Post-Shoah Jewish Culture in Germany and Austria: An Introduction

by Helga Kraft
Post-Shoah Jewish Culture in Germany and Austria: An Introduction
Helga Kraft
The German Quarterly
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Post-Shoah Jewish Culture in Germany andAustria: An Introduction

This issue of The German Quarterly features articles that grew out of an inter- national symposium entitled "Politics, Mem- ory and Representation. Post-Shoah Jewish Culture in German-speaking Countries," held at the University of Illinois at Chicago in November 1998. The purpose of the event was to bring together an interdisciplinary panel of experts from German Studies, Jewish Stud- ies, History, Anthropology, Art,Political Sci- ence, and the Berlin Jewish community, As a result, diverse perspectives on the topic un- folded, as the volume at hand reveals.

Since the early 1990s, increasing atten- tion has been paid to Jewish identity after the Holocaust, a trend which is continuing into the 21st century, Thus, in January 2000 the Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, DC, sponsored a three-day conference entitled "Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons 1945-1951," which fo- cused on the life of Jewish Holocaust survi- vors in DP (displaced persons) camps. In these holding places, people were re-estab- lishing their lives and identities while wait- ingup to six years to leave for Palestine, the United States, and other countries. Of the 230,000 European Jews in approximately 90 camps in Germany and Austria, only very few remained in German-speaking countries-only approximately 15,000 per- sons had survived within Nazi Germany. By 1952, only 12,000 Jewish DPs had stayed, and by 1955 only 999. Although there was a general assumption that only the weakest among them remained in Germany,' some survivors remained because they had man- aged to establish themselves in business, while others chose to live in Germany for idealistic or personal reasons. The poet Gerty Spies, for example, strongly identi- fied with the German language and culture and wanted to reveal her experiences as a prisoner in Theresienstadt to her fellow


Survivors who had left their former home countries began to look back to the past. The Vienna-born US scholar of Ger- man Studies Ruth Kliiger did so in her 1992 autobiography weiter leben,3 in which she revived her life as a young girl in Vi- enna and her experiences in Theresien- stadt and Auschwitz, but her main focus was her experiences in Gottingen in the late 1980s as the director of the study abroad program at the University of Cali- fornia. Likewise, the Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld focused on the time after the Ho- locaust in his 1992 book The Iron Tracks, a work that appeared in Germany in 1999, translated from Hebrew by Stefan Sie- berse4 Appelfeld portrays the post-Shoah era through the eyes of a fictional charac- ter. He states, "Das Material ist tatsachlich Material aus dem eigenen Leben."b The re- maining trauma and the wish for revenge, often absent in other works dealing with the same topic, are expressed in Apple- feld's novel. Likewise, authors who returned from exile to live in Germany exam- ined their post-Shoah experience in the 1990s, for example Edgar Hilsenrath in his autobiographical novel Die Abenteuer des Ruben Jablonski.6

The Chicago symposium included pre- sentations from scholars concerning Holo-

The German Quarterly 73.2 (Spring 2000) 145

caust survivors, such as the contribution of the political scientist Norma Moruzzi, whose intellectual and professional iden- tity is strongly influenced by post-Holo- caust questions, as demonstrated in her paper. Esther Parada, a Chicago-based art- ist and professor of photography, is aware that a displacement of her Jewish identity is characteristic of her art. During the gen- eral discussion concluding the symposium, she mentioned that she and her family had transferred their %Jewishn concern to con- cern for non-Jewish minorities.

The Jewish communities in today's Germany and Austria are made up of for- merly displaced persons who remained in Germany and Austria, their children, Ger- man- and Austrian-born Jews, and Jews who moved there subsequently. The youn- ger members of this group express them- selves in a manner distinct from the main- stream, having come to speak out on their life in Germany and their Jewish identity more directly than the previous genera- tion. Paul Spiegel, who was elected re- cently to lead the Central Council of Jews in Germany, belongs to the shrinking group of Jewish leaders in German-speak- ing countries who were not born after World War 11, and who provide a direct link to the Holocaust era.

