Germany’s Most Annoying Jew
Satirist and media gadfly Henryk Broder attacks his countrymen’s attitudes toward Israel and Jews
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s scandalous play (never performed publicly in Germany) The Garbage, the City, and Death, an anti-Semitic character moans, “And the Jew is guilty, because he makes us guilty—because he is there. … If they had gassed him, I’d sleep better today. They forgot to gas him. That’s no joke, that’s how the thinking goes inside me.” Fassbinder himself was no anti-Semite, Broder insists, but with his character’s phrase “so denkt es in mir,” he revealed the unconscious underpinning of Germany’s attitudes toward the Jews: It would be better if they had all perished. Broder’s most incendiary charge is that, though no German would admit this, they would be relieved if someone else would finish the job and so free Germany from its mark of Cain. “If Ahmadinejad were to attack Israel,” Broder proclaimed, “that would be for the Europeans a very happy event for two reasons: First, the second-to-last Holocaust would vanish in the mist of the last one; and second, they could make up for what they forgot to do between ’33 and ’45: they could express their solidarity with the Jews.” For Germans, Broder went on to say, the very existence of Israel is “a pain in the ass,” and, as Grass complained in his poem, they want submarines delivered!
Broder to the contrary, evidence suggests that what the Germans call Grossvatergeschichtedilemma (“grandfather-history-dilemma”) has faded. Nearly all of the Nazi grandfathers are dead; Germans in their twenties have no memory of the Berlin Wall, much less the Nazi era. The young Germans who throng to klezmer concerts and to celebrations of German Jewish history are of course motivated in part by guilt over the past; but so, one could argue, are white Americans who avidly appreciate African-American culture. Most Germans are relieved that Israel exists, rather than, as Broder argues, secretly wishing for its disappearance. Hundreds of thousands of Germans go to Israel each year; only the United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom send more tourists to the Jewish state (and they, unlike Germany, all have large Jewish populations). And young Israelis have flocked to Berlin, mostly because of its current reputation as the hippest city on the continent. As Tablet’s Adam Chandler remarked in a recent report from Berlin, German sympathy for Israel surfaces even on the left—for example, in the iconoclastic, wide-ranging magazine Konkret. During the Gaza war of 2012, the B.Z., the capital’s most popular newspaper (and a Springer publication), ran a cover with a picture of Hamas missiles overlaid on a map of Berlin: “What if Berlin were Israel?” the headline proclaimed, in a loud act of sympathy with the Israelis under Grad rocket fire. And then there is Angela Merkel, whose pro-Israel scorecard is impeccable. Germany and Israel are steadfast military allies and trading partners, and no one expects that to change, no matter the outcome of the next German or recent Israeli elections.
Broder’s epigraph for Forget Auschwitz! is a line from the essayist Eike Geisel: “In Germany, memory is the highest form of forgetting.” But Germans, these days at least, are no more prone to misuse the memory of the Shoah than anyone else is. Like the rest of us, Jews and non-Jews, Germans wrestle with the hardest questions: What are the lessons of the Holocaust, and what, if anything, does this greatest of all Jewish catastrophes have to do with our attitude toward the Israeli state and its policies? Broder, Germany’s vigorous gadfly, is a national treasure; as was the case with Hitchens, even the targets of his wrath often seem gratified by the attention. But whether Broder’s stinging attacks can guide us toward a better understanding of Israeli-German relations, which are always close and always a little uncomfortable—that’s another story.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
A film and several books spotlight the 1970s—when the city embraced Soviet Jews, and a new world was born