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Assessing the Role — and the Future — of German Jews, the Fastest Growing Population of Jews in Europe

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2007

by Jeffrey M. Peck,  
Rutgers University Press,  
215 Pages,  
Germany today boasts the fastest growing population of Jews in Europe. The streets of Berlin abound  
with signs of a revival of Jewish culture, ranging from bagel shops to the sight of worshipers leaving  
synagogue on Saturday. On November 9, 2006, Jews throughout Germany marked the 68th anniversary  
of the notorious Nazi pogrom, Kristallnacht, with solemn commemorative ceremonies. In Munich, the  
city where the pogrom was first unleashed, a major new synagogue was dedicated, symbolizing the  
city’s ongoing effort to realize the elusive goal of “normalcy” in its relationship with the Jewish  
In September, 2006, Germany ordained its first rabbis since World War II, an event hailed as a milestone  
in the rebirth of Jewish life in the country where the Holocaust began. The New York Times reported  
that, “Germany took a richly symbolic step in its long journey of historical reconciliation ... as three men  
became the first rabbis ordained in this country since the Holocaust. In a ceremony that blended bright  
hope for the future with a solemn homage to the past, the three — a German, a Czech, and a South  
African — stood before a senior rabbi in Dresden’s modern synagogue, as he told them they had been  
singled out, just as Moses had chosen Joshua, in Scripture.”  
All of Germany Celebrates  
“All of Germany celebrates with us today, and all of Europe as well,” said Rabbi Walter Jacob, the  
president of Abraham Geiger College, which is named after the 19th century German Jewish theologian  
who founded the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin, which was closed by the Nazis. He is one  
of the founders of Reform Judaism.  
“Today, we have made a new beginning,” Rabbi Jacob said to the 250 in the congregation, many of  
them from the U.S. and Israel. The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayyub Axel  
Kohler, was also present.  
After the ceremony, Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said:  
“You could feel the winds of history hovering over your head. For the first time since the horrific events  
that destroyed the Jewish community, you could see a renewal of that community.”  
German President Horst Koehler declared: “After the Holocaust many people could never have imagined  
that Jewish life in Germany could blossom again. That is why the first ordination of rabbis in Germany is  
a very special event indeed.”  
Contemporary Jewish Life  
In an important new book, Being Jewish in the New Germany, Professor Jeffrey N. Peck of Georgetown  
University, who is also a senior fellow in residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German  
Studies, explores the diversity of contemporary Jewish life and the complex struggles within the  
community over history, responsibility, culture, and identity. He provides a glimpse of an emerging, if  
conflicted, multicultural country and examines how the development of the European Community,  
globalization, and the post 9/11 political climate play out in this context.  
Today, there are more than 100,000 registered members of the official German Jewish community and  
many more Jews who are not affiliated. Berlin, the new capital, has the largest Jewish population, with  
approximately 12,000 Jews registered. Frankfurt and Munich follow. While the Jewish population is still  
relatively small in relation to the total German population of approximately 83 million and its capital  
with 3.8 million, its moral and political significance outweighs its size. In 1933, it was estimated that  
Germany had about 500,000 Jews, of which about 160,000 resided in Berlin. At the end of World War II,  
as is well known, Germany’s and Europe’s Jewish population was decimated to a mere remnant of  
“Now in the new millennium,” writes Professor Peck, “there is all the more reason to celebrate the  
triumph, as many see it, over Hitler’s Final Solution. Germany’s Jewish population has gained  
prominence as the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe and the third largest overall. Jewish  
Berlin has become a popular tourist site and home of major international and Jewish organizations. The  
leaders of Jewish institutions, like the American Jewish Committee (AJC), understand the importance of  
a sustained Jewish life in Germany. Far ahead of the Jewish public, they have established positive  
relations with Germany for decades. Yet, American Jews are often unable to overcome old stereotypes  
and prejudices. Many American Jews still feel uncomfortable traveling to Germany or even buying  
German products. In their minds, all Germans, even those born after the war, are tainted by the  
Identities No Longer Exclusive  
Today, Peck argues, “Being ‘German’ and being ‘Jewish,’ separated identities that have a long history,  
especially since the Holocaust, are no longer mutually exclusive. Before the Second World War, most  
German Jews thought of themselves as Germans. ... After the war, the terminology separating Germans  
and Jews connoted the alienation and separation for those Jews remaining, most of whom were not  
‘German’ but displaced persons from Eastern Europe who came to be known by those ignominious  
initials as DP’s. Then, it was simple, the Germans were the perpetrators and the Jews were the victims.  
