Letter from Berlin: Utopia or Auschwitz?

17Jul13

In Dissent: A review of Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust by Hans Kundnani

As an American, a Jew, a leftist, and a journalist who spent the past five months living in Berlin, I was continually fascinated—sometimes impressed, sometimes irritated, sometimes repelled–by the ways in which Germans were exploring their Nazi-era extermination of the Jews. There are numerous examples: Margarethe Von Trotta’s feature film Hannah Arendt, which focuses on the Eichmann in Jerusalem controversy, opened to critical acclaim. The Jewish Museum’s so-called “Jew in the Box” exhibit, in which ordinary Jews fielded questions about Jewish life and Judaism from interested, if largely clueless, museumgoers, elicited reactions from appreciation to disgust; it was premised on the (correct) assumption that, due to the Shoah, many contemporary Germans have never met a Jew. Less discussed—but, to my mind, equally startling—were the advertisements for the exhibit, which were plastered all over town; one proclaimed, in blunt black lettering reminiscent of street graffiti, “The Jews are to blame for everything.” Götz Aly’s 2011 book Why the Germans? Why the Jews? (soon to appear in English translation)—an attempt by a major German historian to answer the most vexing question in German history—was still discussed. And three months ago, Shakespeare and Sons, a popular English-language bookstore, sponsored a debate titled, “The German Left Wing’s Problem with Zionism.” Indeed, it became increasingly obvious to me that the German relation to the “Jewish question” (which some might call the “German question”) was inseparable from its relation to the history and practice of the German Left.

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