according to a press release from The Lawfare Project.

The German Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry persuaded the German Parliament to modify a resolution that would have advocated for the German government putting an end to Kuwait Airways’ refusal to provide travel to Israelis.

The reason: the Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry were concerned about how such a resolution would affect negotiations with Kuwait Airways on the matter.

“When it comes to discrimination, there should be nothing to negotiate about. The time has come for Germany to enforce its laws, safeguard its values, and act to stop the vile and systemic anti-Semitism perpetuated by companies like Kuwait Airways,” Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, said in the press release. “The German public – and all decent people — should demand to know the nature of these negotiations, and to understand the German Federal Government’s plans for ensuring the Kuwait Airways complies with the law.”

Lawfare Project German counsel Nathan Gelbart told the Journal in an email that he didn’t think the German government nixing the condemnation of Kuwait Airways in the resolution would affect the current lawsuit against Kuwait Airways.

“The political outcome has no connection to the legal one in my eyes,” wrote Gelbart. “The court can dismiss our appeal (though I am confident we are right) but politically KAC might be forced to stop their third destination flights or to transport Israelis.”

Back in December, a Frankfurt court dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Israeli against Kuwait Airways, claiming Kuwait’s laws needed to be respected. Gelbart, who is representing the Israeli, said in a press release at the time, “The Frankfurt District Court’s verdict has allowed antisemitic discrimination to be imported into our country and helped whitewash and sanitize it. We cannot allow our laws to be subverted by the state-sponsored racism of other nations.”

The Lawfare Project has appealed the Frankfurt Court’s ruling.

Germany Protects Iranian Ayatollah

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Germany protected one of Iran’s ayatollahs despite protests from people calling for the country to arrest the ayatollah.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Germany provided Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi with a visa so he could receive treatment in the country for a brain tumor. Shahroudi recently flew back to Iran without any intervention from the German government.

Around 80 Iranian dissidents formed a protest outside of Hamburg airport, where they called for Shahroudi’s arrest and cried, “Down with Khameini! Down with Rouhani!”

German politician Volker Beck, who filed a criminal complaint against Shahroudi, told the Jerusalem Post, “Germany should not be a sanctuary for such people, who in their country persecute people for political or religious reasons and threaten them with death. The Iranian regime persecutes women who were raped, homosexuals, Baha’is, Kurds and atheists.”

Stephan Hashemi, the son of Canadian photojournalist Zara Kashemi, who was murdered by the Iranian regime, told the Toronto Star, “My mother was unlawfully detained, brutally interrogated, tortured and killed by the Iranian regime. None of the individuals responsible for these unforgivable crimes have ever been held to account.”

Shahroudi’s record includes leading the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in 1982, which oversaw a couple of Shia militia during the Iran-Iraq War, and was Iran’s judiciary chief from 1999 to 2009. Despite his promises to reform the judiciary, numerous instances of human rights abuses occurred under Shahroudi’s reign.

“Shahroudi failed to end arbitrary arrests of political activists, journalists and human rights advocates,” Muhammad Sahimi wrote at the Huffington Post. “Cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, often accompanied by torture and biased, and often totally unlawful trials behind closed doors persisted. He did not attempt, or was unable to make progress on the arbitrary shuttering of hundreds of newspapers, weeklies and monthly publications.”

McGill University Professor Payam Akhavan told the Toronto Star, “Thousands of political dissidents, journalists, bloggers, human rights lawyers have gone through the revolutionary justice system and ended up in the torture chambers or on the gallows, and all under the direction of Mr. Shahroudi as head of the judiciary.”

Shahroudi is believed to be a mentor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini is a potential successor to Khameini.

Saxony’s Lost Genius: Found

Emanuel Goldberg in his workshop. Photo: Technische Sammlungen Dresden/Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst/Weltformat, Nachlass Emanuel Goldberg - Schenkung Familie Gichon, Israel

“I got accepted to the Leipzig University,” Eshchar Gichon, 25, enthusiastically announced at the start of the interview at a Berlin café.

His acceptance into Leipzig University—in this case its veterinary school—is particularly significant for Gichon. It’s part of the closing of a family circle that has just begun.

Leipzig University is the alma mater of Gichon’s great-grandfather, Emanuel Goldberg, who was one of the city’s most prominent professors, a pioneer in the field of optics, photography and information technology as head of the photographic department of the Royal Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookcraft (Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts). But after the war, his legacy was written out of Saxon history, in Leipzig and later in Dresden, where he served as the founding director of Zeiss-Ikon, a leading camera manufacturer under his leadership. Had he stayed, he might have become the “Steve Jobs” or “Bill Gates” of Germany.

“We grew up on stories on him being the director of Zeiss Ikon and all the regular facts about how he was basically a genius,” Gichon said. Gichon moved to Berlin two years ago to study, redeeming benefits of German citizenship due him by virtue of his German lineage. He didn’t expect to be involved in a renaissance of his great-grandfather’s legacy.

Goldberg’s ideas, gadgets, equipment, and inventions were recently on display at “Emanuel Goldberg: The Architect of Knowledge,” an exhibition that opened last March at the Technische Sammlungen Dresden, the site of the former Zeiss-Ikon headquarters. His inventions include a “search engine” (his “statistical machine”–a Google forerunner), and a portable video camera (his “Kinamo”–a FlipCam forerunner).

The process of rediscovery was triggered by Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine, a 2006 biography written by Berkeley professor, Michael Buckland.

“It’s hard now to explain how thoroughly Goldberg had disappeared,” Buckland said via e-mail. “From being internationally famous to being almost totally erased outside of Israel. I found doing detective work on Goldberg fascinating in many different ways: he had a most interesting and adventurous life; he did clever things; there is much human interest in his story. Not only was the accepted history of information retrieval seriously incomplete without him, but there was an ethical consideration. He deserved to be remembered, not forgotten.”

Goldberg’s was the classic success-story of a self-made man. Born in Czarist Russia in 1881, Jewish quotas at Russian universities prompted him to leave and study and eventually teach in Leipzig. In 1917, he moved to Dresden, the camera capital of Germany, to eventually found Zeiss Ikon.

In 1933, Nazi stormtroopers marched into the Zeiss Ikon offices armed with pistols and abducted him. Zeiss Ikon negotiated his release and demoted him to the company’s Paris branch. In 1936, the company “bought him out” by having him sign a “non-competition” agreement barring him from competitive activity. His successor was a Nazi, and Zeiss Ikon gradually declined since.

Goldberg rejected an offer to work in the United States alongside Kenneth Mees, the respected founder of the famous Kodak Research Laboratory, to instead move to Palestine in 1937, applying his R&D skills to developing military tools—like compasses and binoculars–to assist the British against the Nazis and later, the Haganah. Goldberg died in Israel in 1970, an Israel Prize Laureate recognized for his contributions in founding ElOp, the optics branch of Elbit, Israel’s publicly traded electronics defense company.

It was only until the 250th anniversary celebrations of Leipzig’s Academy of Fine Arts that Goldberg’s story got retold in the city. As part of a school contest, students were challenged to do research projects on the school’s past professors. Student René Patzwaldt chose Goldberg and contacted his progeny in Israel.

“He did this by sending my grandmother a message on Facebook,” Gichon recalled. “My grandmother had a Facebook account, and he sent a message. We saw the message three months after he sent it. My cousin checked the account and saw the message, and that’s when everything started. We invited him to Israel, he interviewed my grandmother, my grandmother showed him some artifacts of Emanuel Goldberg, and he wrote the project. His project won the competition.”

The Academy of Fine Arts joined forces with Berlin’s Technical University to assemble the exhibition with the Technische Sammlungen Dresden. According to the museum’s director, Roland Schwarz, the exhibition constituted the first time that Zeiss contributed financially to the museum. The exhibition marks a major turning point for Dresden. In 1995, when Buckland first visited the museum for research, the senior staff hadn’t even heard of him.

“If he would’ve continued, we would’ve said the inventor of the computer was Emanuel Goldberg,” said Schwarz from the exhibition grounds.

The exhibition closed in late September, and Schwarz is not sure if it will travel in the near future. Israeli museums he contacted did not express interest. Goldberg’s children (including Gichon’s grandmother, Chava) passed away less than two years before the exhibition opening.

Eshchar Gichon, Emanuel Goldberg’s great grandson

“Luckily, the family decided to transfer the estate of Emanual Goldberg to the museum collection,” Schwarz said. These include his beloved metal lathe that he took to Paris and later to his workshop in Tel Aviv. The 5th floor of the museum will be named after Goldberg, and a section about him will be included in the permanent exhibition.

From the exhibition floor, the house Goldberg designed and built could be seen from the window, near the city’s cable car, and the human story of success and tragedy interests Gichon more than his intellectual achievements. He visited the house on the invitation of its owner and together they are working to install a “stolper steiner” commemorating him.

“We always said, if he would’ve stayed, he probably would’ve been world-famous,” Gichon said. “He would’ve risen high up in the company, and my uncles always said he would’ve won a Nobel Prize.”

This article was originally published in German in the Juedische Rundschau. Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist based in Berlin. Her latest novel, Underskin, is a modern German-Israeli love story whose male protagonist is from Dresden. www.oritarfa.net

German Court Verdict Allowing Kuwait Airways to Discriminate Against Israelis to Be Appealed

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A German court’s verdict allowing Kuwait Airways to discriminate against Israelis is going to be appealed.

The case at hand involves an Israeli who is claiming that Kuwait Airways prevented from purchasing a ticket simply because he is Israeli. In November, a court in Frankfurt sided with the airline on the grounds that they were “merely respecting the laws of Kuwait,” referencing the Kuwait government’s policy of refusing businesses to provide services to Israelis.

According to a press release from The Lawfare Project, the appeal “aided and abetted Kuwait in imposing its antisemitic, anti-Israeli laws even though such discrimination is illegal in Germany.”

“We thought we had consigned antisemitism to our history books,” Nathan Gelbart, the The Lawfare Project’s German counsel, said in the press release. “The Frankfurt District Court’s verdict has allowed antisemitic discrimination to be imported into our country and helped whitewash and sanitize it. We cannot allow our laws to be subverted by the state-sponsored racism of other nations.”

Prominent German officials condemned the court’s ruling.

“An airline that practices discrimination and anti-Semitism by refusing to fly Israeli passengers should not be allowed to take off or land in Frankfurt,” Frankfurt Mayor Uwe Becker told Reuters.

Foreign Ministry Secretary Michael Roth also called the ruling “incomprehensible.”

The Lawfare Project is optimistic about the appeal.

“We are very confident in the merits of this case, which seeks to address a flagrant violation of human rights in Germany,” Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, told the Journal in an emailed statement. “This has been echoed in a multitude of statements from Germany’s political leaders condemning Kuwait Airways’ discriminatory and anti-Semitic policy. There should be no place for this kind of hateful and discriminatory policy in Germany, and we are hopeful that country’s political and legal system will act to end it immediately.”

