Yascha Mounk, a young man, German and a Jew writes of a time when he was with friends enjoying a festive beer toasting, drinking Munich Oktoberfest. He was the only Jew. A young woman in his party got angry because Hans, one of the festive group told her to “knock it off” — she was in the process of telling a Jew joke. The following is from Yascha Mounk’s recent article in the New York Times.
Stephanie, a petite woman in her late 30s, was trying to make a joke. “How do you fit 200 Jews into a Volkswagen Beetle?” she asked.
“Knock it off,” said Hans, a big-boned, folksy friend of mine. “This is not appropriate.”
“Why should I?” Stephanie shot back. “Because you tell me to shut up? Because they tell me to shut up? Come on, it’s just a joke!”
“I doubt it’ll be funny,” Hans said.
“Not funny? Have a sense of humor! Why can’t a joke about the Jews be funny? It’s 2006. The Holocaust happened 60 years ago. We should tell jokes about the Jews again!”
“Look,” Hans said, “you know as well as I do that Germans have a special responsibility to be sensi — ”
“A special responsibility? I’m not even 40! No, no. I won’t stay silent any longer. Here’s how you fit them in. You gas them. You incinerate them. You stuff them in the ashtray. That’s how you do it.”
I came to know of this article from Julie Rosenberg’s blog “Googling The Holocaust.” Julie was quite upset. Portion of Julie Rosenberg’s blog reads …
… There was that word “again” again. Read the third paragraph from the bottom of the anecdote and you’ll see it. The line reads, “We should tell jokes about the Jews again!”
What the f*ck!?!?! It will always be too soon to tell jokes about the Jews. Especially Holocaust jokes. Who in their right mind could think a Holocaust joke is in any way humorous? Just cut it out you ignorant joke-telling people. Those jokes are far from funny …
Julie Rosenberg went right to the heart of the hatred; she nailed the pulse of anti-Semitism, its lives on, the operative, conspicuous word … “AGAIN”
Are both Julie and I over reacting to “AGAIN” — carrying its implication too far? Hey, it’s only gallows humor, right? Wrong. This is: this is gallows humor from the mouth/mind of Woody Allen; his take on Richard Wagner … “I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.” Woody Allen on death … ”I don’t mind death, it’s the hours.”
It’s a Jews specialty; bagels, smoke fish and humor, gallows and otherwise. As for most Germans, humor is not their thing, especially gallows humor; they need to wait a couple of hundred years, then give it a try. Holocaust jokes are beyond the pale, not funny, nothing funny in any way about incinerating Jews to ashes. And to note: gallows humor is typically made by or about the victim of such a situation — not the perpetrator of it or for that matter their future generations whose hands are clean but thoughts rage anger against the guilt and the reason for the guilt, the Jews. Back off Jews. Back off guilt. Hate, front and center.………………..
Julie Rosenberg wondered how Yascha Mounk responded to Stephanie when confronted with the Jew Joke. Me to. I read his book, Stranger In My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany. There he describes in greater content the Jew joke incident. We don’t get Yascha Mounk’s reply. We get his analysis, his take on it her.
Yascha Mounk writes explaining Stephanie’s behavior.
Stephanie’s joke was anti-Semitic. But, even as her bad taste and provocative demeanor repelled me, I realized that her reasons for telling it were not anti-Semitic, at lest not in the straightforward sense. Stephanie does not hate Jews as such. Rather she hates the standard conceptions of what Jews, and her country’s past should mean to her. In this sense, Stephanie is not just another neo-Nazi. She is part of a fast spreading movement.
Listen up Yascha Mounk; your friend, acquaintance, what ever you call Stephanie she is clearly an anti-Semite, a straightforward, no holds barred anti-Semite, nothing complicated or layered about it. Stephanie doesn’t hate a “standard conception” of a Jew, she hates Jews.
