Our German antisemitism

Recent tirades against the pianist Igor Levit are reminiscent of German behaviours that were thought to have been long overcome. 

Igor infuriating the Süddeutsche by having exceptional musical talent – and an opinion.
Igor infuriating the Süddeutsche by having exceptional musical talent – and an opinion.imago images

Berlin-Today, we once again commemorate the German-Austrian pogrom of 9/10 November 1938, also known as Kristallnacht: 7,500 shops were looted, at least 1,400 synagogues and prayer houses were set on fire and desecrated and hundreds of Jews were beaten to death, shot or driven to suicide. A night in which hundreds of thousands of Germans lived out their dreams of rioting, thieving and violence or, as some say today, their "political identity".

Such commemorations are quick to blame these atrocities on National Socialists but a fact often overlooked is that domestic antisemitism went well beyond the members and electorate of the Nazi party. The state's goal of "breaking Jewish power" proclaimed in 1933 had an integrating effect on members of the Catholic Centre Party, the workers' parties and the trade unions. The policy of stepping up discrimination against Jews strengthened Hitler's base among both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

In 1933, many millions of Germans delegated their resentment, their petty hatred and their ugly envy of the admirably clever Jews to the state. Openly or in secret, they told one another: "It's not bad if these cheeky Jews finally get muzzled." Immediately, the state-organised expropriation of Jewish property began, "Aryanisation", that is to say the socialisation of the property of the oppressed in favour of the "Volksgemeinschaft" ("national community"): jobs, flats, shops, companies, household goods could be purchased at bargain prices. The Germans were and remained very receptive to the redistribution of the property of others.

After the war, an antisemitism of guilt was added to the list in Germany. This is directed specifically towards Israel and aims to tabulate acts of violence and thereby relativise the Holocaust. East Germany, a large segment of the West German left and the general population passionately cultivated this escape from historical responsibility. To name just one example: In March 2007, Gregor Maria Hanke, Bishop of the Diocese of Eichstätt, declared during his visit to Israel: "In Yad Vashem in the morning we see photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, in the evening we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. Then the pot boils over."

Four weeks ago, music critic Helmut Mauró accused the successful young pianist Igor Levit, who comes from a Russian-Jewish family, of "Twitter virtuosity" and then remarked: "There seems to be a victim's moral right to spread hate and slander." A disgusting sentence, published in the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung. Mauró went on to say that Levit was "playing around with the non-committal" and lacked any "musical intensity". There was only one thing the falsely celebrated man could do right: "He is friends with the right journalists and multipliers."

Thousands of highly talented, elegant and entertaining Jews lived and worked in Germany in the 1930s. Green with envy, the dim-witted Germanic majority looked at them with underhanded malice. It was on the basis of such behaviour that Hitler's Germany developed its murderous policies towards the Jews.