The Journal reported in October that Germany had opened an investigation into Kuwait Airways’ practice of banning Israelis from their flights. The United States government concluded in 2015 that it was illegal for Kuwait Airlines to ban an Israeli from flying from New York to London, resulting in the airline to put an end to such flights.

Hanukkah Celebrations Canceled in German City Over Safety Issues

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hanukkah celebrations in the German city of Mülheim have been canceled over safety issues.

According to German media, a Hanukkah event at Mülheim’s city hall was nixed at the Central Council of Jews because the building was not considered to be secure enough and a safer location couldn’t be found in such a short period of time.

“We feel grief, because Hanukkah is a festival of joy. We have canceled all outdoor events,” local Jewish community leader Alexander Drehmann told the Bild Zeitung newspaper. “We are going to our community hall with secured entrance checkpoint, instead of being at the municipal theater. There were warnings, even from the non-Jewish sources, which I cannot name.”

Drehmann added, “It is a bad feeling. Surely one of the lowest points in our post-war history.”

Over the weekend, protests erupted in front of the United States embassy in Berlin in response to President Trump declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The protests featured Arabic chants of “Death of the Jews!” and “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is coming again,” a reference to the tale of the Prophet Muhammad conquering the Jewish populace in the oasis of Khaybar. Israeli flags were also torched at the protests.

German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert condemned the anti-Semitic protests.

“One has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities,” said Seibert.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, as evident by the fact that anti-Semitic incidents tripled from 2014 (691) to 2015 (2,083). The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won almost 13% of the vote in the country’s most recent elections, and a recent report found that anti-Semitism is rampant among the mass influx of Muslim migrants that have entered Germany.

Overall, around 16% of German adults harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a 2015 profile by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Boycotting the Israel Boycotter in Germany

FILE PHOTO: British rock star Roger Waters of Pink Floyd walks along the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, June 21, 2006. REUTERS/Ahmad Mezhir/File Photo

“It’s hopeless.”

“Petitions are so stupid.”

“He won’t even read your email.”

These were some comments Malca Goldstein-Wolf received when she told people she was going to start a movement to get the director of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), the Cologne-based affiliate of Germany’s consortium of public broadcasters known as ARD, to pull out of sponsoring an upcoming June concert by Israel’s most famous boycott advocate, Roger Waters. The ex-Pink Floyd front man regularly makes headlines these days as the leader of the cultural wing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Goldstein-Wolf proved the skeptics wrong. When she reached out to WDR Director Tom Buhrow, sending him a Change.org petition with more than 1,500 signatures, Buhrow decided to end WDR’s sponsorship of the Waters concert. After Germany’s popular tabloid Bild broke the story, four other ARD regional affiliates followed Buhrow’s lead.

“I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it.” — Malca Goldstein-Wolf

While Waters’ summer concert tour in Germany will still go on, Goldstein-Wolf, 48, is pleased that it will do so without help from the German taxpayer.

“I’m just an amateur activist,” she said via Skype from her home in Cologne. “I don’t do things like this normally but I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it. I heard the promotion on WDR, and I couldn’t believe they wanted to support Waters. I thought: ‘Oh, my God. This is impossible.’ So I just sat down and wrote to Buhrow, and I did this petition.”

One columnist for Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said ARD should thank Goldstein-Wolf for saving the broadcasters from embarrassment. Waters’ concerts sometimes feature politically controversial antics, such as releasing a pig-shaped balloon — based on an image from Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, “Animals” — emblazoned with dozens of illustrations, including a Star of David and corporate logos. Waters has pressured well-known artists scheduled to perform in Israel to cancel shows.

Goldstein-Wolf, who comes from the world of fashion, was born in Frankfurt. Her Jewish father journeyed to Israel from Romania, while her mother converted to Judaism when Goldstein-Wolf was a child. Her husband is the biological grandson of a Nazi whose widow married an Auschwitz survivor and then raised him as his own grandson. Goldstein-Wolf, who visited Israel regularly in her youth, said she considers the Jewish state as the “life insurance for all Jews in the world.”

But according to Goldstein-Wolf, Germany’s true hero in the story is Buhrow for taking a stand.

“I was really kind of desperate when I wrote,” Goldstein-Wolf said. “The answer he gave me was absolutely touching. I would have never even thought about getting such an answer. He has my deep respect for it.”

Buhrow’s email response to her was brief and to the point. “I sense that not many words or arguments will convince you, rather clear action,” he wrote. “I’m notifying you, because it’s important for me that you believe how important your feelings are to me, that I’m responding to your request: the collaboration with the concert has ended.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany praised ARD’s decision, with its president Joseph Schuster stating: “The swift and decisive reaction of the broadcasters to massive public criticism is an important sign that rampant Israel-related anti-Semitism has no place in Germany.”

Waters’ German promoter, Marek Lieberberg, a son of Holocaust survivors, called ARD’s decision “ridiculous.”

“Two things have to be separated here: private opinion and artistic work” the 71-year-old CEO of Live Nation Germany told a German newspaper. “The canon of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd is and remains brilliant. On the other hand, he has a questionable private opinion about Israel and is quite an open member of boycott movement, which I completely reject. But I cannot and will not deny him his right to freedom of expression.”

While Goldstein-Wolf is proud of this particular victory, she foresees more battles ahead. Most recently, German courts backed Kuwait Airways’ rejection of Israeli passengers. Israel also had to pull out of an exhibition at the Frankfurt Bible Museum showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls because the German government couldn’t guarantee their return should Palestinian or Jordanian authorities claim them.

For now, though, Goldstein-Wolf will focus her efforts on BDS and artists involved in the movement.

“There’s no option to give up,” she said. “You always have to fight. If you’re really authentic, if you touch people, there’s always a chance to change things.”

German Broadcasting Station Ends Sponsorship of Roger Waters Concert Due to Waters’ Criticism of Israel

Roger Waters performing at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 6, 2012. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

A German broadcasting station is revoking their sponsorship from a Roger Waters concert due to Waters’ frequent criticism of Israel.

Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), a public broadcasting station in Germany, was set to broadcast Waters’ concert in the city of Cologne in June until they received an email from Malca Goldstein-Wolf, who had garnered 1,500 signatures on a petition for WDR to pull their sponsorship.

In her email to WDR, Goldstein-Wolf accused the station of using taxpayer dollars to provide a platform to “a hater of Jews.” Tom Buhrow, the director of WDR, responded to Goldstein-Wolf that her petition convinced him to end the station’s sponsorship of Waters.

“Our cooperation for that concert is finished,” wrote Buhrow.

Buhrow added that the move is “a personal message of trust and understanding” between the station and the Jewish community.

Waters has come under fire with his vehement criticisms of Israel and embrace of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The former Pink Floyd bassist has featured the Star of David along with dollar signs on a floating pig at his concerts, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned as a “grotesque display of Jew hatred.” Waters has also attempted to pressure artists like Radiohead and Bon Jovi from performing in Israel.

In a 2013 interview with Counterpunch magazine, Waters compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.

“There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on,” said Waters “From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian people being murdered.”

He also claimed that “the Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here” in the United States.

Waters’ remarks prompted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to criticize him for perpetuating “conspiratorial anti-Semitism.”

The musician is also planning on putting on a concert in Bethlehem in December to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

German Jews Shaken By Election Results

Bjorn Hoecke, a top AfD leader

The recent German national elections that saw the nationalistic AfD  (Alternative for Germany) Party gain nearly 13 percent of the vote — placing it third with 94 seats in the Bundestag, up from none in the last elections — stunned many in the establishment, not least the Jewish community.

A non-Jewish German friend of mine shocked me by suggesting that Germany got the government it deserved, and that German Jews should consider leaving.

The Shoah was supposed to be the “never again” watershed tragedy heralding a genuine enlightenment that included contrition and remorse. Yet, this new post-unification Germany that held the promise of a modern dynamic and diverse society based on liberal values has stumbled with growing populism and xenophobia.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bitterly opposed to German reunification, fearing a resurgence of unbridled nationalism. At the time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (current German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mentor) assured Thatcher that a united Germany was now “a good Germany,” though acknowledging that it had a longer history of dictatorships than democracy.

Despite misgivings about a future new pan-Germanism from other European leaders, such as Italy’s Giulio Andreotti — who joked that he “loved Germany so much, he preferred to see two of them” — German reunification formally occurred in 1990. The year before, Jewish-American conductor Leonard Bernstein led a passionate performance at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which he renamed  “Ode to Freedom” for that occasion.

Twenty-seven years later, the joy has turned to anger, angst and divisiveness.

From the right, there are neo-Nazi sentiments expressing vulgar hatred of “outsiders,” and from the left, there is support for groups that endorse Israel’s demise in different ways through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), misleading anti-Israel propaganda in the media, Holocaust distortion and inversion, and annual Al-Quds marches.  According to a German federal government study, modern anti-Semitism rose sharply between 2014 and 2016.

And so Germany’s Jews are uneasy. They no longer enjoy the confidence and optimism they had in the early 1990s.

Indeed, Bjorn Hoecke, a top AfD leader, questioned how Germany could shame itself by having a Holocaust memorial in the center of its capital, something that no other self-respecting country would do.

Germany’s mirror seems cracked.

On the one hand, a Nazi salute is against the law, yet on the other hand, the annual Iranian-sponsored Al-Quds marches calling for Israel’s annihilation are permitted.

On the one hand, the government says that Israel’s existence is linked to modern Germany’s raison d’etre (questioned by AfD co-founder Alexander Gauland), but on the other, Germany funds radical NGOs such as B’Tselem, Zochrot and Al-Haq that promote the demise of Israel as a Jewish state through BDS, lawfare and violence.

On the one hand, Germany guarantees the security of its Jews, but on the other hand, the Wuppertal Court of Appeals ruled that the firebombing of a synagogue was a form of protest against Israel’s policies.

On the one hand, Germany strongly rejects anti-Semitism, yet Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s second largest party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), not only accused Israel of stealing Palestinian water but also applauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’  European Union (EU) parliament speech accusing Israeli rabbis of plotting to poison Arab water, reminiscent of medieval canards.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party.

 

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, condemns anti-Semitism but embraces an  Iran that sponsors a Holocaust cartoon contest and forgoes diplomatic norms by choosing to meet with a radical anti-Israel NGO rather than the Israeli prime minister. He also told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper in April that “the current government is not Israel,” and he previously called Israel an “apartheid regime.”

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister.

 

Germany’s Jews have fallen into the cracks between right and left, preferring not to observe the observable.

Jewish life has become largely security-centered, fighting anti-Semitism as an end itself, to the point where German authorities advised the Jewish community to send official mail in plain envelopes without logos. Most German Jews do not put up a mezuzah, and those who do place them concealed inside their front doors.

