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Tuvia Tenenbom, Artistic Director
The Jewish Theater of New York

 
I SLEEP IN HITLER'S ROOM: U.S. JEWISH AUTHOR DISCOVERS ALARMING AMOUNT OF ANTI-SEMITISM STILL EXISTS IN GERMANY

By Rhonda Spivak, Sept 2, 2012

In his book, ‘I Sleep in Hitler's Room: An American Jew Visits Germany’, Tuvia Tenenbom writes a candid expose about his six months of travel throughout Germany.
 
I don't have a lot of time to read books but Tuvia Tenenbom 's Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany. almost read itself to me-I couldn't put it down. It is such a compelling read, darkly funny and a real eye opener.
 
After spending six months traveling throughout Germany and visiting close to 40 cities, Tenenbom, shares his sobering impressions of the anti-Semitism that he finds still exists there today. Although the subject matter is very serious, Tenenbaum has the gift of being able to write it with biting humour, and rare wit.
 
To begin with the book’s back story, as Tenenbom relates it in his preface is quite a story in itself . Tenenbom who recorded his observations during his travels, taping his interviews, had a contract with the major German publisher Rowohlt, which accepted the completed manuscript and planned to bring the book out in April 2011. But then the head of Rowohlt demanded a bunch of cuts and changes–ones that would have significantly diluted Tenenbom’s bald findings about German anti-Semitism. Tenenbom, to his credit, completely refused.
 
“Germans are a tribe, I was told,” explains Tenenbom in the book's preface, “and the tribe will protect itself. This is something I am not used to. Walk into any American bookstore and you will find quite a number of books that are fiercely anti-American. … But Germany … is not America.” An unpleasant struggle ensued, confirming for Tenenbom that German “hate for the Jew then, and the hate of the Jew today … is the same exact hate.”
 
The book has appeared under the imprint of the Jewish Theater of New York, of which Tenenbom is the founder and artistic director.
 
The book details Tenenbom’s travels, as he interviews German locals, as he interviews locals and finds that the majority of Germans, knowingly or subconsciously, still harbor anti-Semitic views--he even finds neo-Nazi clubs that deny the Holocaust and advocate the killing of all Jews today. In encounter after encounter, planned and spontaneous, traces of anti-Semitism appear as ingrained in the landscape and its people. The antisemitism is more evident in smaller towns and rural areas, but also in larger, urban areas as well. Many of the people Tenenbom spoke with did not realize that Tenenbom is Jewish.
 
Tenenbom writes of his meeting with a man named Frank:
 
Let's hope, says Frank, that "the Nigger American president takes care of the Jews of Israel, who steal the water from the Palestinians, and stops those Jews once and for all."
 
He likes to sing sometimes. He sings for me a little song, a romantic tune. Let me share it with you: "We have crematoriums, and in each crematorium there's a little Jew . . ."
 
He smiles as he sings it. He has a good voice, by the way.
 
And I think: Probably that's how my family was led to death. With a song and a smile.
 
In a chapter entitled, “From the Entertainment Center of Buchenwald Concentration Camp to a Demonstration Against Israel”, Tenenbom relates a conversation he had with a German actor:
 
“What we did to the Jews in World War II is horrible, those Jews were very nice and we should have never sent them to Auschwitz. But the Jews today? All of you, to Auschwitz!”
 
“I smile. I don’t know if that actor meant it as a joke or if he was serious. But I laughed."
 
During his travels, Germans keep telling Tenenbaum that there’s more anti-Semitism in the U.S. than in Germany. This is the case, they say, because there are more Jews in the U.S. It is a given to them, that if there are more Jews in the U.S, there must be more Jew-hate. 
 
Tellingly,Tenenbaum meets secondary-school students who complain that their teachers don’t tell them much about the Nazi era: “Just numbers and dates. They don’t go into depth. They don’t tell us what really happened. We want to know more.”
 
Tenenbaum finds that he can't get away from the Jewish issue, because the Germans remain obsessed with the Jews. In one encounter, he meets an Iranian woman who fled the Khomeini revolution for Germany, who commiserates with him.
 
"With the financial crisis going on in the world, she asks me, 'What will happen to the Jews?'" Should something special happen to the Jews? I ask her.
 
"Now the Jews will be blamed," she says.
 
The Jews? Why the Jews?
 
She looks at me as if I were totally retarded. "They are the financiers!" she says.
 
Jews, again. Almost every day.
 
I never felt so Jewish in my life as I feel here, in this Germany.
 
I came to Germany to find the Germans, but what happens is that they find me."
 
In an interview with Ha'aretz about the book, Tenenbom spoke of how he was affected by his travels , “After months of hearing so many bad things about Jews - thieves by nature, murderers by nature, and liars by habit etcetera - I started feeling bad for myself being Jewish. I felt "dirty," and I wanted so much to be "clean." It was a horrible feeling.”
 
When visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, Tenenbom meets an “average” couple who live in the town and is invited to lunch at their home. The man is a Born Again Christian. He asks them about Dachau’s past.  At first they profess indifference. But with his questioning, he eventually breaks them down: 
 
Jürgen's eyes get wet. He breaks. The confident man that I met only half an hour ago is now a broken man whose parts lay naked in the backyard of his house.
"I look into the mirror and I don't want to see it."
Why?
"It's not a nice picture."
Give me a better answer.
"It's going to be me, staring at me from that mirror. And I don't want to see it!"
Those people are you?
"Yes."
Them?
"Yes."
They are you?
"Yes."
The Nazis.
"Yes."
 
It's hard to look at his face now, he looks like a criminal caught red-handed. His wife, Barbara, hugs me tight. Why is she hugging me? She should hug her husband! "Sorry," she says, "sorry. Sorry for what we did to your people. Sorry."
 
