Jews in Germany: An Interview with Henryk Broder

H.B. Because otherwise no one in this country does it. The law is a kind of “law for protecting Jewish feelings.” It is the product of good intentions. The lawmakers wanted, so to say, to avoid irritating Jews. But I think that it should be, above all, Germans who are irritated when someone denies the Holocaust and that they should not refrain from denial out of consideration for Jews. Moreover, the law is totally counterproductive. In the first place, hardly anyone is ever put on trial as a consequence of the law. The application is purely theoretical. Secondly, the law gives the people who defend it a good conscience, inasmuch as they are doing something about the last Holocaust -- whereas they are completely indifferent about the next Holocaust that could be in the making in the Middle East. Thirdly, the reality is completely different from the impression created by such laws. Recently, there was a case where a young woman unfurled an Israeli flag at an anti-Israeli demonstration and she was accused of disturbing the peace and fined €300. So, apparently Germans are happy to condemn the last Holocaust, but they are closing their eyes to the possibility of an impending one. I don’t want to provide this sort of good conscience.

J.R. The German neo-Nazi Horst Mahler is presently in jail -- among other reasons, because he began an interview by saying “Heil Hitler!” The use of Nazi expressions and Nazi symbols is also prohibited in Germany. Do you think it should be allowed?

H.B. I think it was correct to prohibit the successor organization of the NSDAP [the National Socialist party] and it is probably also right not to permit the use of Nazi symbols. This has nothing to do with showing consideration for Jews. This has to do with Germany’s own self-image. Specifically as concerns Horst Mahler, one needs to keep in mind that the man’s entire importance derives from his being able to present himself as a martyr for free expression. Otherwise, he is politically completely insignificant. He needs such provocations, since without them no one would even notice him. Much the same could be said for David Irving. This is to say that in trying to combat people like Mahler and Irving, society is providing them a stage on which to promote themselves. But again: what’s crucial is not what Horst Mahler says about the Third Reich, what is crucial is what the German foreign minister does with respect to Ahmadinejad. In this regard, there is an incredible -- and to my mind, unacceptable -- asymmetry between declarations about the past and actions in the present.

J.R. Why should there be a “Central Council of Jews in Germany” at all? There is no such thing in the USA, for instance. The journalist Ernst Cramer has raised the same issue. He has pointed out that the precursor organization came into being under the Third Reich and that the Nazis in fact used it to promote the emigration of German Jews out of Germany. Isn’t the fundamental problem that “Jews in Germany” are still stamped as being “Jews in Germany” and as consequence they are not permitted simply to be Germans?

H.B. The Central Council regularly has discussions about whether it should be called the “Central Council of Jews in Germany” or the “Central Council of German Jews.” That shows that the Central Council is not clear about its own identity. The Central Council is the successor organization to the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany, which was created by the Nazis. The Central Council was founded after the War not because Jews needed it, but because the German government needed an interlocutor in order to be able to hold discussions with Jews. There was a time when the Council was important, because it aided the local Jewish congregations to obtain state aid. But that’s all in the past. In the meanwhile, the congregations have their own contracts and the Council serves strictly symbolic functions. To this extent, the Council is superfluous. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing that it exists. But in principle the Central Council is an institution that the German authorities need much more than the Jewish congregations do.

J.R. In Germany, you are known as a “polemicist.” I wouldn’t call you a “polemicist,” but maybe sometimes a “satirist,” for instance. So, are you serious about this candidacy? What happens if you win?

H.B. The only possible answer to that question is an old Jewish joke. Do you know how to get God to laugh?

J.R. No, how?

H.B. Make plans. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.