Jewish culture in the Federal Republic has been both marginal and central. Leibl Rosenberg, in '3iidische Kultur in Deutsch- land heute," holds that there can be no doubt that Jewish cultural life exists in contemporary Germany, despite all that happened.' He also notes: "Als Jude nach der Shoah in Deutschland leben--das ist keine Kleinigkeit, darauf miissen wir Ant- worten finden, Wege aufzeigen." One path clearly is dialogue, interaction, with the mainstream. In part, such a dialogue is cre- ated by the literary publications of authors such as Jeanette Lander, Barbara Honig- mann, and Edgar Hilsenrath. In part it takes place in the media. The January 5, 2000, issue of Die Zeit, for example, de- voted its "Dossier" section to the question, "Was heisst hier jiidisch?" The contribu- tions to this issue reveal some of the oppos- ing prognoses post-Shoah life in Europe has yielded over time. The historian Bernhard Wasserstein of the University of Oxford maintains in his study "Vanishing Dias- pora" that Europe will soon be without Jews.8 Jewish religious power will fade in everyday life, and all that may be left is an inauthentic "Anatevka folklore." On the other hand, Diana Pinto, a member of the European Council, envisions a renaissance of Jewish life in Europe. According to her, the new European Jewish community is the progeny of the democratic revolution of 1989, which opened up unprecedented op- portunities for positive developments in the Jewish communities.

The Jewish communities and Jewish individuals in Germany express diverse, of- ten contradictory feelings concerning their life within German society. The controver- sial writer Rafael Seligmann wishes that Germany would become a new homeland for Jews, while Lea Fleischmann, who left the Federal Republic to live in Israel, rejects the integration into German society.9 Selig- mann believes that the future of Jewish life in Germany will depend not on the wishes of Jewish intellectuals, but on a German deci- sion for or against "an open, multicultural society, which needs the Jewish community as a fertile ground for a renaissance."lO Other intellectuals, such as Fleischmann and Honigmann, although they continue to be participants in German literary life, have "voted with their feet" and left the country,

The immigration of Jews into the Fed- eral Republic from Eastern European coun- tries, especially Russia, many of whom nei- ther speak German nor are religious Jews, has complicated the situation. With the new immigrants who arrived during the last ten years, the Jewish population has more than tripled to nearly 100,000, from around 27,000. In the coming generations, Jewish life in German-speaking countries will once again encompass Orthodox, Reform, and secular Jews, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and recent Russian and other immigrants. From afar, this new diversity may seem somewhat reminiscent of the greatly diverse prewar Jewish communi- ties. As far as the reconstruction of Ger- many goes, Jewish life is a completely new phenomenon: except in literature, academe and museum culture, there is no linking up to the destroyed cultural networks of the past. Since the mid-1960s, impressive ef- forts have been underway to provide for in- tellectual continuity, at least. According to Joseph Deih, it was around this time that the field of Jewish Studies was "discov- ered" in Germany.ll Institutes for the study of Jewish culture and history, centers for re- search on anti-Semitism, and documen- tation centers on the Holocaust were founded all across Germany and became an integral part of academic life in the Federal Republic. This notwithstanding, the situa- tion between Jews and non-Jews is far from "normal" at this point. Since the end of the Cold War, prejudices have flared up more openly than before. One of five Ger- mans admit that they would prefer not to have a Jewish family as their neighbor. Nonetheless, the president of the Jewish Community of Frankfurt, Salomon Korn, believes that "we are in a historical process which will lead from the Jew in Germany to the Jewish German," a process which will take two or three more generations.12

During the Chicago symposium, Ron- nie Golz, an economist and a key personal- ity in the Berlin Jewish community, exam- ined why he came to like Germany, As his contribution was an oral presentation, it is not printed in this special issue of GQ. However, some of the points he made de- serve to be mentioned here. Golz observed that a marked change for the better in the interaction between Jews and non-Jews in Germany took place during the 1960s, when the young generation dared to ques- tion authority and came out in support of a democratic society. He further explained that, in contrast to the official denomina- tion "Juden in Deutschland," Jewish survi- vors and second-generation Jews in Ger- many would likely identify themselves as "ein deutscher Jude," rather than "ein jiidischer Deutscher." However, he specu- lated, the third generation, people born in the sixties and thereafter, may have devel- oped an unquestionable German identity. According to him, they think of themselves as "Jewish German."

