Long before the Holocaust, or the Shoah as many prefer to call the Nazi genocide, Anti-Semitism emerged in what was then called the German states and manifested itself in church depictions. Close to my South-German hometown of Erfelden, along the river Rhine and not too far from the concentration camp immortalised in Spencer Tracy’s “The Seventh Cross”, lies the picturesque mediaeval town of Bacharach where I partly grew up. There, the Wernerkapelle showed depictions of the “Judensau” [a perfidious merger of “Jew” and “swine”]. They were put up in the year 1290. Anti-Semitism has a long tradition in Germany; it did not come with the Nazis nor did it vanish in 1945.
Perhaps Auschwitz survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was right on the mark when – during the recent Holocaust remembrance in Germany’s parliament – she noted that Anti-Semitism is a 2,000-year-old virus, apparently incurable. Anti-Semitism isn’t particularly German. What is German, however, is Auschwitz. Without Anti-Semitism and without the Germans, there would be no Auschwitz. This is the singularity – not necessarily the banality – of evil.
Much of today’s Anti-Semitism is no longer mythical. It is genuinely modern. Modern Anti-Semitism is shaped by the conceptualization of the collective Jew. Contemporary German Anti-Semitism can be shown through a linguistic and cognitive textual analysis of the thousands of e-mails, letters, postcards, and faxes sent from all regions of Germany by all sorts of individuals to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli Embassy in Berlin. Based on more than 14,000 Anti-Semitism writings, this articles reports on the findings of the authors of the study. Based on their empirical and interpretive work, a picture of Germanys Anti-Semitism emerges in the form of mental violence that uses language as a weapon to express discriminatory and insulting attitudes and distort reality. As such, verbal violence is a destructive form through which power is exercised, often describing Jews as parasites, a nest of rats, or subhumans which means categorizing them as less than human and devaluing them as human beings. Still today, the dehumanization of Jews remains a vital component of Anti-Semitism. Indeed, Jews are dehumanized (Jewish swine, parasites), demonized (monsters, ogres, devil’s brood), delegitimized (worthless, noxious vermin, Final Solution of the Jewish question), and therefore localized as “nonhuman beings” outside the world order.
Overall, verbal Anti-Semitism take numerous forms, among them invective, Holocaust denial, threats of violence, comparisons to the Nazis, innuendo, and allusions expressed by means of rhetorical questions, quotations, and the like. This defines Anti-Semitism which as a term was first employed in 1879 by the journalist Wilhelm Marr to classify a rejection of Jews. It was re-employed? by Adolf Hitler in a 1920 speech on “Why We Are Antisemites”. Much of this did not end in 1945 with the denazification of Germany but lives on in Neo-Nazi internet platforms such as thiazi.net and in the 14,000 Anti-Semitic writings that were examined. But it also lives on in the mainstream of German society when, for example, TV-reporters speak of the “inner Reichs-Parteitag”, when novelist Martin Walser gives an unsavory speech, when Möllemann abuses Friedman, when former Waffen-SS member and Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass believes certain things “must be said”, and when a new Nazi Party enters the German parliament in 2017.
By the early 2000s, the public debates had resulted in a shift in the areas that were considered taboo; now Anti-Semitic utterances encounter less and less resistance and are regarded as “normal”. This is what Canadian academic Henry A. Giroux recently called “mainstreaming fascism”. In Germany, fascism and Nazi talk have become increasingly mainstream. It reaches very far beyond simple stereotypes which the author define as preformed opinion about social groups. Stereotypes are mental compartments, e.g. all teenagers like social media. Meanwhile prejudices always carry a negative judgment. Indeed, Anti-Semitism compartmentalizes as Anti-Semites order the world’s confusing aspects clearly and rigidly, without any doubt as to the correctness of their beliefs, into an internally coherent system.