As a postwar Jewish community took shape, albeit until recently very small, the term ‘Jews in Germany’  
became the dominant description of a people who were not fully comfortable or integrated into the  
society around them. My own prognosis looks toward a potentially new categorization, a ‘new’ German  
Jewry that will represent a different status in both historical and contemporary terms.”  
In Germany at the present time there are 89 synagogues under the Central Council, 12 outside the  
Council, as part of the Reform World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), and 30 rabbis. With the  
official Community, dominated by the Orthodox, the central issue, Peck points out, “concerns the  
religious definition of membership, based on either the Halakhic law of maternal lineage or conversion  
by an Orthodox rabbi. This rule particularly affects Russian Jewish immigrants, whose Jewishness was  
recognized in the former Soviet Union patrilinearly and stamped into their passports as ‘national’  
affiliations were for other groups. Non-Halakhic Jews, for example, those with Jewish fathers and  
gentile mothers, therefore cannot be members, but may participate in the Community’s activities.”  
6,500 Jews Survived  
At the end of the war, about 6,500 Jews survived through mixed marriage, living underground, and  
other means. About 2,000 returned to Berlin from the concentration camps. Most importantly,  
approximately 200,000 Jews came to Germany as DP’s. Housed in camps established by the U.S.  
military authority, most of these people did not want to stay in Germany. They were only in transit on  
their way to Israel, the U.S. or Canada. The few thousand who remained formed the basis of the postwar  
Jewish community. Consequently, Germany, the home of Reform Judaism — where the first female  
rabbi, Regina Jonas, was ordained in 1935 — is now far more Orthodox than before the war.  
In January 1991, after German reunification, Soviet Jews were now admitted under the quota refugee  
law granting them rights ironically only accorded to the so-called ethnic Germans, whose relationship  
to contemporary Germany after many generations of living in remote areas of the Soviet Union was  
more imagined than real. This legislation was a turning point for Soviet Jewish immigration since it  
allowed masses of Jews to enter Germany as immigrants rather than on tourist visas as had previously  
been the informal practice.  
Most of the newcomers, an estimated 80 percent, are halakhically not Jewish, meaning they do not have  
Jewish mothers or do not fulfill other requirements, such as an Orthodox conversion. The intolerance of  
Germany’s organized Jewish community is something which Professor Peck laments and finds  
counterproductive: “Religion, which defines the Jewish Community, allows little diversity; Orthodoxy  
dominates, some Liberal (Conservative) synagogues fill out the picture, and no official Reform offerings  
are available, except for the controversial World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) still fighting for  
recognition. ... I know of one story of an esteemed young Jew who was dismissed from a religious  
Jewish institution in Berlin when it was discovered that his mother’s conversion was not properly  
Orthodox. Whatever the reasons ... halakhic regulation remains ... powerful in a community that some  
might say can ill afford to be so conservative.”  
Optimistic About the Future  
Peck is clearly optimistic about the future of Jewish life in Germany. He writes of the symbolism  
involved in the official opening of the Jewish Museum of Berlin in September 2001, under the  
directorship of Michael Blumenthal, an American Jew who escaped Germany as a child through  
Shanghai. In his “Welcome” printed in the book “Stories of an Exhibition: Two Millennia of German  
Jewish History,” the official documentation of the museum, Blumenthal states: “The Jewish Museum  
Berlin is no ordinary museum. As a major institution of memory, it occupies a unique place in  
Germany’s capital city. As a national institution supported by the Federal Government, the State of  
Berlin, all political parties, and a broad cross-section of the public, its mission has sociopolitical  
meaning that far transcends the story it tells of the 2000-year history of German Jewry. It symbolizes,  
in fact, a widely shared determination to confront the past and to apply its lessons to societal problems  
of today and tomorrow.”  
