Germany’s Most Annoying Jew
Satirist and media gadfly Henryk Broder attacks his countrymen’s attitudes toward Israel and Jews
In May 2012, Germany and Israel together celebrated the 100th birthday of the media mogul Axel Springer. Springer, who died in 1985, was Germany’s William Randolph Hearst: He built a huge media empire that exerted enormous sway over German public opinion. And nothing was more important to Springer than the defense of Israel. At the ceremony honoring Springer, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that Springer “made it possible to build Israeli confidence in Germany”; and Avigdor Lieberman praised Springer as a voice of “freedom, truth, and justice.”
But not everyone in Germany loved Axel Springer. He was an ardent anti-communist who hounded the leftists of the 1960s in the pages of his many newspapers and magazines. When Rudi Dutschke, a leading student radical, was shot in 1968 by a right-wing extremist, leftists blamed the deed on Springer, whose newspapers had attacked Dutschke relentlessly. (In a towering irony, the Springer company’s skyscraper now stands at the corner of Axel Springer Street and Rudi Dutschke Street in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood.)
Enter Henryk Broder. The 66-year-old German Jew and author, most recently, of Forget Auschwitz! Before It’s Too Late (subtitled, with bitter wit, “The German Memory Craziness and the Final Solution of the Israel Question”), is one of Germany’s most celebrated journalists; he writes an influential column for a Springer newspaper, Die Welt.
Broder’s perspective was forged in the no-holds-barred battle between Springer and his radical New Left enemies. He grew up in Köln, the child of survivors from Poland; Broder later joked, in his typically barbed and double-edged manner, “There’s a hierarchy of Jewish suffering, and I’m lucky to be at the very top: My mother was in Auschwitz.” As a teenage leftist, Broder demonstrated against the Vietnam War—and Axel Springer. At 20, he lost his virginity to a woman named Christiane, “a Trotskyist from a good home.” But Broder came to realize that the German left harbored an unmistakable anti-Semitic prejudice. In the ’60s, German leftists adopted a radical anti-Israel stance that rarely stopped short of anti-Semitism. The Israelis, the left hotly proclaimed, were the new Nazis, and Springer’s newspapers proved it, since they defended both Israel and German society (which was still pervaded by old Nazis). During the Six Day War, most Germans, whether from guilt or other motives, took the side of Israel rather than the Arabs—with the exception of the leftists, who cheered on Nasser’s promise to push the Jews into the sea.
The Entebbe raid of 1976, Broder wrote, was his “private awakening.” At Entebbe, the Palestinian terrorists and their European comrades made a selection: They spared non-Jewish passengers while they continued to hold the Jewish ones as hostages. The Palestinians couldn’t tell on the basis of last names whether passengers were Jewish or not, so one of their German collaborators, Wilfried Böse, helped them out. When a Jewish passenger showed Böse his death camp tattoo, Böse is supposed to have responded that he was no Nazi, but rather an “idealist.” U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whose Nazi past later came under scrutiny, condemned the Israeli action as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty, and the German “anti-imperialist” left agreed with Waldheim. In the aftermath of the Israeli raid, German Maoists expressed their solidarity with “his excellency Idi Amin.”
Broder, in disgust, turned away from the radical left. In the German leftist imagination, he later argued, Gaza became the Warsaw Ghetto, and Palestinians became Jews. “Never again” came to mean “don’t let our victims do what we did”; Germans, Broder said, loved to reiterate “the eternal German worry about whether the Israelis have learned the lesson of history.” “The Israelis are responsible for anti-Semitism” is now, Broder declared, the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism, in Germany as elsewhere.
The Jüdische Allgemeine, the newspaper of the German Jewish community, called Broder the Christopher Hitchens of Germany. It’s not a bad analogy: Like the late Hitchens, Broder is a heckler, a tummler. The Jüdische Allgemeine went on to describe Broder as a “raging clown” who carries a heavy burden: being the funny, rebarbative Jew who tells Germans the truth about themselves. Broder particularly relishes attacking Germans for what he sees as their sanctimonious, proprietary commemorations of the Shoah. “Auschwitz [is] a symbol of how you can commit crimes without limit and then reap the rewards of repentance, also without limit,” Broder charged in Forget Auschwitz! For his popular TV program Entweder Broder, he appeared clad as a stele, like the ones that make up what he calls the “ridiculous” Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin: “I’m so happy that my parents were able to contribute to this,” Broder crowed as he posed with his head poking through a black monolith. “Is there a proper way of relating to the Shoah?” he once noted. “No, it’s something so insane, there can’t be a proper relation to it.” In an interview, he praised the survivor who danced with his grandchildren to “I Will Survive!” in front of the gates of Auschwitz in 2010. “That’s the Jewish middle finger!” Broder exulted. “I’m alive, and you’re dead. I have grandchildren, and I’m having fun. That’s the right relationship to have [to the Shoah]—if there is one. But in Germany something like that would come in for a discussion: … Is it allowed?”
Fellow journalist Maxim Biller once remarked that the relationship between Broder and Germany is a sado-masochistic one, the only question being who’s on the top and who’s on the bottom. Broder spent the 1980s in Israel. (His book The Crazies of Zion, a big hit in Germany, took a quietly appalled look at extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) “Israel is really the only country,” he said in an interview, “where it’s not a big deal that you’re a Jew. That is so relaxing … and there, the Shoah isn’t so important.” When he left for Israel, Broder penned a farewell letter to Germany full of furious accusations: “You are still the children of your parents, you’ve inherited their racism and their pathological good conscience,” he wrote, and then, finally, “I’m finished with my raving.” After 10 years in Israel, Broder returned, as if inevitably, to Germany, ready to resume his role as the country’s prickly, merciless antagonist. Broder, who thrives on opposition, avidly publishes his abundant hate mail on henryk-broder.com. (He runs another site as well, Die Achse des Guten, “the Axis of Good,” or, for short, “Ach Gut”—“Oh well”—achgut.com.) Like all Springer journalists, Broder had to sign a contract, designed by Axel Springer himself, committing him to work for “the reconciliation of Germany and Israel.” “There’s no reconciliation,” he commented, “but I signed it anyway. … I can write what I want and I’m well-paid.”
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