Haunted by Nazi History: German Politicians Divided over Anti-Semitism

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The German parliament wanted to pass a unanimous resolution against anti-Semitism to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Night of the Broken Glass. But the effort has fallen victim to political bickering.

On Sept. 29, it was Berlin's turn. Just one week after the Jewish cemetery in the city's central Mitte district was reopened following renovation work, an information plaque was daubed with anti-Semitic slogans. An investigation was immediately begun to try and find the perpetrators, but little progress has been made.

Anti-Semitism remains a problem in Germany. Here, the symbol of Hitler's SS with the words "get out of here" sprayed on a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin in 2007.
DPA

Anti-Semitism remains a problem in Germany. Here, the symbol of Hitler's SS with the words "get out of here" sprayed on a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin in 2007.

It is the same story across the country. On average, according to statistics cited by members of the federal parliament, one Jewish cemetery each week is vandalized in Germany. Last week in Potsdam, a mini-sidewalk monument to a Jewish family deported during the Holocaust was smeared with a swastika. Two weeks ago in the eastern German town of Jena, anti-Semitic chants were sung at a regional league football match. The list ( in German) goes on.

Potentially more damning, however, is the fact that anti-Semitism in the country appears to be on the rise. A number of studies in recent years have reached the conclusion that anti-Semitism is not just a fringe problem in Germany. A September study released by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. came to the conclusion that fully 25 percent of Germans had unfavorable views of Jews. While that is far less than the 46 percent result in Spain or the 36 percent in Poland, it is up from the 20 percent result found in Germany in 2004.

German politicians are listening. Indeed, since the beginning of the year, a working group made up of all parties in the German parliament, the Bundestag, have been busy formulating a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in Germany. The idea was to have it ready for the 70th anniversary of the Nov. 9, 1938 Nazi pogrom known as the Night of the Broken Glass. Political infighting, however, has delayed the project -- and now threatens to torpedo it altogether.

'A Political Fiasco'

"I still have high hopes that we will be able to find a common language for the resolution, but it unfortunately won't be until after the 70th anniversary," Gert Weisskirchen, a Social Democratic (SPD) parliamentarian who helped initiate the project, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "This awful development (of rising anti-Semitism) demands that we approach it with the appropriate dignity. We can't let it descend into a political fiasco."

For the moment, however, all signs point to exactly that happening. The initiative got started at the very beginning of this year, and Weisskirchen said that until recently, the parties involved -- SPD, Christian Democrats along with their sister party the Christian Social Union (known collectively as the Union), the Free Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party -- were all on the same page.

Not long ago, however, the Union submitted text to be included in the resolution referring to anti-Semitism in pre-reunification East Germany. The passage reads that "it must be recalled that Israel was never recognized by East Germany, that Jewish businesspeople were dispossessed by the East German government and had to flee, and that East Germany broke international law by delivering weapons to an anti-Israeli Syria in 1973."

On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi thugs destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues and killed hundreds of Jews across Germany.
DDP

On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi thugs destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues and killed hundreds of Jews across Germany.

The problem, though, is that not everyone is willing to accept such a passage. Petra Pau, the Bundestag vice president from the far-left Left Party, suspects that the Union is trying to push the Left Party out of the resolution. "We have no problem with a formulation that talks about anti-Semitism in East Germany after the end of World War II," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But not in the form submitted by the CDU/CSU. It is especially regrettable that, right at the end, the Bundestag consensus against anti-Semitism has been broken apart."

Pau's party is a controversial one in the German political landscape. The Left Party's predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism, was the democratic successor to the East German communist party SED. Pau was an SED member before becoming a high level functionary in the PDS.

Still, she isn't the only one who finds the newly submitted passage problematic. Weisskirchen points out that the formulation makes it seem as though people were dispossessed in East Germany because of their Jewishness, which, he says, is inaccurate. Many in East Germany lost their property and it wasn't a phenomenon limited to people of the Jewish faith. Furthermore, he mentions, East Germany passed a resolution toward the end of its existence expressing regret for the state's anti-Semitic leanings, a fact completely ignored by the CDU/CSU passage.

Removing the Obstacles

A CDU/CSU press release on Wednesday makes in clear that the conservatives are sticking to their guns -- and are are intent on associating the Left Party with East German anti-Semitism. "It is true that we want a resolution without the participation of the Left Party," the press statement reads. "When this party, under the name SED, controlled East Germany, it denied Israel's right to exist and never recognized the Jewish state. We think it is hypocritical that the Left Party now acts as though it were spearheading the fight against anti-Semitism."

The debate over the resolution threatens to overshadow the anniversary of a significant marker in Germany's Nazi history on the road toward the mass murders of the Holocaust. The Night of the Broken Glass, which extended well into Nov. 10, 1938, saw Hitler unleash his Nazi thugs on the country's Jewish population. Thousands of Jewish shops were destroyed on that night and hundreds of synagogues were torched. Nazis also killed hundreds of Jews and thousands more were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

Weisskirchen remains hopeful that a resolution can be passed by the end of the year, and maybe even by the end of November, he said. "In September, our positions were very close; we have been working on this text since the beginning of the year. Now, these obstacles have been placed in our path. I hope we can remove them."

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