I Sleep in Hitler's Room: An American Jew Visits Germany
As for Tenenbom himself, he has these reflections to offer:
“The Germans, and sorry for generalizing, will do everything and anything to look good, to appear beautiful, to sound smart. But who are they, really? They are the most narcissistic nation on the planet. They think the world of themselves, and they want everyone to agree with them. ... More than any other nation in the world, the Germans concentrate deeply on visual beauty – and they get results. But they don't stop there. Subconsciously the Germans think that if they occupy themselves with the Palestinians of Gaza they will erase from memory the Brown Bears of Buchenwald – and will look beautiful in the eyes of the world.
Tenenbom's conversation with the young man at Buchenwald is far from the only arresting exchange recorded in these pages. Visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, Tenenbom meets an “average” couple who live in the town and is invited to lunch at their home. He devotes four pages to a stunning account of his unrelenting questioning of them. (It is in such passages that one is reminded that he is a playwright.) He asks them about Dachau's past. At first they profess indifference. But eventually he breaks them down. The man weeps and confesses that he doesn't want to look into the past because it would be like looking into a mirror. He is the Nazis; the Nazis are him.
Then there is the fatuous “peace activist”—an ethnic German woman who thinks she is furthering the cause of intercultural harmony by planting a rose garden on the grounds of a mosque. “In other words,” Tenenbom explains to us, “this is a p.r. tool for promoting an image of the mosque and of Islam as being full of friendliness and love.” He grills her like a first-rate prosecutor. “You will achieve world peace, love between the three religions, because of a rose?” he asks. “Why will those who hate the Muslims come to your garden?” And how, while we're at it, can a feminist support Islam? When she tells him that Islam means peace, he corrects her; this woman who has been working on a pro-Islam project for years has apparently never heard that Islam actually means submission to Allah. “Nobody,” Tenenbom realizes, “has ever challenged her before, and now she feels like a total idiot.”
More and more, his own understanding of the German people comes to revolve around the whole business of Germans being a tribe. He notes the ubiquity of the word Verein – which means group, association, fellowship. The Germans, he realizes, “are 'group' people. ... Germans move together, walk together, act together, and think together.” Adenauer, the businessman, agrees with him that Germans are “tribal,” and that Hitler took advantage of this by “defining the tribe as 'Aryan'.”