Jews in Germany after the Holocaust: Memory, Identity, and Jewish German Relations, by Lynn Rapaport

Article excerpt

Jews in Germany after the Holocaust: Memory, Identity, and Jewish German Relations, by Lynn Rapaport

A few years back I received a DAAD grant to do research in Germany. I told an older colleague the news and his reaction surprised me. He said that I could take such a grant, I was young enough, but he couldn't take money from Germans or spend a year in Germany. The reason for the difference in our attitudes was the Holocaust. For him, it was an event of first-hand experience, whereas for me it was inevitably history.

This story is relevant, since the difference in attitudes of two generations frames the subject of this book, which focuses its attention on the views of Germany, Germans, and Jewry in Germany of second-generation Jews, i.e., children of survivors. From interviews carried out by Ms. Rapaport, we find a similar pattern. The parents, who experienced the Holocaust and are now in their sixties and seventies, have a more restrictive conception of relations between Jews and Germans. They do not want their children to socialize with Germans, preferring their children to take Jewish spouses and bring up Jewish children. Nevertheless, the majority of young adult Jews living in Germany have friendships with Germans and interact with them extensively, often intermarrying.

Despite the dramatic title, which evokes stirrings of anxiety and consternation -- Jews, Germany, Holocaust -- the issues brought up here are actually mundane. One reads the testimony of a man who wonders if he got good grades in school because he was a Jew (p. 114), a man who bickers with his parents over going out with non-Jewish girls (p. 210), and a woman who feels embarrassed about her Jewishness in front of strangers (p. 181).

The narrative gets a wee bit racier with the statement of a Jewish man who found out his girlfriend's father was in the SS, and the viewpoint of a Jewish girl who prefers non-Jewish guys for sex (p. 229). Outside of these unusual testimonies, the vast majority tell a repetitive story: parents do not approve of socializing with non-Jews; young Jews, despite their successful entrance into German life, harbor feelings of alienation, feel uncomfortable with German citizenship, and desire Jewish spouses.

The rigor of the author -- interviews with 84 individuals in 1984 and reinterviewing in 1994 -- is praiseworthy. Although she apparently tried to elicit controversial subjects, again and again the interviewees return to issues from their daily life. Thus, instead of a problematic, dangerous, and diseased society in which neo-Nazis run amok or Germans humiliate their Jewish neighbors, we see a sanguine picture of normality. We are introduced to very nice people facing the uneventful problems of living as a national minority in a very rich but ethnically homogenized land. Furthermore, this book seems to show that the denazification of West Germany (the interviewees are from Frankfurt) enjoyed success; most of the stories about German colleagues and friends reflect positive values -- condemnation of German aggression, guilt for the Holocaust, and a healthy tolerance of Jews. …