It was pointed out by a Symposium par- ticipant that the inner reality of younger Jews is clearly a global one: they leave for England or America, but then some of them return to Germany or Austria or maintain their contact with the German- speaking sphere. If they live in Germany, they find themselves in a country that it- self is beginning to think about globaliza- tion, about an international culture.

Another issue that one of the speakers raised concerned the fact that Jews in Ger- many, especially in Munich and Berlin, have not shown a sense of solidarity with the 2.5 million Turks in Germany, except in marginal ways, for example in 1989. Ronnie Golz responded that at least the Berlin Jewish community has put an em- phasis on establishing links between them- selves and the Turkish community. The latter is again aresult of the second genera- tion moving into leadership positions and defining themselves not exclusively in re- lation to the Holocaust and the survivor discourse. Clearly, it is not easy for differ- ent marginalized groups to link up with one another, because of the cultural, reli- gious, and historical differences between them. Being in the minority does not con- stitute sufficient commonality to act in sol- idarity with one another. Particularly be- tween Jewish and Muslim culture there are significant obstacles to be wrestled with.

Golz, who grew up in England and came to Germany in his teens in the 1960s, was asked by the audience to try to explain the Jewish fascination with Germany. Why would a Jew want to live there? Golz an- swered:

By my experience of traveling through Europe, I find-though I cannot prove it by statistics-that the ratio of intellectu- als and intellectuality in Germany is hig- her than in other societies, especially Great Britain. There is much more food for thought. There are many more people with whom you could interchange ideas and thoughts in Germany than in other countries. Going back in history, that is the decisive link. We are people of the book and the word. And Germans are also people of the book and the word. That is a very strong characteristic of German cul- ture. That is why the love and the hate are so closely linked.

Matti Bunzl, an anthropologist whose article on the recontextualization of Vien- nese Jewish Literature is included in this special issue, took issue with Golz's con- tention, arguing that, particularly in the case of Viennese Jews, it would be a mis- take to speak of "people of the book in the religious or secular sense: "

They simply live in Austria, as is true of most German Jews living in the Ger- man-speaking world-because it is a nice place to live. Vienna is a very pleasant city, and the Holocaust does not matter to them all that much. One of the interesting things that I have encountered coming over to the US was that the Holocaust is much more central to the American-Je- wish imagination. It makes a lot of sense to pay less attention to it if you grow up Jewish in postwar Austria and Germany. If the Shoah is the very core ofyour identi- ty, you cannot live. You cannot live in that society, so you have to make accommoda- tions.

Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, whose article "Discovering and Making Memory: Jewish Cultural Expression in Contemporary Eu- rope" also appears in this volume, agreed that the emphasis on the Holocaust ap- pears to be particularly strong in the aca- demic discourse in the United States. One of the reasons may be the fact that many German and Austrian Jews, exiles from Nazi Germany, have taught at USuniversi- ties. Through their intellectual contribu- tions they shaped the direction of German Studies and the humanities in the United States greatly. In fact, the study of Exile and Holocaust literature originated on this continent--due to the untiring research of Jewish scholars-rather than in Europe, where these fields were met with rejection and suspicion early on. Lorenz raised the issue of age and generational memory, recounting a conversation with Egon Schwarz, a writer and Professor of Ger- man at Washington University, St. Louis, in which Schwarz observed that it was par- ticularly the younger people in Europe who experienced a cultural loss. They had no Jewish community to which they could re- late, and there was no Jewish context in which they could be raised. They were just basically in Vienna, Berlin, or wherever, in a no-man's-land, whereas their parents, who had grown up there, had memories of a rich Jewish culture. For Schwarz, Austria represented the culture he identified with even though he experienced anti-Semitism day in and day out. But the daily annoyance did not diminish his ability to consider him- self an Austrian prior to the Shoah.