When Anti-Semitism speaks of Germans and Jews, for example, it orders the world into an in-group and an out-group or “them-vs.-us”. In other words, Jews are not like us, they are different and they are excluded from the we-group of Germans. The idea that they are different often means race in this context. It is the belief in the existence of a Jewish race that is genetically determined – Jews display certain unchanging physical, mental, and spiritual traits [and this] is inextricably coupled with the concept of the “eternal Jew”. Unlike ethnicity (socially and culturally determined), race and racism believes in unalterable defining elements (the body). Genetically speaking and in terms of evolution, this is total humbug. Still, Anti-Semitism believes in an allegedly omnipotent Jewish power, seamlessly leading to a worldwide Jewish conspiracy believed to be “USrael” – as an inseparable symbiosis of the United States and Israel. Beyond that, Anti-Semitism hardly ever distinguishes between the state of Israel, its military and political parties, and Jews living in Germany. For the Anti-Semite, they are all the same. All goes in into one box labelled Anti-Semitism.
Present-day German Anti-Semitism equalizes Jewish life in Germany with the Middle East. The Middle East conflict thus functions only as a catalyst for global Anti-Semitic resentment. This even leads to a reversal of perpetrators and victims, often found in accusations such as Israel is operating a new Holocaust on Palestinians. In fact, the state of Israel often occupies a central position, hardly a single message in the entire large corpus fails to refer to Israel and to make this reference the pretext for defamatory and delegitimizing hostile comments.
Not surprisingly, Israel -which is the most important symbol of Jewish life and survival- constitutes an immense provocation to Anti-Semites. Many emails are accompanied by a demand to eliminate the state of Israel. This view is not unique to the letter and email writers who were examined. Indeed, 65 per cent of those surveyed in Germany in 2003 saw Israel as the greatest danger to world peace. While the overwhelming number of letters and emails show clear Anti-Semitism, the authors also found positive notes with valid criticism based on reality and oriented towards the establishment of truth and problem solving.
The prime example is an e-mail written by a couple from Bad Driburg: “This morning my wife and I heard on West German Radio 5 about the use of 4 million cluster bombs during the Lebanon conflict by your country during the past year. It became clear that they are still injuring people and will continue to do so for an indeterminate time. We are amazed and disturbed that Israel is refusing to give the drop coordinates to the mine clearers working there. We implore your Excellency to use your influence, to urge your government to release the information”.
That facts provide the basis for the criticism of Israel’s behavior remains rare. More often than not, the three Ds…demonization (semantic devaluation), delegitimization (denying Israel’s right to exist), and double standard (applying a special standard to Israel) are wheeled out. One might like to add dehumanization as it is a vital component that made Auschwitz possible. Again, in 2017, we read that current Neo-Nazis seek to build a new railway from Berlin to Auschwitz. Nonetheless, the authors note that dehumanization always entails demonization. One might argue that dehumanization and demonization are not the same things. Perhaps the three Ds should be four Ds and include dehumanization.
Apart from dehumanization, delegitimization is a common Anti-Semitic strategy and here one meets an unusual peculiarity. It raises an interesting question, namely why is Israel the only country on earth for which an “ism” has been developed (no anti-Chinaism, no anti-Koreanism, no anti-Sudanism) that has assumed massive proportions? One possible answer may lie in Anti-Semitism as understood by Götz Aly. Current German Anti-Semitism even returns to an old Nazi slogan – “Kauft nicht bei Juden”. It is wheeled out as: Germans, don’t buy fruit from Israel. This is accompanied by a distinct missionary fervor on the part of anti-Israeli activists often resulting in the combination of “Israhell” and “USrael”.
Much of this is not exclusively German. Examining 1,002 emails and letters sent to the Israeli embassies in Vienna, Berne, The Hague, Madrid, Brussels, London, Dublin, and Stockholm, similar features turned up. Anti-Semitism is in no way restricted to Germany and the Germans. What is new in examining Anti-Semitic letters and emails, however, is the authors’ inclusion of an analysis of emotions when examining Anti-Semitism.
These Anti-Semitic emotions may well be shaped by three fundamental parameters: valence (positive or negative emotion), duration (the time an emotional state lasts), and intensity. These manifest themselves in, for example, the hate, along with fury that occurs most frequently in the messages and the feeling of hate, which signifies a powerful revulsion to a person or group. It is also shown in the fact that more than 90 per cent of the e-mails referring to Israel contained inflammatory verbal forms of evaluation and devaluation.
