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Medieval Gate leading into the city of Frankfurt
photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
GERMAN JEWISH AUTHOR: JEWS IN GERMANY – AN UNCOMFORTABLE EXISTENCE

by Aliana Brodmann, Jewish German author, October 15, 2012

 

[ Editor's note:  The writer of this very thoughtful piece contacted me as a result of  my article on the book I Sleep in Hitler's Room.

http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=2823&sec=1&title=I_SLEEP_IN_HITLER'S_ROOM:_U.S._JEWISH_AUTHOR_DISCOVERS_ALARMING_AMOUNT_OF_ANTI-SEMITISM_STILL_EXISTS_IN_GERMANY.

I am very grateful that she did, and hope readers will read this piece carefully. It is  a real eye opener.

Aliana Brodmann is a bilingual writer, translator and journalist in English and German. She is the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland. Her publications include: seven books, numerous articles and human interest stories in German and American newspapers and magazines. She was President of the PEN Centre of German Writers Abroad, the former German Exile PEN Centre, from 2003-2005.

Her new book of short stories in German SCHANDE- eine Liebe in Deutschland

(transl: DISGRACE - a love affair in Germany) is in progress.

 

JEWS  IN  GERMANY – AN UNCOMFORTABLE EXISTENCE

by Aliana Brodmann  

 

Whenever I tell people abroad that I was born in Germany, or worse yet, that my parents- Jewish Holocaust survivors- never emigrated after World War II, the reaction is surprise and often outrage. How could they? How can they? The idea that people would voluntarily live among those who had murdered their families and robbed and abused them is inconceivable to others, particularly non-Jews and those who had emigrated under duress and with enormous sacrifices. The prevailing opinion is that Jews would only live in Germany because reparations of astronomic proportions were being paid to them or because they might be enjoying some other kind of extraordinary benefits, which compensate them for the unpalatable co-existence with their killers. Nobody seems to understand that most Post World War II Jews, particularly the Holocaust survivors, were emotionally too damaged to have been capable of any kind of coherent thought, not to speak of an ability to make sensible decisions about their lives. The Nazi persecution remained too much of an inescapable part of their daily existence. In addition they later suffered age-related impairments. Their descendents carry the multifaceted burden of their tragic legacy.
 
Today two types of Jews live in Germany: those who were displaced or happened to find themselves there by the end of World War II and who had stayed for lack of opportunity or ability to leave, and those who built careers because they were Jews, in the media and in politics by conveying an amicable co-existence with Germans and thereby contributing to the desired image of a New Germany in which Jews appear to be living as equals alongside their German neighbors. These Jews call themselves proud Germans of Jewish faith, for which they are officially rewarded by German institutions with honors, grand gestures and decorations, while privately old attitudes and prejudices continued to prevail among the German public. In other words: both Jews and non-Jews are engaged in a strange sort of masquerade.
 

In discussing this self-representation, which is surely one of the strangest Jewish/ German phenomena, with a German non-Jewish journalist in New York recently, she protested: "What do you mean? I know many Jews in Berlin who consider themselves utterly German."

Nobody seems to ponder, how and in what way Jews could possibly begin to imagine what it might feel like to be German, nor what kind of Germans specifically they think they are. But more importantly my colleague in New York didn't even realize that her objection exactly confirmed my observation. It was only when I replied: "But that exactly is my point, since you for instance still see these so-called Germans as Jews," that she fell silent and reproachfully so, as though I had deliberately trapped her.

 

My family, in any event, did not belong to this group, but rather to the first one, living a resolutely Jewish and pitifully deprived existence. We had little to do with the outside world and had only when absolutely necessary the most strained and uncomfortable exchanges with our German neighbors, who avoided us whenever they could. In the 50's when I was growing up, one lived with a leaden silence that hung heavy and mercilessly above us, creating tension and fear of what would happen if it ever broke open. There was also a kind of stench that permeated the environment, incorporating the smell of burning coal in the winter-time that periodically threatened to suffocate you.

By what means my parents lived I could not understand, though it was obvious to me that they didn't belong there and that they had endured something devastating beyond words that had ravaged their lives. This haunting mystery constantly preoccupied my mind and my imagination. I lived out my desperate lack of knowledge along with the sparse information I was able to extract from strange fantasies and terrible nightmares. My parents refused to talk about their painful past, which they must have felt too horrible for a child to know about. Of course, as we know today, that they simply lacked the language to communicate what they had endured. They felt, as most survivors, besmirched by what they had experienced and, contrary to today, nobody even wanted to know or hear anything about the Holocaust in Germany or any place else. The Germans kept silent for their own reasons.

I knew that there were these two groups living in this reeking ashen world: Germans and Jews. I also knew that our incredible sadness had something to do with them, that it was too devastating for my parents to talk about and that they, the Germans, pretended to have no clue as to what it had to do with them. There was an unwritten law that neither my parents, nor they could be asked about this disquieting circumstance. A horrible, huge thing that nobody wanted to talk about seemed to be stuck in everybody's throat like some kind of indigestible obstruction, which everybody maneuvered around uncomfortably, accusing each other with highly charged silence. Despite this bizarre choreography, however, it became quite clear even to me with time, that the Germans had done something indescribably horrendous to us and that our fault lay in getting on their nerves by confronting them with it by our mere existence.
 
I was somehow made to understand, that we were guests, and that if one was a guest, one had to swallow whatever one was served, and even feign appreciation
 
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