What Led Germany to Accept a Tsunami of Migrants?
To my astonishment, I see that it's been a full six years since I reviewed Tuvia Tenenbom's I Sleep in Hitler's Room: An American Jew Visits Germany. The book, an account of the author's encounters with anti-Semitism and Jew-obsession in a country that claims to have thoroughly repudiated its Nazi past, was, I wrote, “deeply sobering, depressing even,” yet “so chatty and engaging and laugh-out-loud funny that it's hard to put down.” I praised Tenenbom as “an acute observer of his fellowman, but also a born entertainer, a comedian, who approaches his interview subjects – of whom there are dozens, ranging from leading political and cultural figures to folks he runs into on the street – as a combination inquisitor and tummler.”
And he does it all, I emphasized, “on a human level: he's not a journalist taking notes but a fellow human being, intense in his curiosity and incapable of hiding his emotions. He challenges his interlocutors, posing questions nobody has ever asked them before, and he's relentless, always demanding the truth, wanting to know what these people really think and feel, rejecting their canned answers, the things they say because they think that's what he wants to hear.” And even when he doesn't exactly like what they say, he often turns out “to like them anyway, able to separate his intellectual revulsion at their ideas from his personal response to them as human beings.” Indeed, although he's revolted by German attitudes, he admits that “somewhere deep inside me...I love the Germans.”
Pretty much everything above applies as well to Tenenbom's new book, Hello, Refugees! Like I Sleep in Hitler's Room, it's grim yet entertaining, and – most of all – supremely human. This time, as the title suggests, he's concerned with the migrant issue – specifically, with the consequences of Angela Merkel's decision to open the floodgates to undocumented foreigners. Journeying from one refugee camp in Germany to another, and to various hotels where migrants are being put up at taxpayer expense, he meets some newcomers who are gentle, civilized, educated, grateful to be in Europe, and absolutely in love with Germany, and others who are angry, violent, and seething with hostility and contempt toward infidels in general and Germany in particular. (In order not to earn the instant hatred of Muslim migrants, he speaks to them in Arabic and pretends to be one of their coreligionists.)
Although Tenenbom recognizes that it was unwise to admit veritable armies of people from the Levant into Germany and to cram them all together – despite volatile religious, ethnic, and national tensions among them – into crowded camps, he's able to feel outrage at the execrable food they're served and the poor sanitary conditions they're forced to endure. (“Germany might have saved their bodies, but it is killing their souls.”) He even develops attachments to some of them – notably Thawanni, a young woman “with a million watts of warmth,” and two or three others whose empty lives and medical issues he finds “heartbreaking.” At the same time, he doesn't hesitate to call others on their lies, game-playing, and poisonous hatred for Americans and Jews. (Several of the Muslims he meet believe that the U.S. and Israel are behind ISIS.)