Magazine article The Spectator

The Jew Rifkind and a Dangerous Old Parsifal in a Hurry

Magazine article The Spectator

The Jew Rifkind and a Dangerous Old Parsifal in a Hurry

Article excerpt

The affair of the Jew Rikind' is disturbing but not for the reasons which have been advanced. It is not evidence of a revival of German anti-Semitism. As a matter of historical fact, the Germans, particularly the Prussians and the Rhinelanders, were not all that prone to anti-Semitism -- compared to the French, for example, or the Bavarians or, above all, the Austrians. The Jews were welladjusted to life in Germany, because they could identify so completely with its scholarly, pernickety culture. Nazi anti-Semitism was essentially an import from Austria. Not only Hitler himself but the infamous Eichmann, the exterminator-in-chief, and the head of the Gestapo, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, were Austrians. It is significant that, out of a total population of seven million, no less than 550,000 Austrians were members of the Nazi Party, and they played a role out of all proportion to their numbers in the Holocaust.

Austrians provided one third of the personnel of the SS extermination units, commanded four out of the six main deathcamps and killed almost half Hitler's Jewish victims. In the Netherlands, two Austrians, Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Hanns Rauter, directed the killing of the Jews, and in Yugoslavia, out of 5,090 war criminals, 2,499 were Austrian. I recall these details because there is a tendency to see the Holocaust as exclusively a German phenomenon. We ought also to remember that, whereas the Germans were properly de-Nazified (by us and the Americans), have paid vast sums in compensation and have taken all kinds of steps to eradicate any lingering vestiges of organised antiSemitism, Austria has gone through none of these processes, has paid virtually nothing in compensation and still harbours antiSemitism in its murky political entrails.

No, what worries me about the episode is what it tells us about German nationalism, the temper of the German elite today. There is no doubt that Malcolm Rifkind annoyed his German audience, not just by his Euroscepticism but by his suggestion that the Germans have not yet learned how to do things democratically. The chairman of the meeting, Jurgen Rufus, former ambassador here, was upset and, in his summing up, attempted a clumsy joke: `How curious that the Jewish Britisher should quote our German Protestant Luther!' This theme was taken up by the young lady reporter from the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a Harvard graduate called Michaelangela Wiegel, who comes from the new generation said to have `no hangups and no guilt' about the Holocaust.

On the Allgemeine, the former culture editor Marcel Reich-Ranicki, himself a Jewish survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, had laid it down that nervous genteelisms like referring to someone as `of Jewish extraction' were to be avoided. A man should be called `the Jew' if he was one. And that of course was the old German tradition. Thus Bismarck, praising Disraeli's conduct at the Berlin Conference, said: `Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann' (`The old Jew, he's the man!'). So Fraulein Wiegel comes out with `der Jude Rifkind'.

All that is understandable, once explained. What cannot be condoned is the sullen, almost defiant refusal either of the newspaper itself or of anyone else in authority in Germany to make a prompt, complete and ungrudging apology. It is as though the Germans were saying, quite openly, `We are not in the apologising mood any more. We have done all the apologising we are ever going to do, for our existence, our past, our so-called crimes. …

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