Has Germany once again become a dangerous place for Jews to live? The question has arisen with increasing frequency lately as policy-makers – despite loud condemnations of anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts committed by the far right – have failed to stop the violent campaign against Jews and non- Germans in this country.
And many Jews are scared. A Jewish woman from Cologne said recently that she saw “a sea change” in the climate of the country since German unification four years ago.
“The country has moved to the right, anti-Semitism has become fashionable,” she said. “This is not a place for Jews to stay.”
Her husband, a real estate dealer, also voiced concern, but said it is too early to say how bad the situation will ultimately become. For the time being, he said, the couple will remain in Germany.
But as many other Jewish families are doing, they have decided to send their children to a summer camp in England, so they would at least get familiar with the language and be prepared to move to an English school if the current situation deteriorates further.
Until now, Turks, Africans and members of other minorities who are “visibly” non-German and who came to the country as asylum-seekers or as foreign workers have generally been the targets of attacks by gangs of neo-Nazi youths.
But the Jews who live here, most of them German nationals, also consider themselves a potential target.
“They attack Turks,” a Frankfurt Jewish activist said, “but their ultimate aim is the Jews. They want to rid the country of this tiny Jewish community, along with expelling millions of foreigners who have contributed to the wealth of postwar Germany.”
Because of the continual potential for violence, synagogues and other Jewish community centers are well-protected in Germany. No prayer takes place without police guards standing by in front of the synagogue. Jewish kindergartens operate behind walls and barriers, with police guarding the entrances and routinely patrolling the area.
“This is a scandal we have shamefully adapted to,” a member of Parliament from the Social Democratic Party, Herta Decubler-Gmelin, said the other day. “Normality would mean that Jews can hold a religious service without resorting to protection by police.”
Last week, about 13 Jews and foreigners living in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg – the German city where the postwar trials of Nazi leaders were held – received forged letters purportedly sent from the federal office that deals with the status of refugees.
The letters informed the recipients that the difficult financial situation of Germany had made it impossible for the government to tolerate their continued presence in the country.
In addition of Jews, the letters had been addressed to Yugoslavs, Turks and Vietnamese living in Nuremberg.
All the recipients were warned that failure to leave the country would lead to “solutions which you would have to bear the responsibility for.”
Also last week, the German Interior Ministry made available its annual report on political extremism in the country.
The report named several right-wing parties – including the Republicans, the National Democrats and the German League for People and Home – as pursuing xenophobic policies. The report also described how many of the parties’ members were actively engaged in spreading the notion that the Holocaust never took place.
But despite protests by various groups, including Jewish organizations, the report failed to define the largest of these groups – the 23,000-member strong Republicans – as an extremist political group.
Instead, the report merely stated that the party, which is led by former SS officer Franz Schonhuber, showed “signs” of drifting to extremist positions.
As a result of the report’s conclusions, members of the Republican Party will remain free of systematic observation by the German intelligence service.
The conclusion came down nearly at the same time that Jewish leaders here charged the Republicans with being morally responsible for inciting recent violent incidents, including the March 25 firebombing of a synagogue in the northern port city of Lubeck.
Another event which has contributed to Jewish fears about living in Germany was a recent ruling by a federal court that denial of the Holocaust – the so-called “Auschwitz lie” – does not in itself constitute an offense.
The judges had said that in order to prosecute it must be proved that the individual who denied that the Holocaust ever took place was a member of a neo- Nazi group who intended to incite discrimination.
Groups of scholars, politicians and legal experts have come out in support of initiatives that would ban the “Auschwitz lie” more directly and make it impossible for potential offenders to get away without penalty. But no draft has been yet presented to Parliament and it is far from sure that the initiative will get enough support for passage.
All this comes at a time when millions of Germans are flocking to movie theaters to watch the Steven Spielberg film “Schindler’s List” and remind themselves of their country’s Nazi past. The film, which has led to a wave of emotional reactions among audiences, has succeeded in creating at least one bright spot amid all the reports of hate-inspired crimes.