Jewish leadership needs to ask itself whether Jewish cultural life in the broadest sense has been reduced to armed police at synagogues, the Holocaust and combatting BDS. Several times when looking for a particular synagogue, smiling pedestrians directed me to “where you see a group of police guards.”

German Jews still are arguing yesterday’s issues. Not too long ago, I heard a sermon in which the rabbi asked, “Are we Germans of the Mosaic [Jewish] faith or Jews living in Germany?”

German Jews debate whether the stolpersteine (small brass memorials to murdered Jews inlaid on the pavements outside their former homes) are disrespectful or not, given that people and dogs walk on them.

Are post-war German Jews today equipped to sustain Jewish life?

A community program called Rent-a-Jew was started in Berlin whereby people “could engage with Jews, rather than about Jews.” Spokeswoman Mascha Schmerling told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that “we want them to see that we’re completely normal people.”

Some 70 years after the Shoah? Really?

A few years ago, a German politician told me that Germany could not indefinitely commit to a foreign policy that considered Israel’s interests. With Holocaust survivors and perpetrators dying out, Germany would align more with the EU. This is clear already.

Germany was the first EU country to recommend the labelling of Israeli products over the Green Line in addition to voting with such countries as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China against Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On the other hand, some cities such as Munich and Berlin finally are making an effort to block BDS activities.

While German Jews focus on anti-Semitism, Holocaust memorials and adequate security, Germany is drifting from the United States and Israel, and embracing a guilt-free nationalism. If the British and French can honor their soldiers, “we Germans should also honor our soldiers from both world wars,” according to Gauland, ignoring the fact that thousands of these “soldiers” were savage murderers of men, women and children, as happened at Babi Yar.

As Germans break taboos and return to populist nationalism and speak with forked tongues about Jews and Israel — increasingly discarding historical guilt — German Jews need to adapt to reality and focus on strengthening Jewish youth, particularly with education and identity. I have come across young Jews who confused Passover and Purim and had no idea who Chaim Weizmann was. Assimilation rates are high.

Germany’s challenge is to rethink the direction in which it is going.

The challenge for the Jewish community is not only to know what it is fighting against, but to understand what it is actually fighting for.


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a fellow at the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and author of the satire “The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

Germany to Investigate Kuwait Airways for Israeli Discrimination

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Germany is going to be investigating Kuwait Airways for their discrimination of Israeli passengers.

Alexander Dobrindt, the German Federal Transport minister, has ordered the ministry to determine if Kuwait Airways’ denial of services to Israelis breaks any of Germany’s laws.

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, told the Journal that she wanted to “congratulate” Germany for initiating the investigation.

“I’m very hopeful that they will come to the conclusion, as we have, that Kuwait Airways is in blatant violation of the anti-discrimination laws and that there’s absolutely no excuse for that type of bigoted animus, especially given the history of Europe and Germany,” said Goldstein. “…The government should not tolerate commercial discrimination against people because of their race, religion or national origin.”

The Lawfare Project is involved in another case in which an Israeli is claiming that Kuwait Airways blocked him from purchasing a ticket from Frankfurt to Thailand simply because he was Israeli. Goldstein described the case as “pretty much open and shut.”

“Kuwait Airways has admitted that they are refusing to carry Israeli national, so there’s no excuse,” said Goldstein. “They’re in violation of the law.”

Kuwait Airways is forbidden by their government from providing services to Israelis as part of the Arab League’s 1945 boycott of Israel. Other Arab countries, like Jordan and Egypt, engage in such business with Israel despite the boycott.

In December 2015, the United States found Kuwait Airways to be in violation of the law for refusing allow Israelis to fly between New York City and London. Instead of complying with the law, Kuwait Airways decided to cease all flights between the two cities altogether.

In June 2017, the airline was reportedly facing mounting losses.

“The irony ​is ​that the Arab League boycott was instituted to bankrupt Israel and​,​ instead,​ these companies are ​willing ​t​o bankrupt themselves just to prove the ferocity of their animus,” Amanda Berman, the Lawfare Project’s director of legal affairs, told Forbes.

Iran attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology several times last year

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9, 2015. Photo by Alexey Kudenko/Getty Images

Iran reportedly attempted to purchase illegal technology for its missile and nuclear programs numerous times in 2016, according to German intelligence.

The Jerusalem Post reports that German intelligence found that Iran tried 32 times to procure such technology in the German North Rhine-Westphalia state, most of which involved their missile program. Iran uses various “front companies in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and China” to get around restrictions, according the Post.

According to German intelligence, Iran’s missile program has developed to the point where it will “be able to threaten not only Europe.”

Prior German intelligence reports found that Iran hasn’t completely changed their nuclear activity since the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and that they are seeking “products and scientific knowhow for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology,” according to the Post.

The latest findings on Iran come at a time when President Trump will soon decide if the United States will re-certify the Iran deal. Should Trump go that route, Congress would have 60 days to decide if they will re-impose sanctions on Iran.

America’s European allies are urging Trump to remain in the nuclear deal, arguing that the deal is a necessary enforcement mechanism against Iran’s nuclear program. German diplomats argued to the Post that Iran’s efforts to ramp up its missile program are outside of the scope of the Iran deal and should be handled outside of the deal.

Critics of the Iran deal argue that Iran is in violation of the deal and that it paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal. Trump has previously called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

What you need to know about the far-right Alternative for Germany party

Alice Weidel, a co-head of the far right Alternative for Germany party, seen in Berlin after Germany’s elections on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched her fourth term and her center-right Christian Democratic Union party maintained its parliamentary majority in the German national elections on Sunday.

The victory, however, was hardly a landslide: With some 6 million votes, the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, finished in third place, securing 94 seats in the national parliament, the Bundestag, which now has 709 seats in all.

With a platform focused on Islam and migration, and rhetoric tinged with Nazi tropes, the AfD garnered 12.6 percent of the vote — nearly three times better than in 2013.

The unprecedented showing for a far-right party in postwar Germany alarmed Jewish and Muslim leaders.

“A party that tolerates right-wing extremist ideas in its ranks has managed not only to win seats in almost all our state parliaments, but also in the Bundestag,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement.

Schuster expressed the urgent wish that German democratic leaders “reveal the true face of the AfD, and expose its empty, populist promises.”

Here is a look at the AfD: its history, its leaders and backers, and where the party stands on key issues.

When was the AfD founded, and why?

Riding a wave of popular resentment against German bailouts of bankrupt European Union member states, the party was launched in April 2013. The AfD has since developed into an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and euro-skeptical party.

The party gained popularity primarily for its attacks on Merkel’s liberal policy toward refugees — since 2015, Germany has opened its doors to more than 1.5 million, mostly Muslims — and xenophobic and nationalistic campaign platforms. Akin to President Donald Trump’s “America First” position and the U.K.’s rejection of the European Union, the AfD promotes a “pro-Germany” stance, even going so far as to urge citizens to have more babies “made in Germany.”

Who are the party’s leaders?

The party has a moderate and a far-right fraction. Heading the latter is Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old attorney and journalist who left the conservative Christian Democrats after 40 years to co-found the AfD. His “moderate” counterpart is Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old economist.

Gauland recently said Germans “don’t have to be held accountable anymore for those 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They don’t affect our identity today any longer. And we’re not afraid to say so.”

Germans, he added, “have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”

Are AfD politicians anti-Semitic?

Right-extremist parties in Germany have learned over the years how to avoid pitfalls: They don’t deny the Holocaust, which is illegal. But they might say it wasn’t as bad as Jews make it out to be, or that the firebombing of Dresden was worse.

Recently, Bjorn Hocke, the AfD party leader in the eastern German state of Thuringia, caused a stir when he said that too much attention to the Holocaust was making German history “appalling and laughable.” He called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and has recommended a radical departure from “these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past.”

Hocke said “we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”

A party candidate in the western state of Saarland, Rudolf Muller, is under investigation for allegedly selling Nazi paraphernalia in his antiques store.

Concerning their attitudes toward Jews, “many AfD members do share anti-Semitic ideas,” Jan Riebe, who has researched anti-Semitism within AfD for the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

While the party itself may not be anti-Semitic, many members “believe that Jews are the masterminds of all evil,” Riebe said. “So, in that sense, anti-Semitism does play an essential role in the AfD.”

Riebe added that a former member of the AfD in the Weserbergland region, Gunnar Baumgart, once wrote that Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, “was used to protect lives and that not a single Jew was killed by it.”

Dirk Hoffmann, a party executive in Saxony-Anhalt, equated Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories with the Holocaust.

Wolfgang Gedeon, an AfD legislator in Baden-Württemberg, has been accused of spreading anti-Jewish propaganda, among other things by reviving debate about the infamous anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The AfD instrumentalizes Judaism and Jewish people, but has no interest in a real Jewish life in Germany,” Sigmount Konigsberg, who handles issues related to anti-Semitism for Berlin’s Jewish community, wrote in a commentary for Germany’s Jewish weekly, the Juedische Allgemeine.

AfD also wants to ban kosher slaughter in Germany, as well as the import and sale of kosher meat, in line with its opposition to halal, or Islamic ritual  slaughter.

“This puts them squarely in the camp of [Hitler’s] National Socialist party, which banned kosher slaughter as early as April 1933,” Konigsberg wrote.

Furthermore, he wrote, “if Holocaust remembrance is termed a ‘Cult of Guilt’ and AfD chairman Gauland is proud of the Wehrmacht, then we can all put two and two together and understand the consequences.”

Some observers have noted that other parties have their share of anti-Semites as well and should be scrutinized in that area as much if not more than the AfD. In particular, they say, left-leaning parties are far more likely to be anti-Zionist and supportive of boycott movements against Israel than are parties on the right.

An AfD poster in Berlin, Sept. 26, 2017. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)

Who are some of the party’s legislators? 

Among those expected to take seats in the Bundestag are:

* Martin Hohmann, former member of the Christian Democratic Union, who in 2003 referred to Jews as a “nation of perpetrators.”

* Siegbert Droese, a nationalist who last year raised eyebrows when it turned out that one of his cars bore the license number AH 1818 – the initials of Adolf Hitler in letters and numerals.

* Wilhelm von Gottberg, who in a 2001 essay quoted Italian Holocaust deniers and commented, “We have nothing to add here.”

* Detlev Spangenberg, a former informant for the East German state security apparatus, is a German nationalist who reportedly wants to see the country’s 1937 borders restored.

What about the AfD’s views on Israel?

Though the AfD decided not to include a discussion about Israel in its party platform, reportedly because of concern by some party leaders about Israeli “war crimes,” there has been a generally supportive attitude toward the Jewish state.

Observers say there are two reasons for this: Israel is seen as a bulwark against radical Islam, and support for Israel is used as an alibi against charges of anti-Semitism.

