Jews and Germany: Still that fascination of the abomination

Amongst the many eyebrow-raising sights witnessed on the streets of Tel Aviv is the odd (in both senses) one of the Israeli male sporting the German national football shirt.

Indeed, in view of events in Europe between 1933 and 1945, it is considerably more surprising than it would be spotting a Glaswegian walking through his city centre, or a Parisian up the Champs-Elysées, in the Three Lions (neither of which, incidentally, you would see in a Tausendjähriges Reich).

What (if anything) does this tell us about us Israelis and/or Jews in general? That, because we are so desperate to be accepted, we are forgiving even of those who have caused us the greatest torment? That we are used to being, and perhaps even most comfortable as, victim? Or merely that we have an inadequate sense of history and/or lack of respect for our martyrs?

Last Monday marked 50 years to the day that Adolf Eichmann (right) was put on trial in Jerusalem. And the anniversary of that seminal event for the then fledgling State of Israel coincides with the release, both in Germany and Israel, of thousands of newly declassified documents pertaining to the twitching beast.

And while the Israeli material, relating to Eichmann’s capture and trial, shows the lengths to which Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was willing to go so as not to damage relations with Germany – insisting, for instance, that the prosecution only refer to “Nazi Germany” (and never merely “Germany”) – the German documents, containing details of Eichmann’s postwar existence until capture, cover Germany in even greater shame (if that is possible): Eichmann and thousands of fellow Nazis, far from being hunted down by the postwar German government, were assisted by it. Its Embassy in Buenos Aires even provided passports to his devil spawn, enabling them to visit the Vaterland. And God only knows what further embarrassment (if Germans get embarrassed by such things) awaits in the thousands of documents still to be disclosed.

So whilst I am no Germanophobe – my infantile rendition of Hatikva on the table of a Munich beer hall (as fellow Leeds fans, in the city for a Champions League game [i.e., before we were shit], attempted to wrestle me down) was emotion- and alcohol-fuelled – we should, as Jews, surely think twice before wearing symbols of German-ness.

For major international football tournaments – with the Blue and White, needless to say, not having qualified – the Netherlands invariably becomes most Israelis’ nivcheret (national team) of choice. Indeed, one building, in the fashionable Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, was completely draped in orange for last summer’s World Cup.

This is a consequence of the myth prevalent amongst Israelis – apparently as ignorant of history as they are of the “beautiful game” – that the Dutch, during the Holocaust, were entirely benign to ‘their’ Jews. The truth is, of course, rather different, with Dutch collaboration having prompted Eichmann to remark: “The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see.” (source)

During one World Cup game involving Holland, watched in a pub on Allenby, I had to be stopped from giving a particularly loud, Dutch-supporting Israeli, who looked like he was auditioning for the Tango ad, a good Tango slapping.

Who are we to argue?

Whilst Israelis may be blissfully ignorant about the Dutch, however, they cannot be about the Germans. So why the shirts?

Thinking about it, I have never seen a Diaspora Jew in a German shirt. Perhaps this phenomenon, therefore, is a uniquely Israeli one, and just another example of the lack of appropriateness and/or sense of Jewish (cf. Israeli) history only too evident amongst the natives.

On the other hand, don’t most of us Jews still harbour a perverse fascination with Germany and Germans? I certainly believe that my stint as an educator at Yad Vashem was about more than “Never forget.” And, quite apart from Käthe and Daniela (separately unfortunately) being the very antithesis of the Jewish girls with whom I had become so tiredly familiar, I am sure that there was some attraction to my ‘persecutors’ going on.

Indeed, primarily at play, I believe, in the ever-fraught relationship between Jews, Germany and Germans is what Joseph Conrad (in Heart of Darkness) terms the “fascination of the abomination”: the continuing human attempt to explain, and to comprehend, inexplicable, mesmerizing evil (which in relation to the Holocaust, incidentally, I do believe was uniquely German, and not merely Nazi German . . . though that is for another post).

And, again, I have never been a proponent of continually bringing up the War (here is another, related, John Cleese gem), or even of not buying German. My family (like most Anglo-Jewish ones, I suspect) displayed a most convenient approach to the postwar Jewish ‘boycott’ of all things German: they avoided all but the most essential of items – a rider that enabled them to purchase any German brand infinitely superior to a competing non-German one, i.e., most makes of car, and nearly all kitchen, home entertainment, and other electrical appliances!

A badge too far

Call it selective morality (even hypocrisy), but for a Jew to don a German football shirt is going much further than cooking one’s cholent in an AEG, picking up the kids in a Golf, or even enjoying a Käthe or Daniela: it is sporting the coat of arms of a nation that attempted to (and very nearly succeeded in) destroying our entire People; and I, for one, would not be seen dead in one. Though if someone offered me a free Mercedes . . .

Which conveniently enables me to finish off this post, my 150th to melchett mike, on a related note (though one completely unrelated to – and certainly more cheerful and humorous than – Germans): Woody Allen’s 1960s Vodka Ad standup routine . . .