By presenting a chronological history of the Jews from their earliest settlement in the areas that became  
the German-speaking lands through the present, it reminds the visitor, especially non-Jewish Germans,  
Peck points out, “that the Jew is not an ‘other,’ an exoticized foreigner who does not belong, but an  
integral part of a historical German identity. While the urge to harmonize German-Jewish identity is  
understandable, I would suggest that this exhibition is also a contentious site for definitions of what it  
means to be German as well as Jewish.”  
Throughout the exhibition, Jews in their many historical and religious incarnations are presented as an  
integral part of the German tradition, one that stretches back thousands of years to the time, where the  
exhibition begins, when the “Children of Israel were expelled from the Holy Land and first came to the  
Germanic lands. One sees how Jews not only tried to participate in German society that would create  
the so-called German-Jewish symbiosis that was destroyed by the Nazis, but also that this  
interrelationship was longstanding. The exhibit declares that, “From the beginning, the history of what  
is now Germany was a German-Jewish history” and “Jewish merchants were among the first inhabitants  
of medieval German cities. Often they were among their founders.”  
Symbolic Value Beyond Numbers  
Germany’s Jewish community, Peck believes, “has a symbolic value beyond the numbers. Although this  
new community may not be enough to guarantee that Jews will never be the targets of prejudice or  
attack ... its mere presence carries weight and makes a powerful statement. It represents the defeat of  
Hitler’s Final Solution, a future for a new Jewish life in Germany, and hope for acceptance of diversity in  
a country that, unlike the U.S., defined itself for a long time as only white and Christian.”  
It is unfortunate, in Peck’s view, that for many Americans, “Germany is still often identified exclusively  
with the past Nazi horrors rather than with its postwar democratic and liberal successes. ... Only by  
increased information and contact between the U.S. and Germany/Europe can Americans understand  
how they are still often encumbered by myths, stereotypes and cliches of the ‘old Europe’ that  
describes all Germans either as militaristic, Nazis, or, more recently, as wimpy peacenicks. According to  
this interpretation, Jews should be afraid to live in a country with either of these dangerous alternatives  
that could mean attack from the inside or vulnerability to attack from outside. It is time for Americans  
to see Germany not in such black-and-white terms and to understand the importance of increased  
knowledge for improved transatlantic relations. Compared to other European countries ... Germany —  
its government and its institutions, as well as a majority of its population — has shown its ability and  
willingness to face the past and to support through its growing Jewish community the creation of a  
potential bulwark against a threatening future. This new Germany, however, is only visible if we look  
beyond stereotypes to see opportunities that might otherwise be missed.”  
In the years immediately after World War II, Peck writes, “The world Jewish community had placed an  
official Jewish ‘ban’ on living in Germany.” More recently, on a January 1996 visit to Germany, Israeli  
President Ezer Weizman declared that he “cannot understand how 40,000 Jews can live in Germany,”  
and asserted that, “The place of Jews is in Israel. Only in Israel can Jews live full Jewish lives.”  