Forms of hate are often expressed through verbal violence which takes on four basic forms: animal designations such as swine, rat, vulture, and brute; pseudo-religious terms: devil, Satan, anti-Christ, end, demon, and monster; abusive terms: bones, manure, filth, mess, tumor, boil, and shit; and inferiority: idiot, freak, dummy, cripple, brain amputee, pervert, hypocrite, liar, criminal, and murderer.
At times, much of this is a demanding read even for a seasoned reviewer when one has to read through things like “Sieg Heil! SUBHUMAN RIFFRAFF! [and] Farewell, Jew, Zyclon B won’t hurt you”. Such threats always include notices of possible negative consequences if that which the producer demands is ignored. While “Sieg Heil” and “Zyclon B” messages are outright Nazi symbolism, others are reminiscent of what Jean Améry once called Anti-Semitism of the reputable. Indeed, there is a difference between both. Right-wing extremists prefer to degrade Israel with terms such as cancerous growth, cripple state, thalidomide monster, murder machine, freak, monster state, and nest of terrorists. Educated and left-wing liberal correspondents delegitimize Israel by means of lexemes such as unjust state, apartheid regime/ state, Zionist anachronism, and colonialist throwback.
On the whole, however three versions of argumentation can be distinguished: factual arguments – verified through historical knowledge, documents, resolutions, etc. and tested for truthfulness e.g., X resolutions against Israel were proposed in the UN); conceptual arguments – plausibility arguments… rest solely on beliefs and assumptions to be valid (e.g., Common sense dictates that… or no one will want to support this/an immoral state); and pseudo-arguments used for strategic purposes, e.g. opinions are presented as facts, as in everyone agrees that Israel is an apartheid state.
Extremely common is the line, “I am no Nazi! But…” known from similar statements, “I am not a racist, but…”, I am not sexist, but…”. This is more often than not followed with exactly what it claims not to be. What remains striking is that the messages from extreme groups on the fringes of German society do not constitute the bulk of the corpus. Rather, it is primarily people from the social mainstream who are motivated to communicate their views to the Central Council or the Embassy.
Based on reading through pages of pages of horrendous statements, Anti-Semitism appears to be deeply engraved into the mind of many Germans. Jews, Israel, the Israeli embassy, the Central Council of Jews, the Israeli military, the right and the left in Israel, those who govern and those in opposition are all seen as one: the Jewish race. This is part of an almost zealous mission to tell Jews what is right and wrong and what they should do. It comes with a total disregard of Germany’s own history. There seems not a shred of reflection on what Germans – in the name of Germany – have done to Jews not so long ago. There is no moment of pause, of remembrance, no moment of contemplation or restraint. Furnished, if not permitted, by their Günter Grass’ “what must be said” the Anti-Semitic mouth opens.
Perhaps Auschwitz survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was correctly saying that Anti-Semitism is a 2,000-year-old virus, apparently incurable. Her words come at a time when a new Nazi party is on the rise in Germany and recently entered parliament. Behind the party’s camouflage of Euro-skepticism and anti-refugee sentiments lurks rampant Anti-Semitism. With this new party, nothing but the mainstreaming of fascism is occurring.
Much of this gives a factual indication that Anti-Semitism is alive and well – even in the much acclaimed political center. While all this is factual, interpretive and truly depressing, one should take this as an encouragement to fight Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Fascism. I am often impressed with the positive outlook almost all Holocaust survivors have. Preventing the Holocaust appears to mean a constant battle against Anti-Semitism. In the end, one might allude to the words of French/American documentary filmmaker and Holocaust child survivor Pierre Sauvage providing a far-reaching memorable caution: …if we remember solely the horror of the Holocaust, we will pass on no perspective from which meaningfully to confront and learn from that horror…if the hard and fast evidence of the possibility of good on Earth is allowed to slip through our fingers and turn to dust, the future generations will have only dust to build on.
Monika Schwarz-Friesel and Jehuda Reinharz’s book Inside the Antisemitic Mind: The Language of Jew-Hatred in Contemporary Germany is published Brandeis University Press.