August 6th, 2014

"Why is there no wave of sympathy for us Jews?"

An interview with Dieter Graumann, Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany | RP Online, 31.07.2014

Dieter Graumann, Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
Dieter Graumann, Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany

In response to the “most abhorrent anti-Semitism“, our editors interviewed the Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, who is asking where the support and assistance of the civil society is. Many Jewish people are very unsettled and are asking if it’s once again time to pack their suitcases and leave Germany.

How do Jews experience the summer of 2014 in Germany?

Graumann: Horrible shockwaves of anti-Semitism are passing through our country. Never in my worst nightmares could I have imagined that I would experience something like this. We hear disgusting, anti-Semitic slogans on German streets. A wave of malice and hatred against Jews has broken out on social networks, which has surpassed even our worst fears. Synagogues are being attacked; Jewish people are being threatened; it is just horrible.

What conclusions can Jewish communities draw from this?

Graumann: The communities have very few options. But I have never before received so many questions from worried Jewish people. Several hundred ask me: can we stay here or do we have to pack our suitcases once again and leave Germany? It’s something we haven’t heard in many years; and now, Jews in Germany ask this question once again. We are deeply concerned and shocked. If people on German streets chant that Jews should be gassed to death, burned, and slaughtered, it surely has nothing to do with Gaza and Israeli politics. That is the most disgusting form of anti-Semitism anyone can imagine.

How do you explain this wave, which seems to have come out of nowhere?

Graumann: It did not come out of nowhere. There has always been a certain level of anti-Semitism. The conflict in Gaza is only the current starting point but it is not the cause. I am convinced that anyone that becomes anti-Semitic because of Israel has always been anti-Semitic and uses the current controversy only as an excuse. Of course our emotions are running high right now, but the word “Jew” has been used as an insult in German schoolyards for many years – very often by young Muslims. The majority of Muslims in Germany seek harmony and peace. And we seek their companionship and friendship. Yet there are also radical Islamists, and Muslim organizations are doing too little against them. The many peaceful Muslims should do more against the misuse of their religion by radical Islamists.

How can this wave of excessive anti-Semitism be reversed?

Graumann: First it must be noted that we have received a lot of solidarity from German politicians, first and foremost from the Federal President’s very warm and moving words. German churches and newspapers have also taken a very clear and exemplary position. We appreciate that. But those are “political elites” and we wonder: where are the normal people of this country? Where are the humans? In light of this wave of anti-Semitism, why is there no wave of solidarity with us Jews? In sermons and pretty speeches we always hear that we belong, that we are a part of society. Why do we not see evidence of this? Why leave us in a lurch like that? We feel that we are left alone with our worries. Every normal person should understand: anyone threatening us also threatens others, because these are attacks on freedom and tolerance in this country. Our freedom is your freedom! I do not experience enough comfort from civil society. Now is the time for it.

Do you feel hopeful that the situation calms down again once the conflict in the Middle East calms down?

Graumann: It’s possible. But what has been unleashed will continue to exist. We must react intelligently. For the Jewish community this means: resignation and capitulation would be the wrong answers. That would be a triumph for our enemies, and we will not grant them such a triumph. On the contrary: we cannot let them take away our courage and we cannot allow them to intimidate us. Anyone waiting for that will wait forever. That is why I have written a letter to all Jewish members of the community in Germany, in which I am making it clear: we are what we have always been: aware and self-confident Jews that do not bear Judaism as a burden but with unyielding pride!

Many equate Jews in Germany with Israel – how can we differentiate?

Graumann: I cannot correct the mistake of others. We are Jews in Germany; we are not Israelis. We are also not representatives of Israelis, although it is true that most of us are not neutral when it comes to Israel. In our hearts we are with the people in Israel and if Israel’s existence is threatened, if it is bombarded and wronged, then this awakens our protective instinct. But this cannot lead to a persecution of Jews here with malice and hate.

What do you expect from the government and from schools in terms of even more intensive education on how it used to be in Germany?

Graumann: Currently I really have no complaints about the government. It’s always possible to demand more education, but that which now flares up always had to have been there. That is why I am of the opinion that large parts of Germany’s society must become more vocal and cannot leave us hanging. Jewish communities are very concerned, but the signal that we will definitely not be overcome is even more important!