A New Generation  
Ignatz Bubis, then head of Germany’s main Jewish organization, responded, “I have lived here since  
1945 and have met two new generations who simply do not identify with the Nazis. This is a new  
Arguing that a Jewish presence in Germany prevents Hitler from achieving his posthumous victory of a  
“Judenrein” Germany, Bubis declared, “The full revival of the Jewish community in post-war Germany is  
important. ... There is no reason to say that Jews cannot live in Germany.” While a proud Jew, he was  
also proud to be, as the title of his memoir emphasizes, “A German citizen of the Jewish faith.” Peck  
writes that, “As Israelis like Weizman tried to isolate German Jews, Bubis often had to remind non-  
Jewish Germans that he did not want to be turned from a German into an Israeli simply because he was  
In response to Weizman’s 1996 declarations, a group of Jewish students living in Germany gave a  
variety of responses. On the one hand, we hear, “One should decide for oneself where one lives,” and  
on the other, “I think it is understandable that Weizman said such a thing. We Jews who live here in  
Germany ask ourselves the same question. Weizman’s statement describes one of my own  
vulnerabilities.” Alice Brauner, one of a group called “The Young Jews of Berlin” exemplifies the more  
positive attitude: “I won’t emigrate. On the contrary, our roots, in this country cannot be broken.” The  
daughter of film producer Arthur Brauner, who returned to Germany after the war, calls herself a  
“Jewish Berliner with German citizenship.” Brauner calls Germany home: “We stay because we are at  
home here and feel at home here.”  
Ambivalence with Israel  
There continues to be ambivalence in the relationship of German Jews and Israel. “The Central Council  
of Jews in Germany’s own relationship with Israel was accented in July 2003 when a five-member  
delegation, among them Paul Spiegel, and Vice President Charlotte Knobloch traveled to Israel,” reports  
Peck. “From the Jewish Agency’s 1943 ban that threatened to ‘excommunicate’ Jews who did not leave  
Germany up until Weizman’s visit, Israeli policymakers have been generally skeptical of Jewish life in  
Germany, even as they developed their close ‘special relationship’ with German governments and their  
elites. ... Natan Sharansky, in an interview with Judische Allgemeine Wechenzeitung still claimed, ‘Of  
course, in point of fact, I see it as a problem that only one generation after the Holocaust, Jews are  
settling in Germany.’ He balances this point, however, with affirming diplomatically the importance of  
working together with the Central Council. Obviously, this statement which coincidentally appeared  
next to a prominent front-page article entitled ‘With Guarded Hope’ about the visit of the Central  
Council to Israel, recognizes again the ambivalence on both sides, especially strained by the  
immigration of so many Russian Jews to Germany.”  
The optimism of those who are working to enhance Jewish life in today’s Germany is reported through  
the many people with whom Jeffrey Peck spoke in the preparation of this book. The Lauder Foundation,  
now housed in its own Lehrhaus (learning center) — named after an institution founded by Franz  
Rosenzweig in the 1920s — is headed by a young rabbi, Josh Spinner, who was born in Baltimore and  
grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. Peck reports that, “He was lively engaged, energetic, and clearly  
committed to the future of Jewish life in Germany. He felt that God had brought the Jews to Germany,  
and it was his job to do what he could to make a Jewish life possible, no matter where it might be.”  
Rabbi Spinner said: “Wherever there are Jews, there should be Jewish life.” What he called “the pariah  
status” of Jews in Germany for so many years since the war’s end should not hinder the development of  
a Jewish life that is active and in the world, being German as well as Jewish. Rather than demonstrating  
Jewishness through symbolically attending a Klezmer concert, remembrance of a lost world that did not  
even belong to German Jews, Spinner offers substantive Jewish learning through full or part time study.  
While not training Jewish “officials” such as rabbis or cantors, Spinner is training, in his words, “what to  
look for in a rabbi or cantor.” His goal is to create a knowledgeable, educated and integrated Jewish life  
from within, wherever Jews live, be it in Germany or elsewhere. Then they can show their fellow citizens,  
as well as non-practicing Jews, the real existence of a Jewish life based on the skills of “any observant  
Jewish man.”  
Flourishing Jewish Life  
Another rabbi active in Berlin is Yehuda Teichtel, a native of Brooklyn who heads Chabad Lubavitch.  
Teichtel’s plans for an enlarged Chabad Center in a new building testify to the future he sees for a  
flourishing Jewish life in Germany. He believes that the greatest service to the six million killed is the  
establishment of Jewish life on German soil to prove Hitler wrong.  