But only one day after Sunday’s elections, Gauland triggered a debate about whether Israel’s right to exist should really be a German “reason of state” – referring to Merkel’s 2008 declaration of solidarity in the Knesset.

“Of course we stand with Israel,” the co-party leader emphasized at a news conference, while questioning whether the viability of the Jewish state should be high on Germany’s agenda. But if that would mean “that we are really prepared to sacrifice our lives for the State of Israel,” he said, “I don’t feel that way.”

Meanwhile, the AfD head in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Marcus Pretzell, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he would not support any change in the status of Germany’s support for Israel, which he termed Germany’s only reliable partner in the Middle East.

In Israel, reactions to the AfD’s success were mixed: While some Israeli politicians look to Europe’s populist parties for support in fighting radical Islam, others have called the AfD’s evident appeal to right-wing extremists and racists a warning signal for Israel and Jews.

Who supports the party?

The largest base of support comes from Germany’s eastern states, where it received more than 20 percent of the vote. Nationwide, the AfD has some 23,000 members. By contrast, Merkel’s Christian Democrats have more than 400,000.

Jewish supporters of the AfD may not be many or vociferous, but some — like the Berlin-based artist Pavel Feinstein — have openly declared that the AfD is “the only party that will stop this invasion” of Islamist extremists.

“You don’t have to marry” the AfD, Feinstein told JTA in an interview last year.

Some observers say the AfD has drawn voters from across the political spectrum — including those who never voted — and liken its success to the approval for Brexit in the U.K. and the election of Trump in the United States. This phenomenon has been described as a “radicalization of the center,” though it remains to be seen whether the AfD’s strong showing will lead Germany’s mainstream parties to whistle a more populist tune.

Alternative for Germany leader says Jews have nothing to fear

Alexander Gauland, left, and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Jews should not fear the strong election showing by the Alternative for Germany, a leader of the populist far-right party said.

“There is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany,” co-party head Alexander Gauland told reporters Monday, a day after AfD garnered more than 13 percent of the vote to finish third in German national elections.

Gauland also said that he was ready to meet with German Jewish leaders “at any time.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term and reportedly has rejected the idea of including AfD in a coalition government.

“Unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: A party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in almost all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag,” the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, said in a statement issued late Sunday.

“I expect all our democratic forces to unveil the real face of the AfD and to expose the party’s empty, populist promises. The goal that should unite all democratic parties: to make it clear to the voters that the AfD is not an alternative, so that it can land where it belongs — under the 5 percent hurdle! ”

The council called on the parliament to “fight for democracy and to defend its values ​​vehemently” in the face of the AfD successes.

The Anti-Defamation League called AfD’s entrance into the national parliament “a disturbing milestone in modern German politics,” saying the party is “proudly extremist, anti-immigrant, and anti-minority.” The party leaders have made anti-Semitic statements and played down the evil of the Nazi regime, the ADL also said in its statement.

“Chancellor Merkel has a strong track record of protecting the Jewish community and other minorities,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “We appreciate that she has excluded the possibility of AfD joining her coalition, and we count on her strong leadership going forward to diminish the appeal of AfD among German voters.”

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities throughout Germany on Sunday evening to protest the AfD’s election successes. In the Alexanderplatz public square in central Berlin, protesters chanted “Racism is not an alternative,” “AfD is a bunch of racists” and “Nazis out!”

The rise of Germany’s far right: The unwelcome result of Willkommenspolitik

Demonstrators protest against the anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) after German general election (Bundestagswahl) in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 24. Photo by Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

There are many word combinations that justify a pause, and of these “Germany” and “rise of the far right” is at the top of the list. On Sept. 24, German Chancellor Angela Merkel won her fourth term as leader of the country. But her victory — according to most reports— was “dimmed by the entry of a far-right party into parliament for the first time in more than 60 years.”

What is the “far right”? For the left, the far right is often everything right of center. For the right, the far right is everything to the right of where I stand. In Europe, this means parties that support xenophobic policies, oppose immigration and use populist messages and blunt, often ugly language to gain the votes of citizens who feel that their country has been stolen away from them by forces beyond their control. In the specific case of Germany, this includes references to the second World War that should make anyone, especially the (mostly) Jewish readers of the Jewish Journal, cringe. It also includes the curious yet common phenomenon of far right, allegedly anti-Semitic European parties supportive of Israel.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will enter the Bundestag, the German parliament, as the third biggest party. It will be an opposition party that promises to make Merkel’s life as miserable as it can. In a parliamentary system such as Germany’s, the exclusion of a large party complicates the political landscape and essentially forces on Merkel a certain coalition. Namely, it makes the other smaller parties — the ones that Merkel must appease to have a functioning coalition — more powerful.

There is no mystery surrounding the AfD’s achievement. This is, as Cas Mudde writes in the Guardian, “an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik [the welcome policy] toward refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilized previous non-voters.” Merkel decided to pursue an open door refugee policy. A controversial policy. Personally, she proved strong enough to pursue it and keep her seat. But it will be a less comfortable seat, next to a less appealing political neighbor.

Condemning the AfD is easy, and possibly necessary. Condemning AfD voters is also easy, and to a certain point, also necessary. Society should let voters of such parties know that some political deeds are beyond the pale of tolerable political choices. Still, understanding the rise of the AfD and its implications is much more important than condemnation. It is the natural result, the unintended yet to be expected consequences, of Merkel’s immigration policies.

Oftentimes, as possible implications of policies are weighed, the political backlash is not taken into account. Had Merkel known that her immigration policies would bring about the success of the far right, would she have still pursued them with such vigor? Would she have moderated them to mitigate such possible impact? If you feel detached from this question, try a local version of it: Had Barack Obama known that his immigration policies would bring about the victory and four-year term of Donald Trump as President (and no comparison of Trump to the AfD is intended), would he have made the same choices?

Policies have direct consequences, and they often have indirect consequences that are much more important. Some Israeli experts believe that Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the way it was done made the second Palestinian Intifada more likely. Of course, such a link is not easy to prove, but assuming it is proved, would it not completely alter our assessment of the decision to withdraw?

Back to Germany, the question of weighing the benefit of a policy and its possible unintended outcome is not an easy one to answer. Opening the doors to refugees is noble. The backlash, and we know this from history, can be dangerous. A leader is tasked with taking both these considerations into account. It ought not to burden his or her country with something that the country would not tolerate. It ought not to test his or her country with a policy whose result could be devastating.

Is it a devastating result to have AfD representatives sitting in the Bundestag? Much of it depends on whether this was a one-time show of protest or a beginning of a new trend. If it’s a one-time incident, Merkel could say that saving hundreds of thousands of refugees was worth the price. If this is the beginning of a new trend, Merkel could be remembered as the leader who recklessly pursued a policy that put Germany on a new unappealing path.

 

Seven decades after the Holocaust, can a Jew enjoy a German vacation?

Karen Ulric, who traveled to Germany on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in July, observes a Holocaust memorial in Frankfurt. Photos by Eitan Arom

Our gaggle of mostly Jewish, mostly American travelers stepped off a tour bus on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany, pointing cameras this way and that and ambling onto a seemingly unremarkable, wide-open expanse of pavement surrounded by parkland.

It was a glorious Sunday in July, and the Nurembergers were soaking it in, gliding by on bicycles and rollerblades, for the most part ignoring the monolithic concrete structure looming over a set of bleachers. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by the fact of what brought us there: About 80 years earlier, Adolf Hitler stood high atop the structure to review a parade of goose-stepping Nazi troops.

As we fanned out across the former parade ground, snapping photos, I thought to myself: This is an odd way to spend a vacation.

I had my reservations about traveling to Germany. I had been to Ukraine and Poland, seen killing fields and the ruins of ancient synagogues, but venturing into the heartland of the Holocaust seemed a daunting prospect. It wasn’t a trip I likely would have taken had I not been invited to go without paying a dime.

In June, I hadn’t given a second thought to accepting an invitation from the Encino-based travel company Uniworld to join a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on one of its inaugural tours of Jewish heritage sites in Germany.

After all, who says no to a free cruise?

But as my July departure date drew near, my hesitation mounted. I grew up in a home where German cars were strictly verboten. My current bedroom is home to piles of books about the Holocaust, with names such as Elie Wiesel and Hannah Arendt staring at  me from their spines. And as a reporter on the Jewish world at a time when racist ideologies are on the rise, Hitler’s handiwork is never far from my mind.

I decided my trip would be a test. Germany is a modern, beautiful country abounding with history and culture. I would be sailing in style down two scenic and storied rivers. I intended to find out, more than 70 years after the gas chambers were shut down, whether a Jew like me could enjoy a luxurious German vacation.

At first, things looked promising. Our group of writers and reporters met our ship, the River Ambassador, while it was docked near Frankfurt. It was an elegant, elongated vessel, designed to fit precisely through the locks on the rivers. As soon as I stepped on board, a glass of white wine materialized in my hand, proffered by the hyperattentive cruise staff. I then retired to my stateroom to lie back and watch the rolling hills and quaint river towns glide by my window.

Nurembergers cycle past a podium where, about 80 years ago, Adolf Hitler reviewed goose-stepping Nazi troops on parade.

 

The next day, I awoke from this pleasant dream into a crueler reality.

We disembarked and took a bus to Frankfurt, where Uniworld had arranged for us to meet a member of the local Jewish community, a graduate student active in Hillel International and the Jewish Student Union Germany. Despite his attempt to paint a rosy picture of Germany’s future, he seemed to return constantly to its grim past and uncertain present.

“We have a functioning community,” he reassured us. (Tepid praise if ever I’ve heard it.)

“There is a future in Germany. There’s a young movement coming that wants to change things, that doesn’t want to be afraid to be a Jew in Germany,” he said.

Later, we stood outside the aging hulk of a synagogue used by all three major denominations of Frankfurt Jews, a magnificent edifice that had seen better days. It was closed to the public and looked abandoned but for a few Orthodox men hurrying in and out via side entrances. As we stood shifting our feet, I wrote a sad little poem about the massive shul. It was only Day One of the cruise and Germany already was throwing me for a loop.

The author took a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in Germany. Photo from Wikimedia

 

After that, it was back to the ship for an evening of sailing, fine dining and drinking at the open bar. Before dinner each evening, the ship’s bartender and sommelier addressed the passengers in the spacious lounge to apprise us of the evening’s fermented offerings.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman, it is wine o’clock,” she said, psyching us up for her nightly pun. “Remember, everything happens for a Riesling.”

The cruise continued in much the same way: Day trips focused on Germany’s painful Jewish past and diminished Jewish presence, followed by evenings of merriment and luxury.

Even in seemingly innocuous locales such as Rothenberg, a walled town of nearly pristine medieval architecture, our tour guides told stories of unthinkable terror visited upon generations of unfortunate Jews.

