Are the sands of time draining Germany of Holocaust memory and responsibility?

From the day he took office two years ago as Germany’s Foreign Ministry, Heiko Maas has made a special, even poignant point of declaring that he “went into politics because of Auschwitz”, adding that “the Jewish state deeply motivates him.” And now during the Corona pandemic lockdown, the foreign minister declared in a video prepared for  memorial events at three WWII German Concentration Camps, he pledged he would fight Holocaust denial.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader who appointed Maas made history when spoke from the podium of Israel’s Knesset 12 years ago. There she bowed her head in shame over the mass murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, spoke of the danger of a nuclear Iran and vowed to maintain sanctions if Iran continued to threaten the Jewish state.

Alas, 75 years after Auschwitz, their words are belied by policies and actions that imperil the Jewish people at home and in Israel.

Mr. Maas may claim he entered politics because of Auschwitz but that has not impacted Germany’s ongoing relationship with the evil Iranian regime. Berlin swept aside pleas from Israel not to enter into a nuclear agreement with Tehran that guaranteed the Mullahocracy’s path to eventually build a nuclear bomb. It made zero demands that Iran drop its genocidal threats against six million+ Israeli Jews. Unlike Austria’s youthful Chancellor Kurz, no senior German official ever publicly and directly confront the Iranian President for threatening Israel’s right to exist or over Tehran’s state-sponsored Holocaust denial.

Under Merkel and Maas, Germany has continually increased its annual subvention to corrupt UNRWA whose schools promote a war curriculum against Israel, teach to venerate terrorists, and  whose textbooks fail to show the Jewish state on any map. Germany’s Security Services, among the best in the world, have worked to thwart Hezbollah terrorist attacks, but Chancellor Merkel and her Foreign Minister steadfastly refuse to ban all Hezbollah activity, including its poisoning of attitudes against Jews among Muslims in Germany.

Domestically, the Federal authorities and its various states are doing a great job at counting the number of anti-Semitic attacks but seem clueless on how to stop escalating anti-Jewish attacks. Last Yom Kippur’s aborted shooting targeting 50+ Jews at prayer in Halle came after authorities had refused to post a  policeman outside the synagogue.

Instead of tackling Jew-hatred from an increasingly aggressive far right, from far-left attacks that demonize and de-legitimize Israel and her Zionist supporters, instead of holding neo-Nazi and Muslim thugs who beat and berate Jews on the streets of Berlin, Germany  announced it was launching a 10 million Euro research project to “study” Anti-Semitism. One hopes that none of those funds are turned over to the Berlin Center for anti-Semitism. That academic institution is looking to fund two scholars to study Jewish pimps and prostitutes!

German leaders must know that polls consistently show that millions of Germans believe that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians and that tens of millions of Europeans compare Israel to the Nazis. Have German elite moved to debunk this 21-century big lie or feed it?

In 2020, with the exponential growth of the far right AfD Party, some visitors openly question the Holocaust during organized tours of the Nazi Concentration Camps, we can expect an acceleration of the diminution of Memory and Germany’s historic responsibilities to live Jews not just dead ones. Joseph Shuster, the leader of German Jewry was correct when he demanded  an end “to the appeasement of anti-Semites” in Germany.

Perhaps the Jewish People’s deepest feelings and concerns were best summed up by the late President Ezer Weizman in his historic speech to the Bundestag in 1996.  Here is what he told the German nation:

“…It was fate that delivered me and my contemporaries into this great era, when the Jews returned to and re-established their homeland. I am no longer a wandering Jew who migrates from country to country, from exile to exile. But all Jews in every generation must regard themselves as if they had been there, in previous generations, places, and events. Therefore, I am still a wandering Jew, but not along the far-flung paths of the world. Now I migrate through the expanses of time, from generation to generation, down the paths of memory.

Memory shortens distances…Only one hundred fifty generations have passed from the Pillar of Fire of the Exodus from Egypt to the pillars of smoke from the Holocaust.

And I, a descendant of Abraham, born in Abraham’s country, have witnessed them all.

I was a slave in Egypt.
I received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Together with Joshua and Elijah, I crossed the Jordan River.
I entered Jerusalem with David, was exiled from it with Zedekiah, and did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon.
When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts.
I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain.
I was bound to the stake in Mainz.
I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev.
I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw, and emigrated to the Land of Israel, the country when I had been exiled and where I had been born, from which I come and to which I return.

I am a wandering Jew who follows in the footsteps of his forebears, and just as I escorted them there and then, so do my forebears accompany me and stand here with me today.

The sharp-sighted among you may be able to discern them: A retinue of prophets and peasants, kings and rabbis, scientists and soldiers, craftsmen and children. Some died of advanced years in their beds. Others went up in flames. Still others fell by the sword.

Just as memory force us to participate in each day and every event of our past, so does the virtue of hope force us to prepare for each day of our future….”

Seventy-five years after the Holocaust, we are left to ponder whether in the future Germans will recommit to embrace Memory, support and defend the nation of Israel and take leadership in the struggle against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism or default to the darker forces that stain their history.




About the Author
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Associate Dean and Global Director of its Ed Snider Social Action Institute
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