Jews in Germany Don’t Need Special Treatment Any More

Germany is going through difficult times, and not only because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Angela Merkel, the embodiment of German, even European, common-sense and stability, and a staunch supporter of Germany's post-war special relationship with Israel, is on her way out, whilst the extreme right-wing Alternative for Germany party is the third strongest political force in the Bundestag, and is consolidating its support regionally.

What does all this mean for the Jews? Is it possible to lead a "normal" post-Holocaust Jewish life in Germany? Which political trends really present a threat to the free choice of Jews in Germany to speak, act and identify as they wish? Is Germany’s post-war political elite consensus – being for "Jews and Israel, right or wrong" – as solid as it once was? Should it? Do Jews have a future in Germany? And if so, what kind of future?

To understand where Germany and its Jews are today, one needs to go back to the beginnings of Jewish life in the newly established Federal Republic. It started with a small group of some 15,000 Jews, mainly Eastern European, who chose not to leave the interim displaced persons camps established after the war, to make their way to Israel or the U.S., but to stay in Germany.   

These displaced Jews, who decided to stay in a country still full of Nazis, and the few thousand German Jews returning after the war, were considered pariahs in the Jewish world. For years, those that stayed, and their representative bodies, were boycotted by the Jewish world. 

A youth stands on one of the charcoal-coloured concrete slabs of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, May 12, 2005AP

For most Jews around the world, it was way too early for normalization: they needed to see Germany punished. That a small number of Jews chose to live in the land of the perpetrators, amongst the perpetrators, was an affront: they were considered to lack dignity, actively tarnishing the name and standing of the Jewish people.

For decades after the Holocaust, many Jews refused to visit Germany, to buy German goods, even rejecting German reparations – Israel saw violent demonstrations when its government signed a reparations agreement in 1952 – avoiding all and any contact with that country.