The growth of the German Jewish community, as well as the increasing interaction between Jewish  
communities all across Europe as a result of the establishment of the European Union will, Professor  
Peck believes, lead to a changed relationship between Israel and Jewish communities throughout the  
He points to the historic exchange in 1950 between the president of the American Jewish Committee,  
Jacob Blaustein, and Israel’s prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. When Israel was established, many  
prominent American Jews were concerned about the contempt expressed by some Israeli leaders for  
Jewish life outside of Israel and their desire for a massive emigration of all Jews to the new state. In  
particular, they did not want Israel to interfere in the “internal affairs” of the American Jewish  
As summarized by the American Jewish Committee, the Blaustein-Ben-Gurion agreement stipulated  
that: “(1) Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political  
attachment, namely to the United States of America; (2) that the Government and people of Israel  
respect the integrity of Jewish life in the democratic countries and the right of Jewish communities to  
develop their indigenous social, economic and cultural aspirations, in accordance with their own needs  
and institutions; and (3) that Israel fully accepts the fact that the Jews of the United States do not live ‘in  
exile,’ and that America is home for them.”  
Promoting Idea of “Exile”  
Whatever David Ben-Gurion may have said in 1950, the fact is that ever since many in Israel have  
persisted in promoting the idea that Jews living outside of its borders are indeed in “exile” and that all  
Jews should emigrate to the Jewish state. It is Professor Peck’s view that the Blaustein-Ben-Gurion  
declaration should be applied to Jewish communities in countries such as Germany as well as to the  
United States. He writes, “Increasingly, the relationship between Israel and its Diaspora is being altered  
due to religious, political, or social differences and the changing Jewish culture in both the traditional  
Jewish homeland and Germany. Many citizens of the homeland seem more Israeli than Jewish.  
Consequently, Jewish Diaspora existence may well become more decentered and self-assured.”  
Recent immigration data show that four times as many Israelis live in the U.S. as American Jews in  
Israel. The number of Israelis of German descent applying for German passports has increased  
dramatically in the two years since the start of the Second Intifada. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv is  
currently issuing some 250 passports a month, more than double the number of the l990s, and is  
expected to top 3,000 in 2006, compared to 1,751 in 2001.  
A lawyer who represents many of these dual citizens told Peck that many Israelis regard a German  
passport as “an insurance policy” in case times get harder. In 2002, more Jews from the former Soviet  
Union immigrated to Germany (19,262) than to Israel (18,878). Peck favorably cites the study of Jewish  
life in a number of cities around the world by journalist Larry Tye, Home Lands: Portrait of the New  
Jewish Diaspora (2001), which concludes with a chapter entitled “Israel, A Partnership of Equals,” which  
acknowledges more detachment and increased willingness on the part of even Jewish organizations to  
consider other Jewish populations as important as Israel’s. The existence of a Jewish state, while  
important to world Jewry’s notion of community, may no longer be, according to Tye, the place they call  
home, even as Israelis realize that immigration to Israel of all Diaspora Jews is not a realistic hope.  
Much Soul-Searching  
In a thoughtful chapter about “Jews and Turks” in contemporary Germany, Peck shows that the very idea  
of what being a German really means is undergoing revision, and a great deal of soul-searching. He  
writes: “Jews are a constant reminder of a past that won’t go away. Turks are the strange ‘guests’ who  
were never really welcome and have overstayed their visit. Both groups represent to the German mind  
the ‘other,’ the one who does not fit static notions of German identity. In fact, to many Germans, the  
Turks have become the ‘new Jews.’ We must ask: are these comparisons linked to a heterogeneous  
rather than homogeneous German identity today as the nation comes to terms with its racial, ethnic,  
and religious diversity? How do historical notions of citizenship based on blood and its perversion by  
the Nazis continue to reassert themselves despite multicultural Germany’s new understanding of itself  
that challenges static and racially based notions.”  
The Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee meets regularly with Jewish and Turkish leaders to  
discuss common problems and mutual support. Whenever tension appears between the larger German  
society and its minorities, particularly Turks, Peck laments that many, particularly Americans, are too  
quick to make comparisons with the past: “Again the specter of Nazism seemed to be rearing its ugly  
head, especially for Americans who are quick to see Nazis around every corner. While the Nazi horrors  
need to be remembered, it is an injustice to compare the victims of both historical periods with each  
other. The Jews’ tragedy was not only their persecution and extermination because they were different,  
religiously, ethnically, and according to the Nazis racially, but also the fact that in Germany their  
common ties through citizenship and nationhood meant nothing.”  
Violence Against Turks  
When violence erupted against Turkish immigrants in recent years, Peck notes that, “American Jews in  
particular and the American press in general reacted swiftly and forcefully to the attacks that reminded  
them of the 1930s and 1940s. Some people even used the word ‘atrocity’ to describe soligen, a term  
usually reserved for the magnitude and horror on the scale of the Holocaust. The Washington Times  
writing about Rostock invoked Kristallnacht, the event that initiated the systematic persecution of the  
Jews in 1933. ... One rabbi ...declared, ‘The violence, ugliness, hatred of the foreigner and all the things  
we see emerging again really raise some terribly, terribly painful questions about the character of the  
(German) people.’ Another rabbi, speaking more dramatically, stated, ‘It’s horrendous ... These are  
shades of the Holocaust of Germany’s past.’ A.M. Rosenthal of The New York Times entered the fray  
with more fear and paranoia. ‘The attacks on foreigners, particularly those of dark skin are not just  
sudden bursts of violence. They are as much a part of Nazi strategy as were the first attacks on Jews.’  
And finally, a truly reactionary response by a respected law professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz, who  
asked, ‘Why does the civilized world seem so shocked at the resurgence of Nazism in Germany?’ He  
concludes, “Nazism will recur in Germany every time there is a crisis, unless the German leaders begin  
to speak the painful truth to their people.’ Looking back at these statements from 2004, one might be  
more sanguine in reacting to these events, which have not proven to be as dangerous as some of these  
commentators once feared ... Apparently, cliches and stereotypes do not disappear so easily.”  
The reason for much of the violence against immigrants relates, in Peck’s view, to German reunification  
and to the fact that the Communist government in East Germany never properly confronted the Nazi  
past. He writes that, “It is clear that the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) program or antifascism  
and obligatory people’s solidarity failed. The historian Konrad Jarausch has pointed out that the GDR  
historians ‘fixated upon the Nazi menace in the past and failed to criticize the threat of Erich  
Honecker’s police state in the present’ and ‘did not engage the racial dimension of anti-Semitism and  
insufficiently inoculated youths against xenophobia.’ Through the 1990s and even today, the economic  
and social inequities of the reunification process in fact sustain these citizens’ hostility toward the  
foreigners in their midst, in addition to their own resentment at having been constituted as an ‘other’  
by the West Germans.”  
European-Wide Identity  
A new European-wide Jewish identity is now in the process of emerging. A journalist in an article titled  
“New Chapter in Jewish History Emerges in Europe,” characterizes the emerging Jewish community very  
optimistically: “What’s happening is that the size and composition of the Jewish communities in Europe  
are changing in ways that reflect the era of globalization. Internet communication, the broadening  
culture of the soon-to-expand European Union (EU), and the search for personal identity.” Julian Voloj  
of the 200,000 strong European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) declares that, “There’s a lot going on.  
We should not just focus on negative things but on the future.” Marta Mucznik, executive director of the  
EUJS, who is Portuguese, says, “We are concerned how to build a positive Jewish identity that is not just  
based on the Middle East. This is part of our identity, but it shouldn’t be all.”  
For Voloj, the former president of the German student group and a former leader of the EUJS, the work  
of European Jews that spans the Continent is even more powerful than that of the EU. Their initiative is  
supported by the regularly sponsored pan European Summer University where 500 young Jews gather.  
Voloj is proud of their accomplishments: “We are much further than the EU. We have 32 member  
countries — all of Europe from Finland to the Balkans, from Portugal to the eastern part of Russia. We  
experience the problem of European integration up close in our organization.”  