A sociologist or anthropologist may per- ceive new references and possibilities for identification rather than unequivocal loss. For example, Israel's tenuous relation to Jewish communities outside the '3ewish State" offers possibilities for identification that did not exist in the prewar era. How- ever, both Bunzl and Go11 considered the pronouncement of Israel's former presi- dent Weizman that Jews should not live in Germany highly problematic. Sander L. Gilman pointed out that in the post-Zionist age, "the older model, which assumes that there is only one potential identity for Jews, and that is the identity of Jews in a Jewish national state, is now being highly questioned by the Israelis themselves. We are beginning to see now an Israeli Dias- pora. It is a very complicated world. There- fore, the notion of a dichotomy between the Jews who live in this empty land called Pal- estine with no one there but Jews, and the Golan, is something which is, I think, col- lapsing in the post-Zionist age."

As a reaction to Weizmann's public statement in Germany, Micha Brumlik, Professor of Education at Heidelberg, ed- ited the book Zu Hause, keine Heimat? Junge Juden und ihre Zukunft in Deutsch- land.'3 The author discusses the various Jewish identities he experimented with: as a teenager, Brumlik converted to Orthodox Judaism, claimed Israeli citizenship, and made Alyiah (went to Israel), but he re- turned to Germany an ardent anti-Zion ist.14 Now he considers the pluralization of Jewish life in Germany the trend of the fu- ture. Another study, published recently by the director of the Moses Mendelson Insti- tute for European-Jewish Studies in Pots- dam, entitled Ein neues Judentum in Deutschland?,views the situation of Jews in Germany from a pessimistic point of view: more than half of the Jewish immi- grants are still unemployed five years after entering the country-could this be a sign of a newlold anti-Jewish attitude? Sander Gilman's article in this issue scrutinizes the influence of American writings on the post-Shoah life in Germany. He shows that American books and studies like Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners have fired up and influenced the explicit and implicit German-Jewish dialogue.

In the course of the symposium, the question was raised of how to disseminate information in American universities on the situation and cultural contribution of Jews in German-speaking countries. Bunzl cau- tioned against reliance on "high literature:"

The basic question is, you take high-cultural texts written by a small elite of highly educated Jews in a specific cultural context as representative of the group at large, or don't you? The anthro- pological and sociolo~cal premise is to caution against that,-and to interrogate very carefully how these texts are actually constructed. Who are these people, why are they the elite, what does it mean for them to be the elite, and how is that status produced and reproduced? There are ways other than using elite texts to get a more everyday kind of experience of what much of Jewish means. It usually involves everyday life and what people actually talk about, what they do, how they think about what they do. This tends to be trivi- al or quite banal. But everyday life tends to be banal, even for Jews in Vienna, or Jews in Berlin.

Bunzl thinks that "it is an interesting cor- rective, because given that the kind of lit- erary texts that we always deal with in this analytic context, because they are so exi- stentially frightening, we cannot ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews in contemporary Germany and Aus- triabarely ever think about these issues."

Dagmar Lorenz has worked on the Prague-born film maker Nadja Seelich, who lives in Vienna, and the writers Robert Schindel, Robert Menasse, Doron Rabino- vici, and Ruth Beckermann. She agrees that we need to distinguish between the work of art or literature and the everyday practice. She recognizes the value of autobiography, and she points to the large differences be- tween Jews in Austria and non-Jews and Germans that is reflected in their works. She believes that the autobiographic ele- ments that spill into art reflect truth about Jewish life. However, the contemporary oppositional Jewish discourse is mediated by a heterogeneous urban culture in which Jews and nonJews participate--a reason why scholars such as Gilman prefer the term '3ewish writing" to '3ewish litera- ture" or '3ewish authors." The term '3ew- ish," in the context of modern culture, is rnultivalent and dependent uponchanging positions and relationships.

