Letters / On “The Strange Logic of Germany’s Antisemitism Bureaucrats”
I would like to add to Peter Kuras’s excellent reporting on Germany’s anti-antisemitism bureaucracy by sharing a telling interaction I had with antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein’s office a few weeks ago.
This summer in Berlin, I saw an exhibition at the Pilecki Institute, an institution dedicated to the 20th-century Polish experience of totalitarianism and supported by the Polish government’s Ministry of Culture. The exhibition commemorated the Wola massacre, an episode in 1944 in which the Nazis murdered between 40,000 and 50,000 non-Jewish Poles in a neighborhood of occupied Warsaw. The exhibition fails to make mention of the Jews from Wola who were rounded up, deported, and murdered before the massacre took place. Instead, it presents a clear binary—one legislated by the Polish government as, essentially, the only “correct” reading of the Holocaust—between the saintly, victimized non-Jewish Poles and the ghoulish occupying Nazis. Such a reading of history elides the fact that some of these “good Poles” collaborated with the Third Reich, aiding and abetting the process of cleansing the country of its Jewish population. At the time of the massacre, I’m certain many lived in expropriated Jewish residences.
While I understand that Jews were not the focus of the Wola massacre, I was floored by the exhibition text’s claim that Wola was “one of the bloodiest war crimes committed on European soil during World War II.” How, then, would the Polish government rank the murder of almost three million Polish Jews, a genocide that was sometimes aided and abetted by non-Jewish Poles? I wrote to Mr. Klein about the exhibition’s revisionism, its antisemitism by omission, and to express my shock that Germany is allowing this kind of narrative on its soil. I heard nothing from him for over a month, and when I re-sent my email, his assistant wrote to inform me that, “in Mr Kleins [sic] opinion there is no reason for an intervention.” As Kuras reports, Mr. Klein is much quicker to attack those on the left—evident in his recent declaration that using the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel is antisemitic. I recently received German citizenship on the basis of my parents’ expulsion from Nazi Germany—an extra passport I sought out precisely because I fear fascism and ascendant antisemitism in the United States. Nevertheless, it remains clear to me that Klein’s endeavor makes a mockery of true antisemitism.
The letter writer is an emerita professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin.