Tuvia Tenenbom is the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany,” a publication of The Jewish Theater of New York. A German edition of the book, titled “Allein unter Deutschen,” will be published next year in Germany by the prestigious publishing house of Suhrkamp. This follows a period of over a year when the book was censored in Germany by its original publisher, Rowohlt Verlag, and countless other German publishers.
Germany. A nation far away, in the midst of Europe, speaking a language most of us don’t know. Germany is a country few of us pay attention to, spend time on, or think about.
Our president, as it happens, thinks about Germany quite a bit.
Earlier this year, just before honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., President Barack Obama said: “Germany, at the heart of Europe, is one of our strongest allies.” He didn’t stop there: he talked about “values that bind nations”; said that Merkel had “inspired millions around the world, including me”; called her “my friend”; and kissed her on both her cheeks. Clearly, in President Obama’s thinking, the leader of a country that is one of the greatest and most important on earth deserves the highest of honors, and more than just one kiss.
Is he right?
Germany is the second largest exporter on the planet, just below China, and above the USA. It is also the third largest importer. And, in case you didn’t know, German corporations own quite a large number of companies in this country–including, interestingly enough, some of the biggest and best of American publishing companies, such as Random House and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In other words, Germany is everywhere: in our pockets and in our souls. No wonder, then, that Obama and Merkel are such good friends. Government officials from both sides of the Atlantic continuously visit each other’s country more than ever. These days, Treasury Secretary Geithner is flying to Germany, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is in New York to strengthen Germany’s contacts with the American Jewish community.
Why would a Minister of Foreign Affairs fly to a country, one that is not Israel, to meet Jews? Good question. Our President, last I checked, is not Jewish; nor is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But everybody loves everybody, and all’s cool. The message we get from both sides of the Atlantic is: We need them, and they need us. If you try to question the wisdom of this conclusion, you’ll immediately be reminded that Germany has continuously supported American efforts around the world, and will no doubt keep doing so. They, and we, are Siamese twins. Together both countries work hard to bring Spring, Arab or not, to the rest of the world, and together we’ll fight for freedom, human rights, a clean environment, and the best of all for all.
Germany is good. Germany is excellent.
To David Brooks, for example, this notion is clear. “Why are nations like Germany and the U.S. rich?” he asks in a recent Times column. “Because of habits, values and social capital.”
But what are German values?
Big ones. If you deny the Holocaust, to cite one example, German law dictates that you spend years in jail. You might argue that that doesn’t agree with our notion of free speech, but you must admit that it bears great promise: Germany will never again run Auschwitz. Period. That’s good, isn’t it?
Well, think a bit more carefully. Law is law, but reality is stronger than legality.
Traveling in Germany last year revealed to me a reality that is rarely mentioned, either in the U.S. or in Europe. Namely: the old hatred is still there.
Take Club 88. I was there. Club 88, mind you, does not stand for 88th Street. ‘8’ stands for H, and double 8’s is HH. Heil Hitler, in short.
Nice people in Club 88, as you might guess, and people of faith as well. They preach higher values, and they believe that the solution to all the world’s problems boils down to one: kill the Jews. As for the Holocaust: it never happened. Should have, but didn’t.
What happened to the law against Holocaust denial? Well, German authorities would love to enforce the laws of the land, of course, but they just can’t find the Club. I found it; they can’t. It took me one afternoon, and not trying very hard, to bump into two neo-Nazi hangouts–just imagine how many more must be there–but the German government can’t locate any of them, for years.
Yet let’s forget the neo-Nazis; racist folks are everywhere. The question is: what do the rest of the people in Germany think?
That took more than one afternoon to find out…
Visiting over forty cities all across Germany for almost six months, I learned many things I never knew before. Jews have horns. Jews, I was also told over and again, control all the money in the world. And Jews, never forget, are the ones responsible for the global financial crisis. Who, after all, resides all over the globe like mice? Jews. They also like to kill, in case you ever wondered. Killing is the Jews’ favorite pastime, and they extract immense pleasure by watching blood gushing out of dead people. After the Jews shoot you, and after everybody can tell you’re totally dead, the Jews will shoot you again. Jews love blood. It’s their nature. Israel, if you didn’t know, is the country of the Jews. And they, by the way, are the “real Nazis.”
These ideas are not the fruit of a lone farmer’s imagination. I found them everywhere–among rich and poor, old and young, male and female, the mathematician and the artist, the illiterate and the professor, the prostitute and the priest. Many seemed to agree: Jews are bad. Most, in fact, of the Germans that I met at random claimed to have a “problem” with Jews.
Then there’s the German media. WDR is one example: WDR, one of the Germany’s biggest TV and radio broadcasters, is assisting every day in the upkeep of “Cologne’s Wailing Wall,” a permanent exhibition next to Cologne’s Cathedral, which is one of Germany’s most visited tourist destinations. What does this Wailing Wall show? Images of dead little Palestinian children lying in pools of blood, “courtesy” of Israel’s Jews. When I approached WDR officials, they denied everything. But when I showed them the pictures I had taken, they suddenly refused to talk to me.
And so it went, for months: uncovering horrific acts and terrifying minds each and every day. Some of them I will never forget. I’ll never forget the boss of Mercedes in Stuttgart, who raised his voice at me when I asked him about Mercedes’s use of forced labor during WWII. My mother, he bellowed, “had some difficult nights with Russian soldiers!” Adding, “My interest is in that. That’s MY history.” Much more important than all those forced laborers who died. Yes. Germans were the real victims. Germans were, and are, the Good People.
Or like the director of a concentration camp museum, whom I met the other day. When he’s off work, he spends his time demonstrating against Israel, or joins a parade for Gaza Solidarity. Why not? He loves Peace.
Not only him. The imam of the biggest mosque in Germany, the one that receives millions upon millions both from the German government and from the EU for being a “model” mosque of tolerance and moderation, also loves Peace. I went there to join him in prayer. Yes, I prayed with his congregation. And then I learned the opinions of his congregants. Hamas, let me share with you, is much more moderate than they are. No wonder so many German intellectuals eagerly support this mosque.
That is the reality of Germany today. But nobody wants to talk about it. We allowed anti-Semitism to take hold in Germany in the last century, and we are allowing it today. We need Germany to solve our financial problems, to help our economic recovery, and to buy our companies and publish our books. Mums’s the word. No one should know. Including you.
What you should know is this: German Foreign Minister is coming to meet the Jews. To strengthen the relationship.