The influx of about one million Muslims into Germany in the past two years has touched off fears in the Jewish community. This is perfectly understandable. Most of the new arrivals hail from Syria, which is embroiled in a civil war and which has been at war with Israel since its creation almost 70 years ago. The Syrian migrants, having grown up in a nation which demonized the Jewish state and cast suspicions on Jews both inside and outside Syria, tend to hold antisemitic attitudes and are prone to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
As a result, a legitimate concern arises whether Chancellor Angela Merkel — a decent and well-meaning person — was wise to admit so many Muslims. Since the end of World War II, Germany has tried to atone for the horrendous crimes perpetrated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime before and during the Holocaust. In particular, Germany’s leadership has encouraged the formation of a new Jewish community. But all their efforts may be jeopardized if the burgeoning Muslim community in Germany, currently numbering about 4.5 million, becomes an incubator for antisemitism.
Sawsan Chebli, a German politician from Berlin, is acutely aware of this problem. In an interview in the mass-circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag on January 7, she floated an idea that bears serious consideration. Chebli, a Palestinian Muslim whose parents were asylum seekers, said that newcomers to Germany should be made aware of the Third Reich era through a process that integrates them into a country that now officially opposes racial discrimination and antisemitism.
At present, new immigrants take courses in German language, history and culture. In Chebli’s view, this needs to be augmented with mandatory visits to former Nazi concentration camps, such as Dachau, Buchenwald and Treblinka, that have been converted into memorials. “I think it would make sense if everyone living in this country would be obliged to visit a concentration camp memorial at least once in their lifetime,” she told Bild am Sonntag. “Concentration camp visits should become part of integration courses.”
Critics have questioned Chebli’s approach, saying it cannot magically alter entrenched ethnocentric beliefs. They have a point, of course. Antisemitism is a malignancy deeply rooted in Christian and Muslim societies, and Muslims often claim that Israel exploits the Holocaust for its own ends. And as one commentator has written, some Muslims may even regard such visits as an intrusion into their lives.
But on balance, no harm, and certainly a lot of good, can come from such visits. Trips to former Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland are already required of students in Germany. So why not extend that requirement to new immigrants, especially Muslims?
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, thinks it’s an idea well worth pursuing. “This proposal is an encouraging and effective method of educating people of all backgrounds about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population of Europe and the dangers such hatred can yield,” he said.
Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has also expressed support for it, saying visits to these sites can engender empathy with the victims.
One can safely assumed that Germany wishes to integrate the latest Muslim newcomers in the best possible manner. That being the case, they should be exposed to the dark side of German history so that, hopefully, they develop something of an immunity to the evils of intolerance and racism and become good citizens of their new homeland.