Stephanie wouldn’t have told her Jew joke if you, Yascha Mounk, the only Jew present wasn’t there to draw blood from. If the likes of Hitler ever took reign of Germany again the likes of Stephanie would be a recruit. Anti-Semitism seems to fester within; it waits for a joke, a nod, a cause, excuse, proclamation so it may surface to find expression – “Again.” It always seem to be an easy sell — at least for the last 2000 years.
The German language is stunning, mesmerizing, mind-blogging, chunky, substantial like a bratwurst, far-reaching with the jabbing thuds of a boxer’s punch. Some one – no one seems to knows who – joined 2 words together creating a humongous lengthy powerful word, audibly and in meaning. 25 characters in weight meant to help guide Germany from the Third Reich into the present on into the future. Vergangenheitsbewältigung: describes processes of dealing with the past, the struggle to come to terms with the past. A tough German word to live up to, not easy to apply.
Yascha Mounk describes the young Germans of today as fed up with Holocaust memorabilia; they want to move beyond the “philo-Semitism” of their elders. Yascha Mounk uses philo-Semitsm to describe Germans who are moved by guilt, social pressure, political correctness, compelled to go thru the motions, be especially nice, make nice to the Jews, overly polite, hyped enthusiasm for all things Jewish such as Klezmer and Yiddish.
Actually the word philo-Semitism offers a history and meaning carrying a more nasty virulent interpretation.
In fact, “philo-Semitism” was invented as a term of abuse, applied by anti-Semites to those who opposed them. … “philo-Semite” was the equivalent of a word like “nigger-lover” in the United States, meant to suggest that anyone who took the part of a despised minority was odious and perverse ….
… selected from a review of Philo-Semitism in History edited by Adam Sutcliffe and Jonathan Karp
Yascha Mounk tells us that many young Germans believe they have been inundated and persecuted with the slaughter of 6 million Jews for much too long; they now want to blot it from memory and public discourse; 60 years of penance — they’ve paid their dues.
Well … for those Germans who had to suffer thru their perceived, persistent persecution for crimes of the Third Reich I suggest the following antidote.
Suffer this; we take away all your possessions, furniture, photographs, family keepsakes, all of your cloths, clutching your six month old baby we stuff you, your family, neighbors into a cattle car shoulder to shoulder jammed tight one against the other, you can barely find space to sit, 3 days in the cattle car with no food, no water, it’s below zero you’re freezing, you defecates and urinate in place, the car reeks from the smell of feces and urine, old men and old women collapse and die, after 3 days we herd all of you out of the car, we take you, your baby, your young nephews, nieces, your grandparents, we have you strip naked, march you into the gas chamber where you will all share your terror, agony and last breath; we toss your bodies into an incinerator, burn you to oblivion, you, your family never happened, never existed, erased. You up for this?
All right, now that I got that out of my system I want to know. Do the citizens of Germany have a case; are they pilloried with the Holocaust as much as they say, as much as they feel they are? Have many, any German citizen experienced Vergangenheitsbewältigung — have they come to terms with the past or are struggling to? I would never have asked these questions if not for Yasch Mounk’s book Stranger In My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany. Never gave much thought about Germany’s post Holocaust experience.
… an interview
The interviewee, Lars Rensmann, a German educator who teaches political science at the University of Munich and at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam.
Interviewer: The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II was commemorated a few weeks ago. And in conjunction with that event, a poll was conducted on German history, and it indicated that one young German in two does not know what the Holocaust was. The poll was conducted by the independent research institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for public broadcaster ZDF and the newspaper Die Welt. Do you think this statistic is connected to your earlier point about the limited amount of time given to teaching history?
Lars Rensmann: Yes. It’s definitely the case that there’s insufficient history teaching and insufficient knowledge about the Holocaust among young generational cohorts, and this does not just affect uneducated adolescents. Political efforts need to increase to change this. It needs to be taught in schools way more thoroughly. It’s a shame that such a high amount of young Germans don’t know what Auschwitz or the Holocaust was, in spite of all the lament about an “over-representation” of Auschwitz in the German media and schools. Those data are alarming. It finally needs to become an important, if not central part of education, just like other subjects. Increased efforts in teaching about prejudice, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust are overdue.