Having been asked to be that particular year’s Vodka Man, Woody refuses. “I’m an artist, I do not do commercials. I don’t pander. I don’t drink vodka. And if I did, I wouldn’t drink your product.”

“Too bad,” says the voice on the other end of the phone, “it pays fifty thousand dollars.”

“Hold on,” interjects Woody, “I’ll put Mr. Allen on the phone.”

Wishing all readers of melchett mike a kosher . . . or, at the very least, free Passover!


17 responses to “Jews and Germany: Still that fascination of the abomination

  1. It’s because the schools do exchange visits with Germany.
    As a result many Israelis are more likely to have friends from Germany than from any other European country.
    Also all the postwar Germans have had a fascination with Israel, the pheonix that rose from the ashes of their fathers’ deeds.
    Go to any kibbutz that takes volunteers. There you will meet Germans.
    Go to any place that does courses for Gerim, there you will meet Germans.
    The relationship between Jews and Germany is long and complex. We took their language with us when we migrated from Germany to Eastern Europe, in the form of Yiddish. Many of us have German names. Many Israelis claim descent from the Yekkes.
    It was never something that was going to be be destroyed entirely by those dark years of world war 2.

  2. How does the Jackie Mason joke go? It’s ok to buy German until the price goes above eighty seven fifty and then they’re Nazi bastards!

    I had a similar reaction to seeing Hamoshava HaGermanit on the Jerusalem map. Yuk.

  3. Well said, Mike! My father a”h certainly agreed w/ you! But then, Zubin Mehta’s argument for playing Wagner is hard to refute. & while there certainly are too many remnants of the old Germany in today’s Germany, my colleague in Düsseldorf (a Conservative, not Reform, rabbi/cantor) reports how different it is there now than in those dark days. Certainly the many Germans who spend a lot of their money on vacations in Israel only help the economy. Move on, yes, but never forget!

  4. philip witriol

    A World Service programme yesterday about ‘New Jews’,, featured a German whose “new Jewish faith helps satisfy the need he feels to atone personally for the crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis”.
    I can’t remember if he said Germans and the BBC website changed it – Ben-Gurion style – to Nazis.
    In any event, regardless of the theological aspect, it was a sharp reminder to me of how Germans should view Jews – and hence the Jewish state.

  5. Ian Karbaron

    Hi Mike, thought this article today in today’s Telegraph was relevant

    Have a good Pesach. Ian

  6. Thanks for that, Ian – shows how un-truly apologetic they really were.

    I actually really like most of the Germans I meet, and immediately felt comfortable in Germany in a way that I didn’t, for example, in Poland and especially Austria. But it has always been my very strong feeling that it was no coincidence that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Germans.

    Off to seder . . . have a great one, everyone!

  7. Ian’s post makes me shudder. But people are people & corporate/governmental entities really don’t represent where individuals stand. I can tell you that my Cantors Assembly (Conservative) colleagues were treated w/ great care & received nothing but the highest, most cordial welcome on the 2009 Mission to Poland & Israel – see the extremely moving DVD documentary “100 Voices: A Journey Home” We are being told to expect nothing less for the 2012 Mission to Germany.

  8. Ben Wulfsohn

    I am surprised by the number of people I meet, who take great pride in the fact that they refuse to buy a German car. But look in their driveway, and their sits a mammoth gas-guzzling SUV, that drinks, in large quantities, the oil that puts money into the hands of countries that actively support organizations who murder Jews this very day. They find it easy to not buy an expensive German car, but harder to make the effort to buy a more fuel efficient hybrid. I am not a proponent of forgiving or forgetting, but whom are we refusing to forgive, when we seek to boycott the great-grandchildren of Nazi-Germany? The Germany of today has better relations with Israel than most other countries in the world, and for the most part, Germans are greatly ashamed of their Nazi past (unlike some other European countries that have still not acknowledged their collaborative WWII record). Let’s focus instead, on boycotting (to what extent we practically can) those that harm us in this generation. To punish Germany today, but support Iran and Saudi-Arabia by propping up demand for oil does not make sense to me.

  9. Good point, Ben, though Greg – as so often – is barking his liberalism-gone-mad up the wrong tree . . .

    “people are people & corporate/governmental entities really don’t represent where individuals stand”

    If you are suggesting, Greg, that the Third Reich liquidated the Six Million without the widescale participation and support of its (and other) people, then – however touching the “welcome” to your “Cantors Assembly” – I would consider that you are even more sadly delusional than I had imagined.

    For all of its faults, you might want to have a read of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

  10. I fully agree w/ Ben. Regardless of where we live, we must do everything possible to stop handing money over to the Arab governments that seek to destroy Israel & individual freedom. Oil is the the ony reason the US has gotten embroiled in so many wars that have only resulted in the deaths of too many of our young men & women & the draining of our financial resources. Not to mention the destruction caused by global climate change or the dangers of nuclear power. The only way we can stop all that is to get off our addiction to oil & commit to safe & renewable energy sources! Also, the Gernmany of today is indeed much different from that of WW II. As Ben wrote, the German government does support Israel & many German citizens freely choose to spend their vacation money there. That is to be lauded. So no, Mike, that’s not what I meant.