Emerging from one of the cobblestone alleys into a square, we caught site of what seemed to be a Jewish star hanging at the site of Rothenberg’s first Jewish quarter. But our guide quickly disabused us of any such hope. In Germany, that particular six-pointed star symbolizes beer: An upside-down triangle for water, plus an upright triangle representing fire — in a truly German feat of addition —  means beer. Here in Rothenberg, it signaled the presence of a pub.

The disappointment in our ranks was palpable.

We did learn, however, that the synagogue that once stood in the square was demolished after all 450 Jews who lived in Rothenberg in 1298 were flayed or burned alive.

For the great majority of the 2.2 million tourists who visit Rothenberg every year, the place is a medieval playground of gift shops and sidewalk cafes. For my fellow travelers and me, it was a graveyard.

The trip continued in much the same way, with the members of our little group keeping our chins up as we ambled through centuries of persecution.

The next day, I sat in Nuremberg’s historic main square with a belly full of pork sausage, drinking a shandy beneath a glorious blue sky as a reggae band tuned up for a free concert. Sipping my beer-and-lemonade mixture, I tried — perhaps too hard — to prove to myself that I could have a good time immersed in secular pleasures, Jewish history be damned. 

The author enjoys a shandy in front of the Church of Our Lady in Nuremberg, built on
the site of a synagogue destroyed during a 14th-century pogrom.

Opposite me, a looming Gothic church scowled across the throngs that choked the square. Our guide had informed us as that the Church of Our Lady was built on the site of a Jewish synagogue destroyed in 1349, when Nuremberg’s Jews were burned alive as scapegoats for the Black Plague.

No marker indicated the Jewish significance of the church. But the fact of its origins darkened my mood. I felt doomed to walk like a ghost through a landscape of long-forgotten horrors.

Had I not known about the 1349 pogrom, I wondered, would I have enjoyed my sausage and shandy in peace?

The emotional climax of the trip was a visit to Dachau, the labor camp-turned memorial complex. The morning of our visit, on the second-to-last day of the trip, my stomach tied itself into knots as we stepped off our ship and boarded a bus. The Jewish heritage sites on the trip’s itinerary were optional, with other day-trip options on offer, but nearly our entire group chose to visit the camp.

I moved with practiced stoicism through Dachau’s gravel-strewn complex until we reached the area of the camp’s crematory, a lustrous green clearing in the woods that stood in stark contrast to the hot, barren expanse where the prisoners’ barracks were once located.

In a corner of the clearing was a landscaped patch with bushes and ferns, and a stone monument with a Jewish star bearing an inscription in German, English and Hebrew: “Do not forget.” A footstone read: “Grave of Thousands Unknown.”

The words of the Mourner’s Kaddish jumped into my mind and tears into my eyes.

To visit Germany as a Jew without paying heed to our painful saga there is to miss an opportunity to mourn a deep and staggering loss.

You can ignore history or drown it with a bottle of wine, but like all of life’s challenges, that doesn’t make the horror go away.

Perhaps without the grim reminders from our tour guides, I might have seen Germany’s fairy-tale villages and ancient castles as the quaint locales and proud landmarks that beguile millions of tourists — rather than elements of a multigenerational crime scene.

But I doubt I could ever take it all in without being haunted by the pain and suffering that took place there. I’ve had too much Elie Wiesel in my life, too many visits to Holocaust museums and too many family stories from the grim years of 1939 and 1942 for me to uncritically sip beer and scarf sausages like the average tourist.

If you’ll forgive the pun, that ship has already sailed.

A Nazi then, remorseful now

Ursula Martens in her Baldwin Hills home. Photo by Tess Cutler

A former Hitler Youth reflects on the guilt of her past as she seeks understanding and redemption

Ursula Martens is a dainty 88-year-old with blue eyes, snow-white hair and a healthy, active lifestyle. She could easily pass for anybody’s grandma.

She lives independently in a large, two-story home in Baldwin Hills, where she runs a successful building maintenance business. She has friends, children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. She likes to garden. Every morning, she feeds hundreds of wild birds that gather on the electrical lines surrounding her property.

By these accounts, Martens appears to be living a good, if not ordinary life. Her biography seems typical of octogenarians these days — she’s industrious, social, in possession of adequate resources, and a sense of purpose. She appears altogether normal.

With one exception: Ursula Martens was a Nazi.

Born on March 28, 1929, in Kropelin, Germany, a 2 1/2-hour drive northwest of Berlin, Martens grew up in the shadow of the Third Reich. Like most Germans of her generation, she joined the Hitler Youth by the time she was 10. Even among believers, she distinguished herself as one of the more fervent champions of Hitler and his ideas. She was so enamored of the Fuhrer that she developed a crush. “How handsome he was … the best-looking man I had ever seen,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Stations Along the Way,” co-authored with Mark Shaw. And woe to anyone who disagreed with her: “He seemed like sort of a God to me.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer. She claims that at the time, she did not know the extent of Hitler’s crimes. But she was every bit the willing participant in his homicidal campaign to eliminate offenders of his Aryan ideal.

“I was trained to hate before I was 10 years old,” she wrote.

And so she hated. She hated the Romani. She hated the disabled. And most of all, she hated Jews.

Reflecting on the advent of the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws, which demoted Jews to second-class citizens, Martens wrote: “I understood that these laws put the Jews where they belonged, at the bottom of society.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer

Today, despite her comfortable life in Los Angeles, the hateful views Martens adopted as a girl continue to dominate her psyche — but now as sources of shame, self-recrimination and guilt. For the past 60 years, Martens has tried everything imaginable — confession, education and religion, even a love affair with a Jew — to exorcise the evils that poisoned her young mind. Her memoir is only part of her mea culpa; whatever opportunities she has to accept responsibility, apologize and seek forgiveness — including cooperation with this story — she has undertaken with gusto.

But whether absolution exists for her is beside the point. She was on the wrong side of history and has no choice but to atone again and again and again for the crime of losing her innocence.

“I don’t think you can ever forgive yourself for something that you were part of,” Martens says, sitting stone-faced at her glass dining room table. Her hair is down, shaped in a bob, and her large eyeglasses magnify the lines of her wrinkled face. Adjacent to where she sits is a small, overstuffed bookcase dominated by the works of Deepak Chopra.

Although Martens was not a Nazi in the conventional sense — she never held a weapon or committed any crime — she feels her mental complicity in Hitler’s race war laid the intellectual foundation for violence.

“I feel like I was part of it,” she says, “even though I didn’t have whatever it takes to open the gas.”

But she cannot be sure.

Martens doesn’t really know if she would have killed, she says, because she never had the opportunity. In her book, it is a question she asks herself over and over, and on occasion, she describes feeling bloodlust. During the British bombing of Germany in the later years of the war, the Hitler Youth were given instructions to wound or kill any survivor of a downed British plane. “They told us that if you ever see [a plane’s crew members parachute down], take whatever tool you have and go and try and kill them. And I thought ‘Yeah!’ That’s what I was looking for, when I saw planes, to be able to do that.

“I don’t think you ever get over that.”

Martens is one of tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators who gained passage to the United States after World War II. According to U.S. census data, 226,000 Germans immigrated to the United States from 1941 and 1950. Some were engineers and scientists, like Wernher von Braun, recruited by the U.S. government for their technological expertise. Others were senior Nazi party officials who were offered asylum in exchange for serving as spies against Soviet Russia in the early years of the Cold War. Most, however, were like Martens, ordinary German citizens who quietly slipped in, melding into the American panorama with no desire to continue Nazi activity or call attention to themselves. Many succeeded. Others, like Martens, could escape everything but their conscience.

Martens was 4 years old when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, setting the country and the rest of the world on a course to war. He won support as a democratically elected populist leader who promised a struggling country, which a generation before had lost World War I, that he would make Germany great again. The excitement he aroused around the nation was palpable. Martens still recalls the first time she heard his voice.

“I remember the decorations they put up,” she says of an early, local rally in support of Hitler. “It was like a movie I saw that I never forgot.”

Martens’ father was a railroad stationmaster, so she and her family moved a lot, often living in apartments above the station. Since most stations were located in the center of town, the family had front-row seats to public gatherings and rallies. The first time she saw a crowd gather to listen to one of Hitler’s radio speeches, she was instantly awed. “[I]t gave me the shivers,” she wrote. “[His voice] was so clear and distinct … I felt that that voice had power, and I noticed others, including my parents, felt the same way.”

As stewards of the train station, Martens remembers the day men in uniform entered her family home to unfurl a banner of Hitler that reached from the balcony of their apartment to the station floor. Soon after, her father began wearing what the young Martens perceived as “a red armband with a symbol on it.”

The political metastasis of the Third Reich became the landmarks of her childhood. When Martens and her older sister first heard the word “Nazi,” they asked their mother what it meant. She says they were told, “Communists are bad people, and Nazis are good people.” They were children, after all. Simple explanations worked.

Growing up at that time, religion was frowned upon, so politics — in the form of nationalism — ruled the day. Prejudice was common. According to Martens, German superiority had been a feature of the national character well before Hitler arrived. By the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed at the end of 1935, when Martens was 6, Jews had become the symbol of everything undesirable. “When we did not like a kid at school or wanted to make fun of them, we called them a Jew,” she wrote.

Jews weren’t the only hated ones. When Martens befriended a young boy called Heine, whom she describes as “different” and “slow,” her mother objected. One day, she and a friend ditched Heine on the walk home from school to the station. Hours later, he was found dead, sandwiched between two boxcars. Martens was devastated. But when she sought comfort from her parents, none was offered.

“There was a lack of affection,” Martens tells me about her relationship with her parents. “That’s kind of typical German. Emotions meant you were weak.”

The emotional isolation she felt at home intensified as she grew into adolescence. Her mother refused to discuss subjects of interest, like boys and sex, warning the young Martens that she could become pregnant from kissing. The recollections in her memoir give the impression of an adolescent girl desperate for an emotional outlet, and Martens found hers in Hitler.

In the Jungmadel, “young girls” of the Hitler Youth movement, she found community and purpose. She attended weekly meetings and rallies where indoctrination techniques took hold: A local political leader “reported” the news; Hitler’s radio addresses were played and replayed, his speeches memorized. The young people sang nationalistic songs glorifying the Third Reich. And everyone was expected to play sports and attend camping trips.

It was at these meetings that the Hitler Youth were exposed to “race education.” In her book, Martens recalls a demonstration in which she was asked to aid the teacher by having her skull measured. “This was a means of knowing what the lecturer called the cranial index of the ideal Aryan,” she wrote. “How proud I was when my head size was perfect. And of course, I was blond-haired and blue-eyed — perfect, too. I smiled all the way home.”

Reading Martens’ memoir is a bizarre experience. It is extremely detailed, reflecting Hitler’s ideology on many of its pages, and since Martens is recalling the indoctrination of her youth, the views expressed are relayed uncritically. The tone is matter-of-fact. And even though the work is the product of a wiser, older woman, it is filtered through the prism of a child. Unlike Anne Frank, however, young Martens lacked the personal insight and moral judgment to comprehend what was happening within and around her.

