Jewish Leader Lays into Germany: 'Do You Still Want Us Jews?'

Charlotte Knobloch, the former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote a stinging editorial on Wednesday attacking the circumcision debate, calling talk of a Jewish revival a sham and wondering whether she was right to spend her adult life defending Germany.

Charlotte Knobloch was president of the Council of Jews in Germany from 2006 until 2010. Zoom
DDP

Charlotte Knobloch was president of the Council of Jews in Germany from 2006 until 2010.

Germany has been debating the rights and wrongs of circumcising infant boys ever since a German court ruled in June that the ritual, a core part of the Jewish religion, was unlawful.

Now Charlotte Knobloch, 79, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has had enough. In a furious editorial published on Wednesday in one of the country's top newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung, she said the controversy was calling the existence of Germany's small Jewish community into question and asked: "Do you still want us Jews?"

"For 60 years I have defended Germany as a survivor of the Shoah. Now I ask myself if that was right," she wrote. Knobloch is president of the Munich Jewish community and vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

The verdict by a court in Cologne, though extremely limited in its scope, was denounced by Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders as a serious intrusion on religious freedom. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany risked becoming a "laughing stock" if Jews were not allowed to practice their rituals.

In July, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution to protect religious circumcision and the government has promised a new law to make clear that doctors or families will not be prosecuted for carrying out the procedure.

Foundations of Jewish Religion 'Dragged Through the Mud'

But the debate has gone on. Doctors and politicians have weighed in, warning about supposed health risks and infringements of infants' rights.

"It didn't occur to me even in my nightmares that I should have to ask myself the question ahead of my 80th birthday whether I was allowed to survive the murder of the Jews to have to witness this," wrote Knobloch.

Born in Munich in 1932, she survived the Holocaust because a former employee of her uncle's, Kreszentia Hummel, took her in and pretended she was her illegitimate daughter. Knobloch's father survived the Holocaust as a forced laborer. Her grandmother was murdered in Theresienstadt in 1944. Her mother was not Jewish and her parents had got divorced in 1936.

Knobloch wrote that circumcision was at the core of Jewish identity. "The zeal with which the self-appointed are unfeelingly and thoughtlessly dragging our religious foundations through the mud is unequalled. People who apparently have no idea of the religious significance of the Brit Mila (circumcision ceremony) who presumably have never spoken to a Jew, now want to tell us whether and how we can follow our religion.

'Sham' Of a Flourishing Jewry

"I don't want to go on bearing that silently. Not after all we Jews had to suffer in Germany," wrote Knobloch. "And I'm no longer prepared to go along with the sham in which people are talking about a new, fresh, flourishing Jewry in Germany, to give Germans the feeling that time can heal even the greatest conceivable wound. The fact is that German Jewry has never gotten over the Shoah. The few who survived it are marked and defined to this day by the absence of that Jewish life that existed at the start of the 20th century."

Knobloch said Jews in Germany had to put up with a lot: Nobel Laureate Günter Grass writing about the risks Israel posed to world peace, "obsessive world improvers" calling for boycotts of Israeli products, sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers, and the Prague Declaration in which "some civil rights activists equate the crimes of communism with that of the Holocaust."

She also mentioned attacks on Jews such as the assault on a rabbi in Berlin last month. She said German Jews had spent decades justifying their continued presence in Germany to their families and friends abroad.

"For six decades I have had to justify myself because I stayed in Germany -- as a remnant of a destroyed world, as a sheep among wolves," wrote Knobloch. "I always readily carried this burden because I was firmly convinced that this country and these people deserved it. For the first time my basic convictions are starting to shake. For the first time I feel resignation. I seriously ask if this country still wants us."

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