Anti-Semitism 'respectable' again as more Jews move into Germany

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The Independent Online

When Paul Spiegel's father came back emaciated from Dachau at the end of the war, a neighbour embraced him and carried him into his own house. In the cellar he was shown a veritable Jewish shrine: the sacred Torah and prayer books rescued by the German neighbour from the ashes of the local synagogue. Mr Spiegel knew then that Germany would remain his home.

When Paul Spiegel's father came back emaciated from Dachau at the end of the war, a neighbour embraced him and carried him into his own house. In the cellar he was shown a veritable Jewish shrine: the sacred Torah and prayer books rescued by the German neighbour from the ashes of the local synagogue. Mr Spiegel knew then that Germany would remain his home.

Jewish life has flourished since those dark says. Today, Paul Spiegel leads one of the biggest Jewish communities in Europe: more than 81,000 living proofs of the futility of Hitler's "Final Solution". And yet Mr Spiegel is beginning to wonder aloud whether his father and others like him made the right choice.

"The elderly in particular ask the question: should we leave again?" he said last week by the smouldering walls of the synagogue in his home town, Düsseldorf. Unknown attackers had thrown at least three petrol bombs into the building on the night Germans were celebrating the 10th anniversary of reunification. Two days later, vandals struck again in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, shattering two windows of its synagogue with stones.

That brought this year's tally to three, not counting all the desecrated tombs. On Hitler's birthday in April, two neo-Nazi youths firebombed Erfurt's synagogue. There have been sporadic attacks on cemeteries and other Jewish targets. Also on reunification day, the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial was vandalised, and gallows daubed on a sign at its entrance.

Many such incidents, however repugnant, are little more than childish pranks, perpetrated by young, complex-ridden East German lads who have never heard of the Third Reich. But the troubling aspect of the latest anti-Semitic outrages is that they are happening in the most prosperous parts of West Germany. And the phenomenon is no longer confined to the under-class.

"You find anti-Semitism not only in the beer hall but also in the champagne milieu," says Michel Friedman, deputy president of the Central Council of German Jews. "It is not a question of East and West, of weak social groups. Anti-Semitism has become socially respectable."

Academic research and anecdotal evidence appear to back him up. Anti-Jewish jokes are back, talkshow switchboards overheating with callers waiting to get their gripes against Jews off their chests. Polls have recorded a steady rise in anti-Jewish sentiment, in parallel with discussions over compensation for Holocaust survivors. Opinions on the lines of "We have already paid the Jews enough" and "Why are they all coming here anyway?" can be heard in everyday conversations.

Certainly, from an anti-Semite's viewpoint, there has been an alarming influx of Jews into Germany in the past 10 years. More than 50,000 have arrived from the former Soviet Union, infusing elderly Jewish communities in Berlin, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf with new life. Synagogues are reopening, new schools are sprouting, and there are again kosher restaurants in the big cities.

To the majority of Germans, this is cause for joy. But to some, clearly more than just a lunatic fringe, it is a blatant provocation. "Anti-Semitism never went away," Mr Friedman says, "but now it has become more aggressive, open, more violent. They feel more support from the centre of society than before."

You cannot get much closer to the centre of society than glitzy Düsseldorf, Germany's fashion capital. A grenade attack at a railway station in July there injured 10 people, including six Jews. Two weeks ago the post brought to Mr Spiegel's Düsseldorf office a mock bomb, and now comes this evidently well-planned attack on the synagogue. Someone is obviously trying to send German Jews a message.

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