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie. “My sister was five years older and she was the learned one, the intelligent one,” Martens says. “At least that’s how I thought she was treated by my father. They would have intelligent conversations at the dinner table, so I kind of envied her. I didn’t like it. I was a little jealous.”

Sibling rivalry, at least as much as Hitler’s demagoguery, propelled her radicalism.

“I wanted to show her I could do something,” Martens says, pointing her finger to her chest. “You know, like, ‘I’ll show you …’ ”

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie.

Plus, being in the Hitler Youth came with perks. Once the Nazis had taken over the country, German cultural life was at their disposal. “We could go to movies, we could go to the theater, the opera — everything was free,” Martens says.

Life, in short, was fun. “Ohhh, yeah,” she says with emphasis.

With Germany on the brink war, things turned sinister. Signs were posted everywhere informing Germans not to speak too loudly, lest an enemy — the Jew — eavesdrop. The day after Kristallnacht in 1938, Martens was startled to discover a beloved local shop had been destroyed. In one telling passage, she sees the destruction, but laments only the broken crystals shattered on the sidewalk.

“I felt sorry for all the beautiful crystals,” she wrote. “It seemed like such waste to me. I knew that because the owners were Jewish, they weren’t supposed to have a store, and so I didn’t question what had been done to it.”

She also remembers the raging flames from a book burning that night. “I had heard people talk about the list of authors that weren’t suitable for Germans to read. I knew they were Jews, Communists and other writers that wrote anything against the Nazis.

“Books did not mean as much to me as the beautiful crystal and porcelain broken into millions of pieces that Crystal Night,” she wrote.

By age 11 or 12, Martens was the first to salute “Heil, Hitler” when encountering passersby on the street. She believed in “blitzkrieg” and Hitler’s vow to turn Germany into a world power. When neighbors mysteriously disappeared, she told herself there was good reason for it. And she bought into the anti-Semitic propaganda that Jews were “bloodsuckers” and “parasites,” that her family shouldn’t patronize their shops. She turned her head from signs declaring “Jewish filth” without ever questioning it. Today, however, she admits she barely knew any Jews while growing up.

Ursula Martens as she was photographed at her grandparents’ house in Germany after World War II. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

“I think people are easy to brainwash,” she says. “I can see that now. Because whatever you question, there’s an excuse for everything. When [the propaganda] started, [Germans] were saying ‘Jews are the ones that make it hard for us.’ And I always remember Jews working in banks or being lawyers or doctors. And I still say that now. Jewish families don’t say, ‘What do you want to be, a hairdresser?’ They say, ‘Be a lawyer or a doctor.’ You have no other choice.”

Martens pauses, wondering if maybe she has said something offensive. Perhaps the stereotypes she’s spent years trying to shed are still there, lingering just beneath the surface.

“I think that’s good,” she adds. She wants to be clear she means this as a compliment.

For someone who hated Jews, Martens now seems oddly admiring of them. It’s as if the Jew, after being hated, became an object of mystification. Since she was young, the truth of what was happening to Jews during the Holocaust was hidden from her. There were rumors. There were signs. But the darkest secret of what Nazi Germany was perpetrating upon millions of innocent people was a forbidden subject.

One afternoon, when her parents weren’t home, she entered her father’s “forbidden room” and rummaged through some drawers. She found a hidden envelope containing images she now presumes were from the camps: an SS soldier holding a pistol, people lying on the ground, shot dead. She was horrified but says she “blocked it out,” never bringing it up with her father. Even after the war up until his death, she never questioned him. His role in the deportation of countless innocents is answerable only by her imagination.

In 1945, when Martens was 16, the family was stationed at Malchow, which she later discovered had a munitions factory where rocket parts were made, probably by Jewish prisoners. The town included part of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. One winter night, while walking home, she saw people in striped uniforms with yellow stars on them being herded onto a train. ,“Jews!” she wrote. “ “I couldn“ t even make out if they were women or men.” They were emaciated and their heads shorn. “They looked cold. …
I had a strange feeling watching them.”
It was a confusing scene, which turned violent. According to Martens, the SS soldiers unleashed their dogs, which pounced on the feeble prisoners. “They could not fight back and fell to the ground with the dogs biting them. The sound of this, of the dogs tearing into the helpless Jews was like a nightmare,” she wrote. But after this, once again, she remained silent.

When asked why, time and again, Martens suppressed feelings that “were scarring her soul,” she has a hard time offering an answer. If she was so upset by these events, why did she not speak or act in accordance with her instincts?

“I tried to put it out of my mind,” she says.

If she heard anything that upset her, she says, she denied it or rationalized it. For the duration of the war, she continued to believe that concentration camps were internment camps “where you could live with your family,” such as the camps in the United States where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during the war.

Martens chose denial until the final moments of the war, when it was clear the country that she was told was invincible was, in fact, losing. Her infallible “god” had lied. Suddenly, her family’s foremost concern was fleeing to the American-controlled part of Germany to avoid confrontation with the Soviet Army; she heard rumors that the Red Army was raping German women.

What followed were the hardships that come in the aftermath of war — her father lost his job, they had no money and many days were on the verge of starvation. “We traded every piece of porcelain, everything we had, we traded for food,” she tells me. “But then I felt like, that’s what we deserve. When you lost. You knew you were guilty, all the people around you, they were all guilty. And I kind of started hating the Germans a little bit.”

When Martens stood in line with her mother to get ration cards, she saw for the first time the arrival of a truck filled with liberated Jews from the camps. Martens was overcome: “My eyes met those of a Jewish girl about my age ahead of me in line who had a yellow star stitched to her sweater. We just stared at each other … she had the saddest look on her face.”

From that moment, Martens says she was determined to “cleanse herself of Nazism.” In Berlin, she had love affairs with two Mexican-American soldiers, the second of whom she married, convinced that falling in love with a minority not only would cleanse her of racism and bigotry but prove to the world she was no longer prejudiced. The marriage did not last, but it earned her passage to the United States and produced two children. It was in an effort to save her marriage that Martens, by then in her 30s, moved with her family from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles.

Ursula Martens (top row, right) poses with her family in a photo taken in Germany. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

The past was never far enough behind. One of the first things she did in her new city was visit the Museum of Tolerance. “I walked out so weak I nearly fainted,” she wrote of the experience.

But she was determined to confront what she’d done. Little by little, she began reading books about the Holocaust, studying what had really happened. She hated herself even more. Then she got a job in a clothing factory, working for a man named Aaron Gold — a Holocaust survivor. And she fell madly in love with him even though he was married.

At first, Martens was terrified to tell her Jewish employer she was German, but Gold introduced her to other Germans employed at the factory, which put her at ease. Before long, Martens and Gold were staying late at the factory together, so they could sit in Gold’s office and talk. Martens was impressed by his intelligence and success. She felt connected to him as they discussed their lives in Europe and where they had been during the war.

According to Martens, Gold was Czech and went into hiding with his sisters before joining the resistance. In her memoir, she describes Gold getting captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and how she felt when she first saw his scars. “I was so ashamed,” she wrote. “How had I been so crazy? How had a whole nation of Germans been so crazy?”

As their friendship deepened, Martens was forced to re-evaluate the choices and beliefs of her youth. Gold was the first Jew she ever got to know, and rather than discover any of the labels she attributed to Jews in her youth, she discovered instead that she admired and respected him.

They began a passionate affair, which she described in the book with drama and fatalism, the way a teenager might — no two people had ever loved each other more. They eventually broke things off when Gold’s wife became pregnant. But the experience of being loved by a Jew was life altering. “Perhaps clean is the best word,” Martens wrote. “The dirt had finally been washed away.”

But her words belie the struggle that remained. Even if some part of her was healed, she still sought redemption before God. Martens turned to the Founders Church of Religious Science, which exposed her to spirituality for the first time. Its teachings drew on the works of religious figures and thinkers as diverse as Moses, Augustine and Einstein. Excited by the intellectual possibilities the church provided, she became a devotee of the Agape Church. She shared her story with others. She consumed volumes of self-help literature and started to believe in God. “I had finally traded in ‘Mein Kampf’ as a bible for a real bible,” she wrote.

The most significant event of her later life, however, occurred when she befriended a Polish-born Jewish woman named Judith, whose daughter, Ruth, was born after the war in a displaced persons camp. One day, Ruth invited Martens to read a prayer at her son’s bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Am. Martens was overwhelmed by the opportunity, not only to enter a Jewish house of prayer but to contribute to a sacred Jewish ritual. “I could not believe that a former Jew hater like me was going to be part of this age-old ceremony,” she wrote.

It was the first time Martens had ever entered a synagogue, and she says she felt a whirlwind of emotions. Martens was grateful that Ruth and her family had shown her kindness and mercy, despite her past, but she feared others would look at her and see only a Nazi. She was mesmerized by the beauty and stateliness of the synagogue. But she couldn’t avoid flashbacks to the war, “when synagogues had been burned by my fellow members of the Hitler Youth.” She said she felt joy at making this small repair — teshuvah — but she also felt shame.

For all the intellectual and spiritual renaissance she experienced, Martens continues to live with profound regret. She regrets the foolishness of her youth and her inability to think for herself; she regrets enabling a murderous tyrant in his domination scheme; she regrets the way she treated family members, especially her grandfather, who challenged her radicalism to no avail; and she regrets never confronting her father, whom she now thinks of as a war criminal.

Most of all, she says, she regrets that millions of Jews, a people she would later learn to esteem, were annihilated because of Nazis just like her.

“I will never get over the guilt,” she says.

Each day, when she lies down and when she rises, she says she feels 6 million souls gather around her like the wild birds on the wires, haunting her. Martens often uses the word “nightmare” to describe scenes in her life, but she does not speak in metaphor, she speaks in truth. Given the time she lived through, one can only imagine the terror of her dreams.

“I sit in the morning and eat my breakfast, and then I try to meditate, but it’s never meditating. It’s always going back and thinking, what could you do? Where did you fail? That’s always, always there.”

After several hours of talking, Martens grows quiet. She leans back in her chair, staring out past the darkened living room. The silence is palpable, as if she is wrestling with voices in her head. So much has changed. And so much hasn’t.

Finally, she asks, “Do you think a Holocaust survivor can ever get over what they’ve been through?”

The German and the Israeli

A flower is placed by next to the name of a former concentration camp inside the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

I’m not sure how to view what happened at lunch today. Coincidence? Serendipity? Or “bashert”, the Yiddish word that means “meant to be”.