There is no doubt that any contempo- rary approach to what Jewish is needs to focus on the ambivalence of the term and on the processes that have brought about its present denotation. The question of how this is to be done has given rise to a controversy that is best exemplified by the debate over the Holocaust memorial to be built on 4.9 acres near the Reichstag in Berlin. It has held center stage as a symbol of German-Jewish relations for over a de- cade. Representatives from German and Jewish sides disagreed over the configura- tion of such a memorial. Ronnie Golz ex- plained his own deviating design during the Chicago symposium. Finally, a modi- fied model designed by the New York archi- tect Peter Eisenman was chosen, and on January 27, 2000, the site of the project, consisting of more than 2000 stone pillars of varying dimensions, was dedicated by high governmental officials such as the president of the Federal Republic, Johannes Rau, and major representatives of the Jewish Diaspora, such as Elie Wiesel. Since the controversy around the memorial has pervaded the media so strongly, the mem- ory of the killings of six million Jews per-

sists on the surface of the German-Jewish discourse at the turn of the century. Elie Wiesel put it to the Germans this way: "Un- til the end of time, Auschwitz is part ofyour history and mine."15 Berlin mayor Eber- hard Diepgen (CDU), resisting such a form of commemoration, ostentatiously stayed away from the ceremony. His non-action doubtlessly reflects the thinking of a silent segment of the German population.

The eminent American historian Peter Gay suggests in his recent publication that reconciliation and healing must take place at the interpersonal level. He considers personal friendship one of the most effec- tive ways to reunite Germans and Jews. In his new book My German Question: Grow- ing Up In Nazi Berlin,lG which received the Geschwister Scholl-Preis in January 2000, he describes his own childhood in Germany as well as his emigration. The two other conditions are a careful examination of concepts and expressions that have to do with Judaism, and the necessity of study- ing German history, Post-Shoah life in Ger- man-speaking countries is given a chance by many attempts of reconciliation, but it is still far from becoming "normal."


Vorg Lau, "Was heifit hier judisch?" Die Zeit 5 Jan. 2000: 9+.

2Gerty Spies, Bittere Jugend. Ein Roman von Verfolgung und Uberleben im National- sozialismus (Frankfurt: Brandes, 1997). My years in Theresienstadt. How one woman sur- vived the Holocaust, trans. Jutta Tragnitz (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1997).

3Ruth Kliiger, weiter leben (Gottingen: Wallstein, 1992).

4Aharon Appelfeld, The Iron Tracks, trans. Stefan Siebers (Berlin: Alexander Fest, 1999).

5Volker Hage, "Geschopf der Schienen," Der Spiegel 10 Jan. 2000: 177. 6Edgar Hilsenrath, Die Abenteuer des Ruben Jablonski (Munich: Piper, 1997).

7Leibl Rosenberg, 'Xidische Kultur in Deutschland heute," Juden in Deutsch- land nach 1945 (Frankfurt: Tribune, 1999) 243.

8Bernhard Wasserstein, Europa ohne Ju- den. Das europtiische Judentum seit 1945

(Koln: Kiepenheuer, 1999). gLea Fleischmann, Dies ist nicht mein Land. Eine Jiidin verltisst die Bundesrepublik

(Munchen: Wilhelm Heyne, 1989). loRafael Seligmann, "Nicht in judischer Macht," Die Zeit 25 Nov. 1999: 50.

llJoseph Deih, "Judische Studien in Deutschland," Juden in Deutschland nach 1945 (Frankfurt: Tribiine, 1999) 264.

12Qtd. in Lau 9. 13Micha Brumlik, Zu Hause, keine Heimat? Junge Juden und ihre Zukunft in Deutschland

(Gerlingen: Bleicher, 1998).

14Lau 12.

l5Roger Cohen, "Wiesel Urges Germany to Ask Forgiveness," New York Times 28 Jan. 2000: A3.

16Peter Gay, My German Question: Growing Up In Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale Ue 1999). Die Zeit, November 25, 1999: 50.

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