Jews in Germany: An Interview with Henryk Broder

The Central Council of Jews in Germany claims to represent “all the Jews in Germany.” Shortly after the Second World War, when the Central Council was founded, that was not a lot -- according to the Central Council’s own estimate, a mere 15,000 persons. Up until the late 1980s, the number remained in the low tens of thousands. In the meanwhile, as a result of an influx of Jewish “refugees” from the former Soviet Union, it has reportedly ballooned to over 100,000. Henryk Broder, one of Germany’s best known and most controversial political commentators, has been a frequent critic of the Central Council. On October 21, however, Broder created a sensation by announcing that he was seeking the Central Council’s presidency.

“The official representation of Jews in Germany is in a miserable condition,” Broder wrote in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel:

The president [Charlotte Knoblauch] -- who is internally known as “Aunt Charlie” -- seems to be overwhelmed by the job. ... What the Central Council does or does not do is determined by its general secretary [Stefan Kramer], who is attempting to compensate for the increasing insignificance of the organization through tactical alliances and senseless hyperactivity. Most recently, he compared the former finance commissioner of Berlin, Thilo Sarrazin, to Hitler and Goebbels on account of Sarrazin’s critical remarks about immigrants who are unwilling to integrate. Then, he apologized for the faux pas in such a way as to prove one thing above all: that he has no idea what he is talking about.

(On the Thilo Sarrazin controversy, see the PJM report here.) “I am convinced that there are no particular Jewish interests,” Broder continued:

Whether someone eats kosher or halal or prefers pork chops is a private matter. The same goes for when and to which God one prays. Freedom of religion also includes the right to be unreligious or antireligious and to make fun of one’s own God and that of one’s neighbors without being threatened. Freedom, democracy, and the rule of law are the values that have to be aggressively defended. By Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and heretics, by Aryans and vegetarians, by women and men, heteros and homos. My yarmulke is in the ring.

John Rosenthal spoke with Henryk Broder for Pajamas Media. The following interview was conducted on Tuesday, October 27. On Saturday, October 31, Broder announced that he would not be seeking the Central Council’s presidency, after all. “Germany likes troublemakers, unconventional thinkers, and outsider candidates,” Broder wrote in an article in the weekly Der Spiegel, “but only so long as they make sure that everything stays the same.” Moreover, “the job is one for an early-riser,” he added

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John Rosenthal: You’ve long been a critic of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. You’ve said, for instance, that it has become nothing more than an official instance for accepting expressions of (German) remorse. So why do you want now to become its president?

Henryk Broder: I want to see if one can shake up this somewhat old and rusty structure. I know, of course, that my chances are slim: really, next to nothing. But as [the German author and filmmaker] Herbert Achternbusch once said: “You have no chance. So use it!” For me, it is not so much about becoming the president of the Central Council. But I’ve noticed how just the announcement of my candidacy has produced a kind of avalanche of discussion. People are talking about what is the Central Council, what it should be, what it accomplishes, what it doesn’t accomplish. So, it’s put the very question of the Central Council and the representation of Jews on the agenda. To that extent, it is already a small success.

J.R. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany. You have said that as president of the Central Council you would militate for overturning this law. Why? And, above all, why should specifically the president of the Central Council of Jews do that?