Andrew Gimson

Within the German pale

Andrew Gimson on why increasing numbers of Jews are returning to Germany

More Jews are moving to Germany than to any other country in the world, including Israel. This statement seldom fails to provoke gasps of astonishment among people whose knowledge of Germany is limited to the Holocaust. To them it seems a very strange and wonderful thing that the Jewish life which the Nazis tried with such grotesque thoroughness to extirpate should now be flowering anew on German soil.

This generous reaction is surely in the end the right one, but I must admit that my own reaction – when a colleague pointed out a news-agency report according to which 19,262 Jews moved to Germany last year from the former Soviet Union, compared with 18,878 who went to Israel and fewer than 10,000 who went to the United States – was less generous. During the six years I spent in Berlin in the 1990s, I found myself bombarded with information on Jewish subjects. The Holocaust was used, in the words of one German writer, as a kind of ‘moral club’ with which to belabour the German public. The authorities paraded their own righteous treatment of Jews since the war, and so did some individual Germans who became wildly philo-Semitic, which led them to decorate their flats with Jewish symbols and to attend Hebrew classes. One especially preposterous German woman, prominent in every scheme to commemorate the Holocaust, even changed her name so that one could easily make the error of imagining her to be Jewish. The whole pro-Jewish thing seemed like a trendy, evasive, artificial, self-satisfied moral pose, as well as being 60 years too late.

Such grudging thoughts, which took no heed of the intolerable burden of being German, led some of us to ignore the magnitude of what was taking place.

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