Germans Have Disturbing Attitudes Toward Jews, According to New Poll

Negative attitudes toward Jews are widespread in German society today, according to a new survey.

Among other results, the American Jewish Committee poll found that 52 percent of Germans believe Jews are exploiting the memory of the Holocaust for their own purposes.

The AJCommittee’s executive director, David Harris, called this the “most disturbing result” in the survey, the third such poll conducted since German unification in 1990.

The result “is profoundly troubling,” Harris said in an interview with JTA.

Harris was in Berlin with the group’s president, Harold Tanner, and its director of governmental and international affairs, Jason Isaacson, for meetings Monday and Tuesday with German officials.

Harris said the survey “represents both encouraging and discouraging news. The most important finding, looking ahead, is the correlation between the levels of tolerance and levels of education.”

Most Germans favor Holocaust education and Holocaust memorials, the survey showed.

“The fact that Holocaust remembrance is enshrined in the German conscience is very encouraging,” Harris said.

But the survey also suggested that many Germans believe education is not enough to prevent intolerance. The poll found that 60 percent of Germans acknowledge that anti-Semitism is a problem in their country, and 35 percent say the problem is increasing — facts that “bear watching,” Harris said.

While education may not be enough in itself, it nonetheless is extremely important “to ensure that correct information about Jews, Jewish life and Israel is given to impressionable students,” said Deidre Berger, director of the AJCommittee office in Berlin, which opened in 1998.

Berger has been working with German educators to remove biased educational materials from public schools.

One positive sign in the survey is that “one in every five Germans has met a Jewish person — and of those with a higher education, it is one in three,” Berger said.

Personal encounters are “an important step toward a better understanding of Jewish life and culture,” said Berger, who also attended the meetings with German officials.

In the talks Monday with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Interior Minister Otto Schily, concern about anti-Semitism, as well as Germany’s relations with Israel and the United States, were high on the agenda, said Harris, who described the meetings as “positive.”

German-Israel relations continue to be strong, he said, despite current political debate about German military sales to the Jewish state.

“We can count on Germany being there for Israel. We heard many expressions of understanding and support for Israel’s dangerous situation,” Harris said.

The survey, conducted by the research firm Infratest from Oct. 8-25, was based on personal interviews with 1,250 respondents and has a margin of error of 3 percent. It focused on attitudes toward Jews, Holocaust remembrance and the war on terrorism.

Among its other findings:

40 percent said Jews exert too much influence on world events, and 20 percent said they have “too much influence” in Germany;

35 percent of Germans believe Jews “are motivated by feelings of revenge” more than other groups;

59 percent agreed with the statement, “Many people in Germany are afraid to express their true feelings about Jews”;

17 percent of Germans “prefer not” to have Jews as neighbors, though more Germans would prefer not to have Gypsies, Arabs, Turks, Africans or Poles as neighbors;

65 percent of Germans think that teaching about the Nazi extermination of Jews should be required in the German school curriculum, while 22 percent say it should not; and

49 percent approve of the German Parliament’s decision to authorize the building of a national Holocaust memorial in Berlin, while 27 percent disapprove. Support is highest among young people.

Regarding the war on terrorism, 63 percent of the respondents backed the U.S. decision to launch the war following the Sept. 11 attacks, but 77 percent said the United States was acting mainly in its own interests.

In general, the older the respondents, the more likely they are to express negative attitudes toward Jews and other minorities.

The AJCommittee poll was one of several such surveys released in the past year.

In June, two separate polls revealed persistent stereotypes in Germany about Jews.

Both suggested that drastic change is needed in the German educational system, said Horst-Eberhard Richter, director of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt, who co-directed one of the studies.

“People who graduated from high school have far fewer anti-Jewish leanings than those with less education,” he said.

In November, Bielefeld University released a study of 3,000 Germans indicating that increasing numbers of them sympathize with “law and order,” xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Islam politics.

According to that study, 22 percent agreed without reservation that “Many Jews try to take advantage today of the history of the Third Reich, and the Germans pay for this.” In all, as many as 80 percent agreed to some degree with the statement.

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