After he’s spent a while in the land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, Tenenbom decides that Germans “are obsessed with Jews.” It’s impossible, he finds, to get through a day without hearing mention of Jews, Israel, and/or the Holocaust. He is constantly exposed to rote expressions of sympathy for the victims of Auschwitz—and rote expressions of rage over Israel’s supposedly deplorable treatment of the Palestinians. In a bookstore window in Düsseldorf, he sees three titles: “A book about Palestine, a book about the Holocaust, and another book written by an Israeli leftist who is a strong critic of the Israeli government.”
He keeps being told by Germans that there’s more anti-Semitism in the U.S. than in Germany. Why? Because there are more Jews in the U.S.–they simply take for granted that if there are more Jews, there must be more Jew-hate. He meets secondary-school students who complain that their teachers don’t tell them much about the Nazi era: “Just numbers and dates. They don’t go into depth. They don’t tell us what really happened. We want to know more.”
Insights that seem random at the outset gradually coalesce into a picture of a distinctive sensibility. Noting the excessive preoccupation of many Germans with things like recycling, Tenenbom points out that “righteous people can turn into animals in a second…It wasn’t the bad economy that turned the country to Nazism; it was the Weimar people and their righteousness.” He meets Germans who are so politically correct, so perfect in their leftism, that they cheer for North Korea at a soccer game. And he interviews a young man who’s head of education at Buchenwald—and who’s also such a passionate pro-Palestinian that even after having lost an eye and his brother as the result of a bomb placed in their car by a Palestinian, he remains a fierce supporter of the cause. Tenenbom is brilliant, telling the young man that he has every right to his politics, but asking him how someone in his job cannot “feel the need to be a little more sensitive to Jewish feeling. … I ask him if his hate for the Jew is so deeply rooted that sense has simply failed him.” The young man listens silently, his hands shaking.
What’s going on here? All too many Germans, Tenenbom suggests, “want to erase the shame of being the Jew killers of yesterday by uniting with the Jew haters of today. … Peace and Love, they say, a thousand times a day, and it’s a thousand times empty. They flash two fingers, front and back, for Peace and for Love, but their hearts sing Sieg Heil.” The German media not only don’t expose the Jew-hate, moreover; they strive to hide it. “Eighty-two million Germans,” he notes wryly, and they “have nothing better to do than be obsessed with 106,000 Jews living among them.” Why? One of his interviewees, a businessman, has this to say: “There are basically no Jews in this country, just a very few. The relationship the people here have to the Jews is theoretical, not real.”