Amid the tragic, anti-Semitic events in Paris and all over Europe and Israel, I also see examples of something else, for which I have coined the term, “anti-anti-Semitism.” A recent example was the declaration by the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, that “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Without Jews, France will lose Jewish creativity, intellectual productivity, arts and advances in all fields of endeavor. Even more recent was the historic step Canada took on January 28, 2015 in signing the Ottawa Protocol to Combat Anti-Semitism.
We know the attack in France at both Charlie Hebdo was driven by anti-Semitism because the only woman at Charlie Hebdo singled out for death, while the other women were spared, was the Jewish columnist, Elsa Cayat. We salute her courage and mourn her death.
Yet, if we focus on anti-anti-Semitism, not just on hate and terrorism, we may discover people we can work with to improve the situation of Jews in Europe.
This topic should be of universal interest because in the last 70 years or so, we have learned some unexpected lessons. First, although “never again” may be a good rallying phrase, it does not describe what has occurred since 1945. Genocide has happened over and over again. A better slogan is “never forget.”
Second, people thought that after the bloodbath of the Holocaust and the complete defeat of Germany and its allies, anti-Semitism would be over. But, they were wrong. Research done at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute by Dr. Joanna Michlic shows that for countries behind the Iron Curtain, the Holocaust didn’t really end until 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Anti-anti-semitism started shortly after 1945. Government leaders in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, the country that originated the Nuremburg Laws and the Final Solution, embarked on policies of anti-anti-Semitism right after German surrender. Many Western European countries embraced Israel and Jewish individuals through financial policies of weidergutmachung, which means restitution or compensation. On the basis of these laws many persons who were persecuted by the Nazi-Regime continue to receive monthly compensation payments.
Second, artists were commissioned to create permanent memorials that would remind people continuously of the anti-Semitic violence that had been committed. These memorials are visible all over Germany.
Third, Holocaust denial is illegal in a number of European countries including Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Romania, all among the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Recently, I traveled to Austria and Germany where I experienced many examples of anti-anti-Semitism. The main reason for my trip was to support Dr. Karen Frostig, a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, who organized the The Vienna Project, a social action memorial to victims of National Socialism. The project’s public nature, unfolding on the streets of Vienna over the course of a year, is an obvious example of anti-anti-Semitism.
Because I was going to travel to Vienna, I decided to also visit Gunzenhausen, Germany, the Bavarian village where my father grew up. I am currently writing a book about his experiences. There, I pleasantly encountered profound anti-anti-Semitism. I began my preparation for the trip by calling the German consulate in Boston. I asked if he could kindly connect me with the Jewish leaders of Gunzenhausen.
“Frau Reinharz,” I was told. “There are no Jews in Gunzenhausen.”
His response did not deter me. I thought I would simply walk around the town when I arrived, meet people and try to learn something about my family’s past. The next day, a junior high school teacher, Emmi Hetzner, contacted me by email, informing me that the mayor of Gunzenhausen would host my visit and that she, Emmi, would escort me through the community. I welcomed her warm hospitality.
It turns out that for 15 years, Gunzenhausen has been engaged in a school project that crosses all the disciplines. The students are reconstructing Jewish life before the Holocaust and studying how the town behaved during the Third Reich. Select junior high students have studied such topics as: What was the demography of Gunzenhausen in 1933? Where were the homes of every Jew? The town archivist teaches the children how to look at city plans. The students made maps, they gathered documents, and they learned more about my family than I knew myself.
How wonderful to learn that they had a web site, which they had produced themselves. There I found pictures of my family, including my beloved grandfather. I also found photos of the house where my father grew up, the letter my grandfather wrote to explain that he sold the house “without pressure” as he wisely decided to leave.
A teacher connected to the student research team had even spoken to my father in New Jersey 12 years ago. The website commented on their discussion: “Unfortunately Max Rothschild has not been able to become reconciled with the fate of the Jewish community in Gunzenhausen and especially that of his family. Mr. Rohrbach wrote to us: ‘I found Max Michael Rothschild in New Jersey and spoke to him today (18. December 2002). He was very friendly, and mentioned frequently that he does not desire any contact to Gunzenhausen.’ ”
In this little town in Bavaria, students are fighting anti-Semitism by acknowledging their families’ past. They speak of the “first pogrom,” the compelled departure to the train station of the Jewish men of the town, and the population’s violence toward their doctor, my grandfather.
In addition to being overwhelmed by the student interest, I had another response: I wanted to get involved in the anti-anti-semitism I discovered in Gunzenhausen. Fortunately, I found two ways. Next to the junior high school, there is a monument to all the war victims of Gunzenhausen during World War I. There I found the name of my grandfather’s brother and other Jews named Levy, Cohen and Avraham. This monument is adorned with a big cross. I suggested to the mayor that although the cross could be kept in place, next to the names of the Jewish soldiers, they add Jewish stars.
I also toured the old Jewish cemetery where my grandfather’s first wife is buried. Emmi and I could not find the gravestone we were looking for because the headstones had been looted during Holocaust. I have proposed to my brother and sister that, with Emmi’s help, we re-erect a gravestone for the grandmother I never knew.
From studying the Holocaust, I know that the violence against the Jews was both national and local. Hitler gave orders from above, but townspeople acted against Jews on their own initiative. In the first paragraph of this blog, I mentioned the powerful, lofty anti-anti-semitic statements from heads of state. I contend that just as significant is the 15-year old junior high research project taking place in the classrooms and streets of the town of Gunzenhausen.
Shulamit Reinharz, founder and director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, is the Jacob Potofsky Professor of Sociology and director of the Women’s Studies Research Center.