Sleeping in Hitler's room: the modern German-Jewish relationship
Germany’s ‘obsession with Jews is frightening’, according to the author of a controversial new book
Germanophiles are a breed apart. There are more of them then you might think – but unlike, say, Francophiles they keep their love of Germany to themselves.
Speaking publicly can have unintended consequences, they learn, and so they keep quiet. Not so with Tuvia Tenenbom. When the New York-based theatre director and journalist was asked by a Berlin publisher to write a German travelogue he jumped at the chance. Already a regular visitor to the country and a contributor to Die Zeit weekly, Tenenbom was expecting a fun few months of train hopping, beer guzzling and flirtations with frisky pensioners.
“This is the only country on planet I totally understood. Their neurotic system is mine; their strive for perfection is mine,” he says on a snowy afternoon in Berlin’s bustling Café Einstein. “But I walk into this place where I feel they are my brothers and I love them, but they don’t love me: they hate me.”
Hate is a strong word but Tuvia Tenenbom is a man of strong convictions. He was born in Israel to a Rabbi father who fled Europe as a child; his Romanian-born mother survived a Nazi concentration camp.
The 55 year old has spent his life testing his own beliefs: Orthodox Judaism, Zionism, then an Israeli leftist, now a non-religious self-professed centrist who “goes where the facts lead”.
Unlike the BBC’s Louis Theroux, who delights in visiting gun-toting polygamists in the US Bible Belt, the facts Tenenbom found in Germany prompted him to take what one reviewer called a “kamikaze trip through the German character”.
From Hamburg to Bavaria, the Black Forest to Berlin, he visited politicians and anarchists, publishers and gastronomes. He records trips to spotless car factories and packed soccer-watching parties. He says that, with no influence on his part, all roads he explored in the German character lead back to the same place: crude anti-Semitic views fuelled by the phantom menace of the international Jewish conspiracy.
His book became a catalogue of these bizarre German assertions about Jews and the things they reportedly control: the world’s media and banks; the black American president and the US economy; even the Aldi supermarket chain.
“Everything in America has something to do with Jews,” a woman in Bavaria tells Tenenbom. A nun informs him: “All over the world the Jews are united.” In a Munich beer garden a fellow drinker asserts that “old Jewish ladies paint their faces and look like little dolls . . . and they all work in diamonds”.
“At first you start laughing, but soon you are too shocked to laugh,” says Tenenbom, whose moon face, blond hair and severe round glasses recall a middle-aged David Hockney.
He meets German philo-Semites who were “Jewish in a previous life” and have embraced klezmer music and German anti-Semites who, he says, wear the politically correct mask of the pro-Palestinian campaigner.
Seven decades after the Holocaust, atonement has come full circle to accusation.
“It’s not anti-Semitism if you criticise Israel, but if you think there is only one foreign government on the planet that is doing wrong, and that is Israel; that’s anti-Semitism,” he says.