Last night's TV: Peter Kay's Car Share (BBC1), British Jews, German Passports (BBC1)

Peter Kay and Sian Gibson leave us wanting more

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I must say I’d been dreading the moment that finally did arrive in Peter Kay’s Car Share last night. The moment, that is, when romance might finally overshadow Kay’s usual sharply-observed knockabout, as it has been threatening to for some time. I knew that, sooner or later, something was going to give in the ever-closer friendship of John Redmond (Kay) and Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson). John was dreading it too, but I was certainly relieved that “the moment” when she tells her co-worker, in terms, that he is “the one” was handled so gracefully. Comedy and romance don’t often mix readily, like the contents of a pot noodle, but in Car Share somehow the writing and acting transcended the usual rom-com gruesomeness. For that, and a fleeting appearance of a Bolton lollipop lady in an emerald green burka, the BBC must give Kay, Gibson and the bright red Fiat 500L another outing. But please – no schmaltz.   

One of the many unintended consequences of Brexit is a large increase in the number of British Jewish people applying for a German passport. They have long had the right to reclaim the nationality of forebears who perished in the Holocaust, but a mere 20 a year so were doing so before the referendum last June. Since then some 800 have made the emotional decision to gain dual citizenship, which is to say British plus German/EU. That has to be set in the context of a British Jewish population of about 300,000, only some of whom will be descendants of those who fled or were murdered in the Holocaust. So, a small proportion are looking for a German passport, it’s still a story, as journalists say.

British Jews, German Passports was a sensitive and thought-provoking exploration of this phenomenon. We met Baroness Julia Neuberger, rabbi and campaigner; Robert Voss, businessman and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire (whose official duties include swearing in new UK citizens); and Hilary Freeman, author and agony aunt at the Jewish Chronicle. All were here because of the Nazis, and all were now considering what to do after the Brexit vote. The terrible thought seems to be forming in some minds that Britain, post-Brexit, might not be the strongly tolerant place of asylum it once was, underpinned by European statutes on human rights. That isn’t such a weird thought when you look at the state of the British media, where it’s OK to call refugees cockroaches, where the Government finds all manner of bureaucratic excuses not to rescue homeless Syrian children (as once we did for Jewish kids in the Kindertransport). We all know there has been a rise in physical attacks on Jews and Jewish property, and where even in the Labour Party a modern recrudescence of anti-Semitism has appeared. Then again, virulently anti-immigrant and nationalistic political parties are polling distressingly well across Europe, indeed the world. 

What to make of it all? Julia Neuberger, preferred to  point to Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming refugees, to contrasting current German attitudes with those prevalent in Britain. For Hilary Freeman it was also a matter of appreciating and embracing her personal heritage – “I’m from everywhere in Europe”. For Robert Voss, what he discovered about relatives who died in the Holocaust made a decision just too difficult for now. Along the way we were reminded about the truths of the Holocaust, or at least its central one, which was the murder of blameless people. Familiar as it rightly is, it still has a raw emotional power. 

The question of identity is complex and can be painful. Those who were the victims of the Nazis were Jewish but also German: some had fought for the Kaiser in the Great War, many were families who’d settled in the towns, villages and cities of Germany for centuries, some rose to become pillars of German society, and all contributed to their country as any other Germans did. It was the Nazis who deprived them of their nationality, and their descendants have a perfect moral right to reclaim what is theirs, even if they still hate what Germany did and may have no use for German nationality on a practical basis. It was Hitler who told them that being Jewish was incompatible with German nationality; but why should anyone accept that, then or now? 

In telling the stories of these families, and the traumas they went through, you got a sense of why, in the words of one rabbi, Jews might consider it important to have flexibility, and why, when so few nations have clean hands over the Holocaust and the countless pogroms and persecutions and discriminations before it (including in England) they wanted a safe and secure homeland. What’s unexpected and upsetting is that in 2017 some might feel safer in Germany than Britain.