My intention for this column was to write about antisemitism in Germany. This was after my confidence in Germany’s status in Europe, as the country that has best come to terms with its Nazi past, was shaken by a lengthy article in The New York Times magazine and reprinted in abridged form in the European edition.
The New York Times reported on the rise of new forms of old hatreds stoking fear among the country’s restocked Jewish population of more than 200,000 people. Germany may still be paying reparations to Shoah survivors and have memorialised the Holocaust more comprehensively that some of its Eastern European nations, but some attitudes have not changed.
When a 14-year-old student transferred from a Jewish school to a state academy and fellow students learnt of his background, he was bullied relentlessly. His was not the exception; hundreds more cases have since come to light.
This made me wonder why so many British Jews, with German grandparents or parents, had been so quick and willing to reclaim German citizenship after the Brexit referendum of three years ago. It was bad enough that Nazi Germany had chased the family members abroad, deprived them of treasured assets and murdered those left behind.
To forgive and forget in a couple of generations and want to reconnect with a country that behaved in such a despicable way seemed bizarre. The reasons were practical: they wanted offspring to be able to work and move freely across Europe post-Brexit. As if somehow qualified British citizens or holidaymakers would somehow be discriminated against because they held British rather than EU compliant passports.
All of this reminded me of my father, Menachem Mendel ben Shalom. This week marks the first Yahrzeit of his death. He was a tolerant person, but when it came to the Germans, who slaughtered his parents, his brothers, and did so much harm to his surviving sisters, forgiveness was in short supply. I still remember his disapproval when he saw me driving a German car.
His memory is very much on my mind this week. In the eleven months following his death, I (and my brother Daniel) said Kaddish in shul wherever we happened to be. The ritual of saying the prayer and leading services was a comforting experience, as was the support of all those around us, especially the rabbonim. But when the Kaddish stopped, shortly before Pesach, there was a vacuum; it was as if someone had kicked the crutches away. His longevity in some ways made the mourning worse.
When he was still with us, I would travel to our home town of Brighton many weekends to spend time with him. Over Shabbat, we would accompany him to shul. On a bright Sunday, we would sit at the Hove seafront café sipping coffee.
I retain great affection for Brighton, but I now find it much more difficult to visit. The associations with both my parents, upbringing and the pungent salt in the air seem almost too hard to bear. But one year on, there are happier thoughts too. The photographic memories in my study, where I write this, are all around me.
The childhood spent on a farm in Ovingdean, a South Downs village along the coast from Brighton, are very much alive. The bonfire night that brought out the fire brigade because the flames from burning tractor tyres could be seen miles away. The reprimand on my 10th birthday after I used the present of a woodworking set to make bundles of firewood sold to neighbours in the village.
There is so much to savour including the ability of my father, an Orthodox Jew, to get on with anyone – fellow farmers, his customers when he became Hove’s kosher butcher and delicatessen owner, his popularity among members of the Hove Hebrew Congregation.
He was tolerant with an effervescent smile.
The only loathing in his heart was the Germany legacy of the Holocaust.