Study of German Views on Jews Yields ‘disturbing’ Findings

A majority of citizens in unified Germany believe that “it is time to put the memory of the Holocaust behind us,” according to a new study sponsored by the American Jewish Committee.

The survey, the first poll of attitudes on issues relating to Jews in newly reunified Germany, also revealed that 38 percent of Germans believe that “Jews exploit the Holocaust for their own purposes.”

The same percentage agree that “now, as in the past, Jews exert too much influence on world events.”

Polling took place between Oct. 1 and 15, in face-to-face interviews with 1,922 people across Germany.

Of that total, 995 people were citizens of the former West Germany, and 826 people were citizens of the former East Germany, Fifty people were parliamentarians and party figures from what was West Germany, and 51 were East German politicians.

Over half of those questioned, some 52 percent, believe Israel has no special claim on Germany and that “Israel is a state like any other.”

Nearly one-third of those polled believe that “Zionism is racism.”

Just 22 percent of those polled favor paying reparations to Jews for property lost during the Nazi era.

A ban on anti-Semitic groups enjoys widespread popularity among Germans from both the East and West, with 79 percent approving, and 73 percent favor teaching about the Nazi period in schools. But only 55 percent support prosecuting Nazi war criminals.

EAST GERMANS MORE POSITIVE

The results of the study were “disturbing,” according to David Harris, executive vice president of the AJCommittee.

Most surprising for the researchers was the disparity between the opinions of former East and West Germans.

While it is West Germans who have had more exposure to education about the Third Reich over the last four decades, the attitudes of former East Germans were much more positive toward Jewish concerns, the survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of West Germans believe that “it is time to put the memory of the Holocaust behind us,” but less than half, 44 percent, of East Germans agree.

And while just one-fifth of the former East Germans polled believe “Jews exert too much influence on world events” and that “Jews are exploiting the Holocaust for their own purposes,” over twice as many — 44 and 45 percent, respectively — former West Germans agreed.

Dr. David Jordice, senior vice president of D3 Systems, the U.S. marketing and opinion research organization that conducted the survey, together with the Emnid Institute, a German polling organization, offered one possible reason that East Germans have more liberal attitudes toward Jewish concerns.

“Historically, the East German government favored the Arab side politically, and in an oppressive regime, people often sought a way to tweak their government’s nose,” he explained. But he admitted, “We don’t have a full answer yet.”

Great differences also existed between the opinions of German leaders and the beliefs of their constituents.

For example, while 100 percent of the politicians believe that schoolchildren should be taught about the Nazi period, only 68.5 percent of West German voters, and 84 percent of East Germans agreed.

SYMPOSIUM PLANNED IN BONN

Younger and better-educated Germans were less likely to express negative attitudes, the survey found.

“One of the most encouraging results of the survey was the way the ‘elites’ (as the politicians are called) responded,” said AJCommittee’s Harris. “Our challenge is to more effectively utilize the elites to transmit their opinions.”

“This information provides a firm base upon which we can develop programming responses to troubling trends,” he said.

According to Dr. David Singer, director of research and publications at AJCommittee, the results of the survey pose “a serious challenge to Germans and to Jews as well.”

The issues raised by the survey will be addressed at a symposium next March in Bonn, under the joint auspices of AJCommittee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

There, about two dozen politicians, educators and journalists will discuss “why these attitudes develop and what can be done about them,” said Wolfgang Pordzik, the North American representative of the German foundation.

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