 As to the purpose of writing his psychological travelogue Tenenbom told Ha'aretz, " “My purpose here is not to shame the Germans, nor the Europeans for that matter, but put a mirror to the people,” said Tenenbom. “It is my hope that when they look at this mirror they will realize how far in hate they have gone and will step back and correct their fault.”
 
REACTION TO TENENBOM'S BOOK IN GERMANY
 
The German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), published a very negative article about Tenenbom, referring to him as "The Jew Tenenbom", which led the Jewish theatre of New York to send a press release to German media, entitled "Time to End Covert Anti-Semitism in the Elite German Media", and to release all of Tenenbom's correspondence with SZ. (To give you a flavour of the correspondence, Tenenbom writes to SZ "To start with, I really don't like to be called "The Jew." I find it offensive and belittling.")
 
For Immediate Release
 
* Release intended for German media *       
 
Contact: The Jewish Theater of New York +212.494.0050 • [email protected]  • www.JewishTheater.org  
 
Time to End Covert Anti-Semitism in the Elite German Media       
 
Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), one of Germany’s most powerful papers, is bullying our Artistic Director – “The Jew Tenenbom,” as they call him ("Jud Süss") – Tuvia Tenenbom. In response, The Jewish Theater of New York makes public all communications between Tuvia and SZ.
 
In a seeming attempt to forestall the German publication of Tuvia Tenenbom’s I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany, a book that exposes the alarming prevalence of anti-Semitism in today’s Germany, SZ resorts to slander, lies, false accusations, and even bullying, in its ugly smear campaign against Tuvia, his book, and in turn this Theater, the publisher of I Sleep in Hitler’s Room. In the process, and without shame, SZ also resorts to calling Jews "weirdoes" -- for which we are thankful to the Jewish-German paper, Jüdische Allgemeine, for pointing this out and crowning it: "Quote of the Week."
 
I Sleep in Hitler’s Room, based on Tuvia's months-long travel in Germany, documents the simmering – conscious and subconscious – anti-Semitism in much of German landscape. The book includes interviews with German luminaries, such as Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, top editors, artists, politicians, business and culture leaders, high school pupils and university students, born-again's and heroin addicts, professors and criminals, and many in-betweens.     
 
In no way does this book attempt to point a finger at Germany or German citizens and single them out of all nations; the reality might be that similar results would be found in other countries. What the book does – in addition to its being splendidly funny and humorous, despite the heavy issues it covers and uncovers – is reflecting a mirror to a society and calling THEM to action, to cure THEIR nation of the cancer within.       
 
The initial publication of the book in Germany was censored, after the top person at the major German publishing company of Rowohlt, Mr. Alexander Fest, overruled his own editor who warmly embraced the book, and vehemently objected to many details therein. Those included the exposure of neo-Nazi clubs, such as Club 88 (88=HH=Heil Hitler), or to interviews where people uttered statements such as, “The Israelis are Nazis.” This was not enough. Verbal abuse was a staple in his dealings with Tuvia, as he and his cadre of underlings seemed to cherish every opportunity to get ugly and, at times, descend to anti-Semitism. At one point Tuvia was told that he was a “Jewish hysteric,” like the “patron saint of all of them, Woody Allen.”
 
"Them" being the Jews. And they are all “hysteric.” (Details of this story are in the Preface to I Sleep in Hitler's Room.)
 
SZ, for its part, finds nothing wrong with such a comment and description (see in body of emails, links provided below)
       
After the book’s censorship by Rowohlt, The Jewish Theater of New York went on to publish the book, winning glorified reviews (samples HERE). A theatrical version of the book was staged in NY this year, visited by German politicians and intellectuals who eagerly participated in a lively Q&A follow-up, and a full-scale production is scheduled for early next year.     
 
In the meantime another German publisher, Suhrkamp, signed on to the project. But as of date, we do not know when exactly this book will actually be published in Germany.       
 
The article in SZ seems tailored to instill doubt in the book’s findings and its assertions, and in Tuvia as well. In this assassination of character, SZ resorts to selective quoting, enumerating inaccurate facts, advertising fallacies, and slandering the book before it can reach German bookstores – which is obviously much worse than the mere book burnings in Germany of last century.        
 
Tuvia tried to reach out to SZ, requesting that he be given the opportunity to respond to his accuser. Following back-and-forth emails, SZ is now hiding behind lawyers, refusing to allow Tuvia to respond. And it does not end here: they also try to arm-twist Tuvia into not making public his attempt to clear his name in the only way now possible: Make all communications public.        
 
In response to this assault, the JTNY is making said communications public, without any edit. We apologize for some typos, as at times it occurs in email correspondences, and for deleting the private email address/telephone number of the article’s author.
 
We certainly hope that, as befits a democracy, you will share the info linked below with your German readers. By making this public, we undoubtedly take the risk that some journalists will kowtow to the ‘big guys’ of SZ. Yet we strongly believe that there exist in Germany many honest and decent journalists, who care deeply about their country and about truth, and we hope that this Release reaches them.
 
The Jewish Theater of New York will be glad to answer any question from the German media.
 
Please call +212.494.0050 or write [email protected]  
 
***       
In the link provided below you will find the emails, in chronological order, between Tuvia Tenenbom, Artistic Director, The Jewish Theater of New York, and Andrian Kreye, Feuilletonchef, Süddeutsche Zeitung. The communications between Tuvia and Malte Herwig, the author of said article, follows.  SZ original article (in German) can be found at end of file. This Release is intended for the German media.
 
LINK to docs, or download PDF version.
 
 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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