I know several now-middle-aged Germans who never met a Jew until, as adults, they traveled outside their country. Nearly twenty years ago, one such German was my seatmate on a long, delayed trans-Atlantic flight. Andreas, from Cologne, was happy when I mentioned that my mother was born in Germany; his expression, however, turned somber when I explained that we’re Jewish, and she and most of the rest of her family managed to escape their “heimat”, or homeland, in the years after Hitler came to power. Other relatives, of course, were not so lucky.

Whenever I meet young Germans, here or during my four trips to that country, I do my best to make relevant and real what seems like ancient history to them. We ended up speaking for hours about my family’s experience in the Holocaust and his family’s actions during the Third Reich. Although he knew neither Jews nor Shoah survivors, he was surprisingly sensitive to my stories and clearly moved by them.

Andreas and I became friends on that flight, and have stayed in touch since then. I visited him once in Cologne, and he’s visited me at my home in New York, where he travels every year for business.

He was in town this week, and we went to lunch at a pleasant Long Island restaurant overlooking a pond. The conversation inevitably turned to politics and history, and we discussed whether there is any basis for comparing America’s current leader to Germany’s long-dead Fuehrer. We spoke about his two sons, ages 14 and 11, and what they know of Germany’s history.

After we finished eating, we went outside to the restaurant’s balcony to take some pictures with the spring scenery. We were alone for a couple of minutes until an elderly white-haired woman stepped outside and asked us if it was OK to smoke there. I said I had no idea, and she apologized, saying she’d mistakenly thought we were restaurant employees. By that time I’d recognized her accent, and asked in Hebrew, “You’re Israeli, right?”

She was surprised, but laughed and confirmed my hunch. Continuing in Hebrew, I asked if she’d been born there. Again, laughter, and the response “What, you want to know my whole complicated life story?”

Well, I answered, I’m a reporter, and yes. Go right ahead! After she spoke for two minutes in Hebrew, I stopped her and said (in Hebrew), please repeat that in English, as I want my friend, a non-Jewish German, to hear this.

So Maya told us how she was born in Tel Aviv in 1938, but the following year, her parents inexplicably decided to return to Europe, where they’d been born, with her and her eight-year-old brother. To their horror, they soon were entangled in the Nazi web, fleeing from place to place, country to country, hiding in forests, being caught and escaping detention… all in all, a typical Holocaust survivor’s story (if it can even be said that there is such a thing). Maya only remembered the last, frantic years of the saga clearly, from ages four to six; she discovered the rest of the details years later from her parents and brother.

“And then”, she concluded, “we finally returned to Tel Aviv from Europe after the war ended, and we were all almost killed in a huge explosion. We made it into the shelter in the nick of time”.

With that, Maya said she had to get back to her friends, having decided to forego her smoking break for our entirely unexpected chat.

She went inside, and I turned to Andreas. He looked stunned, his eyes wide with astonishment at what he had seen and heard over the previous five minutes. I had to smile. “This is not exactly the kind of unplanned conversation you might have with a stranger in Deutschland, is it?”, I said. “In fact, I guess this is the first time you’ve actually met someone who survived the Holocaust”.

Andreas nodded. “You know”, he said slowly, shaking his head in disbelief, “I was thinking the most interesting thing I would tell my kids next week was about the 35-mile bike tour I took from Jersey City. But now I have a very different story to share with them.”

For questions about Jews, just ‘rent’ one for answers

Nirit Bialer, an Israeli expat, speaks with seventh-graders in Berlin as part of the “Rent A Jew” program. Photo by Gregor Zielke

The subject sat there, surrounded by 23 nursing students from the School of Health and Healthcare at the Alexianer St. Hedwig Hospital in the former Jewish quarter of eastern Berlin. They examined her as if she were an endangered species, ready to be dissected. Some had never encountered such an organism before. After all, in Germany, her type had been endangered for some time.

The center of curiosity was Juna Grossman, a 40-year-old Jewish woman born in the former East Berlin. Her grandparents survived the Holocaust, saved by a German family who hid them in southern Germany. With her long, dirty-blond braids and hazel eyes, she sat there, smiling and patient, ready to take questions, as a Jew “rented out” through a German-Jewish program called Rent a Jew.

With its controversial name, Rent a Jew both objectifies and at the same time humanizes what for many young Germans is a novelty: a living, modern Jewish person.

“It’s a bit ironic, but we thought we would embrace the irony in the situation,” said Alexander Rasumny, coordinator of Rent a Jew.

The name, he said, is a provocative description of a speaking bureau of Jews from all walks of German life who are available to German schools and institutions to educate non-Jews about Judaism and to dispel stereotypes and prejudices that have been linked to Jews for centuries.

“We were thinking how to try to change the image of Jews in Germany for the better, and we thought direct contact is the best way to do that,” Rasumny said.

Rasumny co-founded Rent a Jew in 2015 while working as a project manager for the European Janusz Korczak Academy, a Munich-based partner of the Jewish Agency for Israel that seeks to reinforce Jewish identity in German-speaking countries. Rent a Jew has conducted more than 30 sessions across Germany. The 50 to 60 Jewish participants represent a cross section of the German-Jewish population and undergo a screening and training process.

The Rent a Jew website explains its rationale this way: “Talk to us, not about us. We don’t give lectures on Jewish history or religion as experts but talk about what it’s like for us to be a Jew in Germany. Above all, we encourage people to ask questions and yes, voice those stereotypes like: Are all Jews rich? Do they control the media? Or are they really the chosen people? Most importantly, people can talk with Jews instead of only talking about them.”

Rent-A-Jew

Photo by Orit Arfa

Rent a Jew is not the first effort to market Jews playfully as a product. A 2013 exhibition on Judaism at the Jewish Museum in Berlin drew criticism when it exhibited “Jew in a Box,” in which alternating Jews sat in a display case to field questions from the public.

Dani Kranz, a Cologne-based anthropologist and expert in Israeli migration to Germany, applauds such tongue-in-cheek attempts to educate Germans about contemporary Jews and Judaism.

“I would say the mere attempt to represent oneself, to take charge, and to communicate as an individual Jew and individual human being is direly needed because Jews are exoticized,” Kranz said. “In some respects, it’s painful to see because it makes the assumed difference between Jews and non-Jews blatantly clear, but it should be addressed.”

And not only for Jews. Kranz, a German-born Jew, said the Arabs and Muslims in her social circle also encounter prejudices and misconceptions.

“There should also be a program for Rent a Muslim or Rent a Palestinian,” she said, although she conceded that the Shoah makes some Germans believe they must handle Jews with special gloves.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, half a million Jews lived in Germany, more than 150,000 of them in Berlin. While the 500,000 accounted for less than 1 percent of the country’s population at the time, many stood out as leaders in academia, banking, media, industry and business. Early 20th-century Berlin was home to some of Jewry’s leading minds, including Albert Einstein, philosopher Martin Buber and scholar Gershom Scholem. They built on a Jewish-German intellectual tradition started in the 18th century by celebrated philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.

After the Nazi atrocities of World War II, fewer than 20,000 Jews remained in Germany, about 8,000 in Berlin. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the country’s Jewish population had grown to nearly 30,000.

After Germany’s official reunification in 1990, the new government welcomed Jews from the former Soviet Union to re-establish the community Hitler had decimated. Russian immigrants and their children, such as Rasumny, form the bulk of Germany’s Jewish population, which today stands at more than 100,000 — maybe as many as 200,000. (Precise numbers are elusive because the German government does not require citizens to reveal their religious affiliation, and the dogged question of “Who is a Jew?” further complicates an accurate count.)

According to Grossman, the Jew who visited the nursing students at Alexianer last month, most German students today do not learn the full history of Jewish life in Germany and, instead, focus on the attempted Nazi genocide.

“When you ask Germans what they think when they think of ‘Jews,’ you always have the Holocaust or the typical ‘black-hat Jew,’ ” Grossman told the Journal before her talk at the hospital. “That’s not the reality, is it?”

She said she believes Holocaust education is diminishing in some German curricula as instruction about this time period competes with that of the Cold War era.

Born under communism, which suppressed religious practice, Grossman “returned” to Judaism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, studying at the historic Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in the former East Berlin, led by a female rabbi and best known for its restored golden dome.

As a program speaker and blogger on Jewish life in Germany, Grossman invites questions from German students that don’t dwell on the Holocaust. In fact, she said, she looks forward to when the Holocaust plays less of a role in Jewish identity and perceptions in Germany so she can feel the ease and normalcy she felt as a Jew living in Boston for several years.

“Here, when you meet somebody not Jewish and you ‘out’ yourself as being Jewish, you get reactions like: ‘Oops, how do I behave now?’ ” she said. “It’s a strange glaze in the eyes, and sometimes they say something about their grandparents.”

Julia Engelhardt, a nursing instructor at Alexianer, heard about Rent a Jew on German television and immediately decided to try it for a class on world religions.

“We thought it would be good for them to know things they should or shouldn’t do if they have Jewish patients,” Engelhardt said before the class with Grossman.

Grossman began her session with an introduction about her German-Jewish background. Across from her on the wall was a statuette of Jesus on the cross; to her left, a model skeleton.

Students slowly raised their hands to ask questions about Jewish life and death, unrelated to the actual life and death of Jewry in the neighborhood of the hospital — a former Jewish quarter, something most students did not know.

Just a few blocks away, on Grosse Hamburger Street, is the memorial site for the Jewish Home for the Aging that the Nazis converted to an assembly camp for deporting 55,000 Berlin Jews. Behind it is the Jewish cemetery that dates back to 1672, where Mendelssohn was buried.

The class included some foreign students, including one from Poland who asked: “What do Jews do when someone dies?” Grossman explained burial and shivah mourning rituals.

“Why do Jews step on a glass cup at a Jewish wedding?” asked an African student. Grossman explained it commemorates the destruction of the Temple.

Grossman’s favorite question came from a German man to her left: “Do Jews believe in an afterlife?” She explained that Judaism differs from Christianity in its lack of emphasis on heaven and hell, although the student said he is comforted by the idea of a paradise in the next world.

“I liked it the most, as he was very respectful and just accepting my other view on things,” Grossman told the Journal. “That’s not really common for Christians, I mean for real active ones. Usually, they seek to convince you of their belief.”

Not all Rent a Jew sessions run so smoothly.

Nirit Bialer, founder of Habait (The Home), a Berlin-based organization that seeks to expose Germans to Israeli culture, was taken aback by some of the stereotypes and misconceptions she encountered from a seventh-grade class at a school in Neukölln, a Berlin district with a large immigrant population.

“There were a lot of kids there with Muslim backgrounds, kids with parents coming in from the Middle East,” Bialer said. “That was a different experience. A lot of politics involved; people confused ideas about Judaism, Israel. Everything was intermingled together. There were many facts they were not sure about.”

She recalled how one student asked if Hitler and the Zionists worked together, while another asked what the Palestinians did so wrong to the Jews.

“It was not an easy situation for me personally, since you are being pulled into the Middle East conflict when trying to talk to a class about Judaism,” Bialer said.