  11. I think it was Shakespeare who beat US Vice President Joe Biden to the line “Past is prologue” that he used to such effect in the US Vice-Presidential debate of 2008.

    I am inclined to believe that, just as a walk down R. Akiva Street in Bnei Brak will reveal an assortment of “N’shot Chayil” innocently sporting long-sleeved tee shirts inscribed with sexually explicit messages that would not shame the pages of this blog, the majority of the inhabitants of Shenkin and environs who sport German football shirts could just as easily have been spied with the words “My brother went to Nuremberg and all I got was this lousy tee shirt” emblazoned across their chests. But that does not mean that there is not a serious issue here.

    If I had to put my finger on the most defining aspect of secular Israeli culture, in the most vulgar of generalizations, it would be “The Restart Button”. It is doubtful whether there is any other culture in the world which has been so totally based on the negation of the past. Jonathan Sacks in his must-read “Future Tense” tells of the speech given in 1995 by President Ezer Weizman in honor of the Chief Rabbi receiving the Jerusalem Prize for Education. The same Weizman who, a few months later, eulogized Rabin with memories of their beer swilling days, started by commenting that there must be some things worse than Jewish education.

    Is it then any wonder that many, infused with the spirit of Nietzsche, vacation in the Black Forest and sing the praises of Berlin? The Restart Button does not discriminate between aspects of past – there is only present and future. If we are to save the future, it is time to remember that the Past is Prologue.

  12. How do you know he was Israeli and not German/Israeli (which I am) or some other combination?

    El Al is always advertising cheap flights to Munich and he probably bought it while high/drunk in the Adidas store because he liked the color without actually know what it is.

    What does anything here have to do with Holocaust? As you say yourself, Netherlands and Italy should apply equally in terms of your logic. Germany in first half of 1900’s and Holocaust are the same thing and Germany today is not relevant to the Holocaust.

    The real issue is a grown man wearing a football jersey outside a stadium on a no play day!

  13. Henry Sudwarts

    Your blog brought back sharp memories. Fifty years ago, having just left the confines of Hasmonean, I visited Israel for the first time. Through a contact at the Israel Foreign Office, two friends and I were able to obtain tickets to the Eichmann trial. He sat there in his glass box, looking so ordinary. We had to dig deep to understand that this non-descript man was responsible for carrrying out one of the world’s most horrific crimes. In those days, just sixteen years after the end of the war, and me, being a child of survivors, as well as the grandson, nephew and cousin of those who were murdered, it all had stark meaning.

    Fifty years on, I feel no compunction to forgive anyone and certainly not to ever forget. The perpetrators of these crimes are now largely dead and we do need to have some relationship with their children and grandchildren.

    Over the millennia we have been murdered by Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, European Christians and Turks. I do not need to forgive any of these nations for what they did to my forebears, and will certainly not forget it and have passed on my feelings to my children and grandchildren.

    However we need to come to terms with what has happened. If it makes you feel better not to buy a German car, sobeit. However should we be buying Italian shoes and going to Spain for holidays? Today we have new enemies and need to focus on those. Right now I refuse to buy Norwegian smoked salmon (their only major export) as I consider that country the most anti-semitic in Europe.

    I won’t bring down the Norwegian government (unfortunately) but that little gesture makes me feel better.


  14. And I always thought it came from the shtetl . . .

    Can any readers (Ra’anana? Wedding singer Danny Shine, if he can put his megaphone down for a sec?) please confirm who stole what from whom?

    Anyway, it only came 4th. 1st was, of course, this (at a time when anti-Semitism was still in its post-Holocaust ‘bottle’ . . . and before this place had become a pariah state).

  15. 120 mio germans v.s 18 mio jews ok

  16. Nice post. I don’t believe that it is uniquely German.You’re telling me the Russians would have actively defended the Jews in the same scenario? or the Egyptians today? I dont think so.

  17. Welcome to mm, Mike, and thanks for your comment. I believe you are referring to . . .

    “. . . inexplicable, mesmerizing evil (which in relation to the Holocaust, incidentally, I do believe was uniquely German, and not merely Nazi German . . .)”

    I don’t think you understood my point: as I explain in my response (above) to another comment, it was not merely Nazis, I believe, who were responsible for the Holocaust, but the Nazis, as Germans, with the cooperation and support of other, ‘ordinary’ (i.e., non-Nazi) Germans.

    And no, I am not “telling [you] the Russians [or the Egyptians today] would have actively defended the Jews in the same scenario” . . . but that the Holocaust, in its conception, planning, execution, nature and scale, wouldn’t have occurred in Russia or Egypt.

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