YASCHA MOUNK WRITES
…. In the context of the postwar years, the argument that Germans were victimized by some kind of draconian form of collective punishment rang particularly hollow. After all, most Germans did not even want those compatriots of theirs who had actually, personally, committed horrible war crimes to be punished. Many among them refused to acknowledge that the Third Reich, itself had done anything particularly wrong.
YASCHA MOUNK WRITES
Fifteen whole years after the war, the reception afforded Marlene Dietrich when she first returned to Germany shows how little sympathy most Germans had for those compatriots of theirs who had chosen to fight against the Nazis. Dietrich, perhaps the most famous actress of the twentieth century, had fled the Third Reich and even – the audacity – donned an American uniform in appearances for the US troops during the war. When she briefly returned to her hometown, Berlin, in 1960, angry crowds protested her concert, one spectator egged her while she was on stage, and another spit at her. They all agreed with the slurs they had read in the local newspaper then. Dietrich was, quite simply, a traitor in her own country.
Ursula Duba is a German-American writer, the author of Tales From A Child of the Enemy (Penguin 1997) and a non-Jew who believes that anti-Semitism is a problem that non-Jews have to expose and eradicate. She has researched and written about anti-Semitism and German-Jewish relations for 15 years. This excerpt is from her October 2004 lecture at Pennsylvania State University.
And yet, despite all the efforts made, despite all the good intentions, despite the genuine desire to do good, 59 years and four generations later, the legacy of the Hitler regime still haunts us, causing many of us Germans to feel frustrated or even angry at anybody who mentions the Holocaust.
As I mentioned at the beginning, despite all the effort made, it seems to be difficult for us Germans to accept that we are imperfect human beings like everybody else and that we did, in fact, give in to the darkest forces within ourselves. Could it be that the concept of the master race still inhabits part of our psyche and that the acknowledgement of our very human shortcomings is not considered acceptable within contemporary German society?
A summary of the views of Jens Pieper, the 24 year-old editor of Nobody Asked Us, a recent book written by a group of young “third generation” Germans who are students at Humboldt University. It represents this third generation’s thinking on how the Holocaust should be confronted and remembered and why they have declared their distance from how their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have dealt with the Holocaust. This summary was written by Peter Rigny, associate producer of this FRONTLINE film, “A Jew Among the Germans.” It is drawn from Rigny’s discussions with Jens Pieper.
The second generation of Germans has not overcome the taboo of talking about the Holocaust, despite the ’68 student movement and its rightful attacks on former Nazis still in high positions in the German federal government. This holds a great danger for the future.
If it is still taboo to talk about the meaning of the Holocaust, its central importance to German and human society cannot be conveyed to future generations which will no longer have direct contact with eyewitnesses to the Holocaust.
Our generation should do what the former generation failed to do: to tackle the Holocaust on a personal, emotional basis, to allow on an individual level the sentiments of moral responsibility for the crimes committed in the name of the Third Reich, even though none of us (the generation of our parents and our generation) has committed any of these crimes.
We are sufficiently informed about the facts of the Holocaust, but we are critical of our schoolteachers (as primary “informers”) for failing to convey to us (or perhaps they were psychologically unable to do so) the level of meaning of the Holocaust that could be of use today and in the future when direct contact with eyewitnesses will no longer be possible.
The second generation of Germans, our parents, pass on to us their message about the Holocaust in an imposing manner, i.e. without allowing any questions or responses or criticism from their children. They want to cement the message as it is seen by them, and in this way they declare us dependent, minor, underage. And yet “they” expect us to actively come to our own understanding about the Holocaust. This is self-contradictory, we say.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It consists of a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 7 ft 10 in long, 3 ft 1 in wide and vary in height from 7.9 in to 15 ft 9.0 in.
An attached underground “Place of Information” holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.
Building began on April 1, 2003 and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later.