Her previous Rent a Jew appearance had occurred at an adult education class in which participants — curiously and courteously, she said — asked about her experience living in Berlin as an Israeli. Bialer represents a relatively new but significant component of Jewish life in Germany: Israeli expats, although the number of them living in Berlin is difficult to determine. Estimates range from 7,000 to 20,000.

The turning point during the Neukölln session came when her fellow “rented” Jew, a Russian-born woman named Esther Knochenhauer, told the class that she works as a booking agent for German rappers.

“Some of the kids that were talking to her were like, ‘Wow. That’s a cool Jewish girl.’ ”

That’s when the ice broke and the class’ Jewish visitors truly were humanized.

Esther Knochenhauer, a Russian-born Jew who accompanied Nirit Bialer on her school visit in Berlin, writes on the classroom chalkboard. Photo by Gregor Zielke

Increasingly, the Rent a Jew program is bringing knowledge of Judaism to a population generally untouched by the Shoah: first generation and nonnative Germans.

“The students in Neukölln, now, demonstrated a pattern of seeing Jews only through the lens of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which is not uncommon in migrant communities, particularly with an Arabic, but also Turkish, background,” Rent a Jew coordinator Rasumny said.

These communities initially encounter anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda at home, through Arab-language television or Islamic and Turkish nationalist youth organizations.

“So we have to reach them while they’re in the school and at least somewhat open to arguments,” Rasumny said. “The same goes for students who grow up in households with parents holding populist or far-right views. The number of such households should not be underestimated. And, of course, there also is a very distinct left-wing anti-Semitism, which is mostly Israel-related.”

A recent report from the German parliament found that 40 percent of Germans hold anti-Semitic views expressed by hostility toward the Jewish state. Most program participants, however, as with the Alexianer students, were apolitical and limited in knowledge.

Nursing students Elise Senst and Kate Kalhol, both 21, said they came out of the Alexianer session feeling intellectually enriched.

Both grew up in Brandenburg, one of Germany’s 16 federal states, on the outskirts of Berlin, and neither has Jewish friends. At first, they were confused by the program’s name, Rent a Jew. Kalhol had been to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, while Senst received general knowledge of Judaism as a youth. As third-generation Germans from the Nazi era, the Holocaust is not necessarily their immediate association with Jews.

“In my circle of friends, it [the Holocaust] is not even there,” Senst said, although her grandmother lived through the Nazi period and told her stories of Jews fleeing. “I have a couple of friends who did social work in Israel, but they didn’t go because of the Holocaust and that part of German history, but for the country itself. It’s there. We can’t forget about it, but it’s not on top anymore.”

Senst was most surprised to learn that Jewish identity is not dependent on belief in God, as Christianity is.

“I really enjoyed the communication, but the strange thing to me is that if you decided to believe in the Jewish religion, that all the following generations will be Jewish even if they don’t believe in it,” Senst said.

Kalhol said she is inclined to separate Judaism from Israel, while Senst associates Israel with the Jewish people. By showcasing both Israeli and Diaspora Jews, Rent a Jew seeks to discuss the distinction between Judaism as a religious identity and a national one.

“If I meet an Israeli, I’m going to ask what the country’s like, what life is like there, maybe I would also ask if he’s Jewish or what kind of religion he belongs to, but that’s another stereotype,” Kalhol said.

At Alexianer, Engelhardt, the nursing instructor, said she was pleased with the program, especially for clarifying differences between Jewish rituals and practices and those of other religions.

“For example, Juna [Grossman] said that if a Jew dies, don’t lay their hands like a cross the way Christians do, and this is a kind of sensitivity you could have also with other religions,” she said.

Engelhardt said Alexianer will be a repeat customer. She already has booked Grossman again, proving that the name of the program can succeed in challenging another stereotype: Jewish greed.

Rent a Jew Jews are “rented” for free.

In exile, writer Stefan Zweig bids ‘Farewell to Europe’

Josef Hader (right) plays the title character in “Stefan Zweig: “Farewell to Europe.” Photo courtesy of First Run Pictures

In the early decades of the 20th century, Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig was one of the world’s most popular, prolific and translated authors.

In 1934, discerning the dark political clouds drifting across the border form Nazi Germany, Zweig left his beloved Vienna and went into permanent exile — first in England, then in the United States before finally settling in Brazil.

In the film “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe,” German writer-director Maria Schrader follows the geographic and psychological route of Zweig’s exile, from initial celebrity status to his despairing end.

Although he traveled widely, Zweig chose to move to Brazil, a nation he visualized as the country of the future. The film opens with a lavish reception for Zweig at which members of Rio de Janeiro’s elite vie for a word with the world-famous author and even, for the lucky ones, his autograph.

In 1936, Zweig attended the PEN Congress in Buenos Aires, at which the literary and human rights organization for poets, essayists and novelists welcomed him as a literary star. However, one incident there, depicted in the film, made him the object of lifelong controversy and criticism.

After one conference speaker after another denounced the Hitler regime in Germany for its persecution of dissenting writers and forcing Jewish ones into exile, Zweig is asked at a press conference for his comment. The writer responds by declaring, “I would never speak out against any country. And I’ll make no exceptions. … I cannot write out of hatred. … And if my silence is a sign of weakness, I am afraid I must live with that stigma.”

Schrader analyzed Zweig’s pronounce-ment in a phone interview with the Journal. “Zweig was a radical pacifist and he refused to use language to condemn any country,” the director said. “He felt it was the duty of the intellectual to achieve an understanding of any opponent.”

Zweig considered himself mainly as a universal humanist but never renounced his Jewish heritage. He spent considerable effort and money to help Jewish writers reach the U.S. and a number of his short stories focused on Jewish themes and characters.

Schrader, who is not Jewish, has had a successful career as an actress, screenwriter and director, with strong artistic ties to Israel and Jewish life in Germany. Her debut film, “Love Life,” was based on the novel of Israeli author Zeruya Shalev and was shot in Israel. She directed an episode in the documentary “24h Jerusalem” as well as the film “Meshugge.” In “Rosenstrasse,” she played a German woman who stands up against the Nazis after they arrest her Jewish husband.

Dominating “Farewell to Europe” is veteran actor Josef Hader as Zweig, with Barbara Sukowa and Aenne Schwarz as his first and second wives, respectively.

The movie is not entirely without humor. In one scene, as Zweig and his spouse tour the Brazilian hinterland, they are met in one small town by a flustered mayor and welcoming musical ensemble, consisting of a trumpet and an off-key tuba, playing “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Overall, this is a thought-provoking, somber film, culminating in the 1942 double suicide of Zweig and his second wife, Charlotte Altmann, in the Brazilian town of Petropolis. Zweig left a farewell note explaining that at the age of 60, he lacked the strength to build a new life “now that the world of my language has disappeared for me and that my spiritual land, Europe, is destroying itself.”

He concluded by writing, “I greet all my friends. May they still see the dawn after the long night. I am too impatient, I go before them.”

Schrader said she sees some parallels between Zweig’s era in the 1930s and ’40s and the present time.

“Hitler came to power by promising to drastically change Germany,” she said. “Today, many people in Europe and the United States seem to feel again that any change is better than staying with the status quo. In Europe, countries are turning to the right politically and the American president wants to build a wall between countries.”

At Zweig’s memorial service in Los Angeles, not depicted in the movie, fellow author and exile Franz Werfel eulogized Zweig by saying, “His heart, spoiled by humanist optimism, suddenly realized the entire, piercing, unsolvable tragedy of the human being on Earth.”

“Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” opens June 16 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles.

Why I love Berlin when I was supposed to hate it

The following article was originally published in German in Fluter.de, a German political magazine for young adults ages 18-25.

I was supposed to hate Berlin when I first visited from Tel Aviv in 2014. I came with my American father, who wanted to see the former Displaced Persons camp in Hannover where his Polish parents, Auschwitz survivors, gave birth to him. I may not have come had a good friend from Los Angeles not recently moved to Berlin. My Israeli mother opposed the trip. While her parents are Iraqi, she still swears off German cars.

I admit, when I first walked the Berlin streets, I didn’t see a modern city. I’d imagine Nazi banners strewn across the buildings. I’d wonder from which of these adorable Alt Bau apartments Jews were dragged out. I’d hear German: the language that murdered my grandparents’ families. I’d take a train: to what death camp? This creepy Holocaust awareness must be common for Jews during a Berlin initiation.

That same year, Berlin made headlines in Israel in what became known as the “Milky Controversy.” An Israeli Berliner angered Israeli parliamentarians when he encouraged Israelis to move to Berlin, comparing grocery receipts that put Berlin’s chocolate pudding one third cheaper than Israel’s famous “Milky” brand. By 2015, when I returned to work with my friend on a music project, I started to understand why young Israelis flock to Berlin. (Although I recently learned that the German brand is made with unkosher beef gelatin.)

With the obligatory visit to the Holocaust Memorial and Topography of Terror already out of the way, I could focus on enjoying Berlin as the creative, vanguard, affordable capital it is. My friend and I still made occasional Holocaust jokes (like when we’d behold a stunning blue-eyed, blonde German who looked like an “Aryan” poster boy), but overall, we made music, went out, and socialized with friendly locals, forgetting the city once housed SS headquarters.

As I struggled to like Berlin, I interviewed young Germans living in Tel Aviv, its Israeli “sister-city”, to find out if the attraction was mutual. Naturally, the Holocaust came up, and one woman said that I can’t blame her generation for the sins of the fathers. “I wasn’t born when it happened,” she said, while acknowledging she feels a special responsibility for Jewish safety today.

I realized Germans and Israelis are quite alike – we come from two people struggling to rebuild and make sense of a troubled yet soaring national identity after a great trauma. Even though we come from opposing sides – the persecutor and the victim – we, this third generation, carry a burden that may be best unpacked together.

Still, I shocked fellow Israeli patriots when I told them I planned to spend Summer 2016 in Berlin. They scratched their heads when I started adding heart emoticons around Berlin on my Facebook statuses. Their shock had run out when I announced my decision to stay, indefinitely.

The artistic vibe, the historical richness (and scars), the ease of getting around, and, of course, the insanely cheap groceries and beer all make Berlin loveable to many internationals: Australians, Argentinians, Brits, etc.

But the pleasure I get from just walking the streets is deeper; it’s like a transmutation of the pain Jews must have felt here, once, in fear of deportation, of torture, of death – a fear I don’t have to feel anymore. Now I don’t see Nazi banners, but delightful café signs; I don’t see “Aryanized” Jewish apartments, but apartments I’d like to own; I hear German: a challenge; I take the train: to which party?

While growing up in the US, I learned about Germany through horror stories almost as much as I learned about Israel through heroic legends. Hence, my strange familiarity and connection to this land. And as much as the Jewish state is a modern miracle, so is the re-transformation of Berlin into a force for liberty.