Sleeping in Hitler's room: the modern German-Jewish relationship
For balance, Tenenbom cast a cold eye on Germany’s Jewish community of about 100,000. He visits synagogues rebuilt for hundreds yet with too few attendees for a prayer group, let alone a congregation.
For Tenenbom this is official Germany’s philo-Semitic field of dreams: if you rebuild it, they will come.
“There’s no future to Jewish life in Germany,” remarks the wife of a Berlin rabbi in a dark moment of the soul. “This is a cursed country, and no blessing will come out of it.”
He pulls no punches after visiting Germany’s growing Muslim community either, asking why the anti-Semitic assertions of imams are ignored by the authorities. “Germans who want to erase the shame of being the Jew-killers of yesterday by uniting with the Jew-haters of today,” he writes.
Conflict with publisher
His forthright assertions brought him into conflict with his original German publisher. When he refused its demands to excise anti-Semitism episodes he was dubbed a “Jewish hysteric”, he said, who had written a “deplorably undercomplex” book.
A rival publisher has just released the volume as Allein unter Deutschen (Alone among Germans).
Despite his dose of tough love, book reviews have been mixed to positive. Focus magazine suggested that Tenenbom “often gets the answers he expects and he over-simplifies”.
Der Spiegel called him a “radically subjective observer” who “gets worked up about the ‘brainy stupidity’ and ‘childish extremism’ of the Germans yet exhibits precisely the same traits”.
“Sometimes humorous, sometimes bitter, its style is generalisation,” wrote the Hamburger Abendblatt. “But it is impressive to be served up, by an outsider, what one already knows.”
Tenenbom insists he was not driven by an agenda, except to go beyond his comfort zone. His book is not a polemic, he says, yet it squeezes out millions of mild-mannered people in favour of colourful snapshots of familiar German types: intolerant do-gooders, embittered millionaires, phoney intellectuals – all sharing a pronounced German sense of righteousness that, he suggests, can “turn people into animals in a second”.
For Tenenbom the roots of the Jewish fixation he found are in six decades of state-led atonement for the Holocaust: financial compensation to survivors, rebuilding synagogues and cultural centres. What he says the country needed and needs is 82 million hand mirrors for private introspection.
A terrible collection of cultural cogs clicked into place for Hitler in Germany, he believes: overbearing righteousness and naivete, a love of absolutism and consensus groupthink rather than individual decisions and personal responsibility.
These cogs, Tuvia Tenenbom concludes, still whirr today – out of sync for now but not necessarily forever. His conclusion brings him no joy.
“I have always thought great things of the Germans . . . and I always defended them when people said they were Nazis,” he said. “I didn’t think this book would contain more than three pages about Jews if at all . . . but the obsession with Jews here is frightening. I so much wanted it not to be that, but this is what it was.”
Allein unter Deutschen is available in English as I Sleep in Hitler’s Room and as an ebook on iTunes