[FRANKFURT AM MAIN]
I have been marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht in Germany for 44 years. A culture of memory has developed over the course of these years which has no equal. The Federal Republic is flooded with an almost infinite number of events, and that is a good thing. There is a great deal of discussion about what this culture of memory should be. Are they just empty rituals? No; in these debates, writers, religious representatives, sociologists, historians, contemporary witnesses and actors discuss how not to forget. There are numerous invitations to conferences. I prefer to stay at home. I need silence. The voices of informed people, although intelligent, disturb the memories I have of my family. The many figures and facts in the ongoing debate on anti-Semitism (which is always current) I cannot keep in mind. And then I don’t want to be tested to see how much more I know about all this. And I don’t feel like crying in public. I watch the anniversary celebrated in the Bundestag and in a synagogue in Berlin for a few minutes on TV and I see the federal president embrace Margot Friedländer, one of the last survivors. I am very grateful that these events take place. They give many people the opportunity to engage with Jewish suffering and perhaps even identify with it, to meet with Jews and show empathy.
Who better to represent the German-Jewish symbiosis and its tragedy than Inge Deutschkron and Margot Friedländer, who returned to Berlin very late in their lives? My parents decided to never live in Germany again. At the end of his life, my father forgave Germany. In November of this year, Schwäbisch Hall, his hometown, erected 42 steles on the market square for the Jews of Hall murdered during the Shoah. The Israeli flag flew from City Hall. My mother could not forgive Germany. I chose to live here, in Germany. This is how people in the same family differ.
What happened differently on November 9th this year? The difference is that a month earlier Israel experienced a pogrom reminiscent of the Pogrom Night of 1933, which was followed by the National Socialist extermination industry. Attempts to eliminate the Jews no longer belong only to history, they have intensified again and are lurking all over the world. They are like a smoking volcano that pierces the earth at various points and spews its poison. Neo-Nazis, left-wing radicals and Islamic extremists demonstrate across Europe. Who is responsible for such ignorance and stupidity? I am trying not to panic.
In reading the Haggadah, the text that Jews read at the Seder on the first evening of the Passover holiday, the youngest son sitting at the table asks: “Why is this night different from all the other nights?” It is the night on which the people of Israel were freed from slavery.
On October 7, 2023, everything also changed. Israelis, who had always been confident that the state would protect them no matter what happened, have lost faith in the government. The situation has been tenuous since the beginning of the year, as the fanatical criminal clique led by Netanyahu did everything possible to turn Israel into a dictatorship. The fracture in Israeli society is immeasurable. The economic aspects should not be underestimated either. Almost no therapy will be able to heal the trauma. There are not enough who are qualified to do so.
Day by day the dimensions of the catastrophe become increasingly clear and more horrible. Videos showing the cruelty of Hamas are released. It’s hard to bear. Yet we need to look, otherwise it would be impossible to believe all this. German friends call me, wanting to know if everything is fine with my family in Israel. They ask me how I am, how I am coping with the situation. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, love and empathy. I don’t know how to answer. Even if I barely manage it, I still have to do everything I can to stay as clear-headed as possible. I’m not in danger, but I can’t say I’m fine. My family in Israel has to go to the shelter several times a day. They consider it normal. But how many Israelis don’t have a shelter? Ten years ago, Netanyahu promised to build shelters in the south of the country. Nothing was done. Yet he was re-elected. My fear is about the future. How will we move forward? How long can Israel afford this war?
Why are there no prisoner exchange talks? Without outside help, civil society in Israel will not be able to emerge from this physical, psychological, financial and moral abyss. Where can this help come from? What will the United States ask for in return? And will the future government of Israel, perhaps even more right-wing and messianic than the current one, agree? How can one live under the constant threat of Hezbollah and Hamas? Who will leave the country and who will stay?
According to polls, the Jewish population in the United States increasingly disagrees with Israeli policies. Israelis with European and American passports would like a better, and secure, future for their children. The Israeli press remains silent. Freedom of expression is severely restricted due to police arrests.
These days none of the ministries are functioning. It is the citizens who are working hard to meet the needs of the soldiers and the 250,000 displaced people from the south and the north. Volunteers improvise mobile showers for soldiers. They take washing machines on trucks to combat zones so soldiers can wash their uniforms. They organize tailoring workshops to quickly sew everything you need. Food is cooked, packaged and distributed. There is a lot of imagination, energy and ingenuity at play. How long will citizens be able to finance all this? Are there no state funds? Will the evacuees ever be able to return to their kibbutzim and villages?
The Interior Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, is busy with the uncontrolled distribution of weapons to citizens. How many weapons do the settlers still need? It’s becoming like in America: everyone can load and shoot as they please.
Two days later it’s November 11th. The “Fifth Season” begins in Germany, the Carnival. I learned from the documentary “Schalom und Alaaf” on WDR what this has to do with Jews. The film highlights the elements that connect Jewish culture to the Cologne Carnival, but also how anti-Semitism eventually crept into the Carnival.
In November 2017, the association “Kölsche Kippa Köpp eV” was founded. Says Aaron Knappstein, president of the association:
With this step we wanted to consciously connect to the tradition of the former Jewish carnival club ‘Kleiner Kölner Klub’. In this association, in the 1920s and early 1930s, Jews from Cologne gathered to celebrate the Fastelovend together.
With the beginning of persecution by the Nazi regime, the activity of the KKK (Kleinen Kölner Klubs, “Little Club of Cologne”) came to an abrupt end. There were those who managed to escape abroad, while other members died in ghettos and concentration camps. The “Köpps”, as we affectionately call ourselves, see the rebirth of a consciously Jewish club as a further enrichment for the Cologne carnival and perhaps even beyond. I would like to point out that “we refer to the traditions of the former KKK but are also ready to give life to new traditions. The “Kölsche Kippa Köpp” wants to make it clear that the Jews of Cologne have always been part of the varied carnival life of our city and contribute to bringing carnival back to the Jewish community-
Aaron Knappstein is a historian and works at the Nazi Documentation Center in Cologne. The offices are located in the EL-DE Haus, the former Gestapo headquarters in Cologne.
This is the full range of the German-Jewish symbiosis, from the greats like Hannah Arendt, Gershom Scholem, and Victor Klemperer (recommended book: Steven E. Aschheim, Scholem, Arendt, Klemperer, German-Jewish Identity in Times of Crisis, European Publishing House ) up to the Jewish carnival clubs before and after the Second World War.
Cover image: A light board in Tel Aviv counts the time that has passed since the capture of Israeli hostages in the Hamas raid on October 7 (source: X/Twitter)
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