Thursday, August 8, 2013

Germany - Apparently Some Countries Never Change

Photo: Stuttgarter Zeitung

To anyone who would like to argue that the above image is a purely political statement with no inherent anti-Semitism riddle me this - do you honestly think Bibi's nose is that large?? Come on folks.

My mother has some interesting mixed heritage. Her own mother was a Jewish girl from Odessa. Unfortunately she left the Ukraine to intermarry with my maternal grandfather who was half German and half Baluki (from the Balukistan region, part of modern day Pakistan... yeah, don't ask). While I never met my German great grandmother and know next to nothing about her, what I do remember is the few stories my mother told me about the suffering her own mother went through at the hands of her mother-in-law. While I'm not aware that she was blatantly anti-Semitic, she did used to have a great joy at teasing and mocking her Jewish daughter-in-law and being an overall cruel bully. I myself had a close non-Jewish friend once of German heritage who, while he was an all around good guy, had a strange air of cruelty I remember picking up on. Whether it was wrestling with buddies for fun or getting in serious fights while drunk at a party or the like he got a real kick out of physically overpowering people and submitting them to him. It always struck me as strange that it didn't seem to be an ego thing so much as him really just enjoying watching other people suffering in physical pain. It certainly doesn't take much of stretch of the imagination to see why conventional wisdom holds Germany, at least in the previous generation, was the most recent incarnation of Amalek. If Amalek is the exact spiritual opposite of Am Yisrael than it would make sense for a nation embodying cruelty to be the opposite of "rachmanim bnei rachmanim."

There is a story in the Gemara in which a rabbi was speaking to non-Jewish government official or military officer of some sort (I forget the exact details but I believe he was a Roman). The rav told him that he was aware of a major dilemma his nation was contemplating to which the non-Jew expressed doubt. The rav continued, "You all wish to destroy us (the Jewish people) but practically speaking you can't . While you control a large part of the world there are still areas of the world in which Jews live that aren't under your control. So even if you were to kill off every Jew under your dominion you wouldn't have completely wiped out every Jew in the world. And in the meantime, while not completely achieving your objective, you would have to suffer the criticism of the world for being cruel murders and killing off all the Jews of your lands for no reason." Surprised, the non-Jew swore by the name of his avoda zara that what the rav had just stated was precisely what they had been contemplating and he was highly impressed with the rav's keen insight.

The first time I ever heard this story was from a very learned friend who made the shrewd point that Germany is an absolute modern day incarnation of this piece from Chazal. When you simply mention the word "Germany" many things may come to mind. Talented engineering including the some of the best designed cars in the world, opera, chocolate, beer, etc. However... despite all the many associations that are conjured up, the very first one that pops into anyone's head (arguably non-Jews just as much as Jews) is the Holocaust. Practically every nation in the world would have liked to have wiped us out, as evidenced during WW2 by their active assistance in the Holocaust on the one hand, or on the other by convenient feigning of ignorance or at best empty protests lacking any consequential follow-through to the verbal condemnations. While everyone secretly (or not so secretly) wanted to do what Germany did, only the Germans themselves had the honesty to come out in the open and try it. Yet today all the previously jealous bystanders all stand up and point fingers at the Germans condemning them for the rasha'im that they are.

But be all the hypocrisy as it may, the Germans still hold the infamous title of being among the nations who actually tried it.... and quite arguably the worst of them all. While other nations may have committed genocide, even against Jews, nobody ever turned it into a calm calculated industrial process. A modern day suicide bomber's last words will invariably be the screams of "Allahu Akbar" before he ignites in a physical and emotional blast. For his hatred is a highly passionate one. Yet for the SS officer who would release the Zyklon B, he did it with as much emotion as he would tying his shoe. Hatred and murder of Jews wasn't some great philosophical and idealistic concept which entailed dedicating and giving his life so much as an item so ingrained in his blood and normal for him that it occurred in between mundane things like eating a sandwich.

And with this in mind I feel somewhat surprised by the recent anti-Semetic German cartoon. No no, I'm not actually surprised by the cartoon itself. What I'm surprised by is why anyone, especially Jews would be so foolish as to expect anything else. It's as if people think that by constantly repeating the zen mantra of "Never Again" and making every foreign diplomat and dignitary who comes to Israel make their first stop Yad Vashem (even if the nature of their trip is totally unrelated and they have already been to the site multiple times) that will somehow change people's nature. If going through a holocaust isn't enough to change some peoples' wishful thinking, then how can the guilt of a few museums and Steven Spielberg films be enough to change inborn national Jew hatred?

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