The EU itself, writes Peck, “represents opportunities for Jews who see that it offers support for Jewish  
unity and protection from discrimination under the Copenhagen Accords. Touching both sides of Jewish  
concerns, the EU stands for integration Europe-wide and for security within individual countries. ...  
Shortly after the EU expansion on May 1, 2004, which included Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary,  
Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus, a Polish Jewish activist said, ‘I doubt  
there are any Jews in Poland or among our neighbors who are not in favor of us joining the EU. The  
main thing is that we will be one body. For Jews this means that the idea of forming ‘European Jewry’  
will be easier to explore. The national differences ... will remain, but there will be an administrative  
background to European Jewish identity.  
“Third Pillar” Premise  
Polish Jewish journalist Konstantin Gebert Liadc made similar claims:“EU enlargement brings European  
Jews even closer together and will enable us to test out the ‘third pillar’ premise.” He also sees  
membership in the EU offering to Jews “protection of E.U. laws on minorities.”  
For European Jewry to survive and thrive, Peck believes that a radical rethinking of categories must take  
place about the construction of Jewish identity. Closest to his own approach, he points out, is the  
historian Diana Pinto and her notion of the European Jewish space. Controversial in some circles  
because of her optimism about the future and, at the same time, pragmatic about declining numbers of  
European Jews, she states, “Rather than perceiving this numerical reality as an impoverishment, Jews  
should consider this structural condition as a major positive challenge, indeed as a challenge unique to  
Europe. For if Jews now live in Europe in a voluntary manner it means they share a series of complex  
affinities with others and it is this link that must be deepened and turned into a creative dialogue,  
starting with non-Jews who choose to enter the Jewish space.”  
Pinto points out that precisely because of the closeness of European Jews and their gentile neighbors,  
who both persecuted and saved them, the Jewish “coming home,” as she calls it, “not only has lifted an  
oppressive silence but has permitted long-needed national debates to take place, thus liberating and  
enriching political and cultural agoras throughout Europe ... European Jews in this context offer the  
living proof that the Holocaust, while never being forgotten, can be transcended, and this stance, more  
than any other, may set them apart from their Israeli or American cousins, for whom the holocaust has  
become a frozen memory.”  
Gauge of Democratization  
In large measure, Peck argues, how Jews are treated in the new Europe will be an important element in  
determining the future of the EU. He writes that, “Jews are still, in my opinion, a gauge of  
democratization and religious freedom for the outside world. ... The international affairs director of the  
AJC told me about his high-level meetings in the Baltic states as they prepared for admission to the EU.  
Treatment of the indigenous Jewish population was an important criterion for those who would evaluate  
these countries’ human rights’ records and potential as a condition for full membership in a European  
community. In other words, the treatment of Jews in Europe is the measure for acceptance and  
Interviews with prominent leaders of the Jewish community in Germany and with American directors of  
important Jewish institutions now located in Berlin, convince Peck that “Jewish life, even with its many  
problems ... offers optimism and potentially a vehicle for improving transatlantic relations. The sheer  
presence of a Jewish population with a variety of religious orientations, as well as opportunities for Jews  
who are culturally identified rather than affiliated according to Orthodox Jewish law, paints a picture of  
a thriving and vibrant community. It is one populated by a mixture of German, Polish, and primarily  
Russian Jews and Israelis, Americans, Canadians, and others from around the world complementing the  
Transatlantic relations might be improved if more Americans, especially Jewish Americans, knew more  
about the complexities of Jewish life in Germany and the role of German politics and culture in  
European-wide relations. During the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 2004  
conference in Berlin on anti-Semitism, the fact that Berlin was the capital of Nazi Germany and now the  
location of such a meeting, was cited by almost all of the prominent participants. German Foreign  
Minister Joschka Fischer welcomed the guests with these words, “The German government has invited  
you all to this conference in Berlin — in our capital, in the city in which almost seventy years ago not far  
from here the destruction of European Jewry was decided, planned, and instituted. We, as hosts, want  
to acknowledge the historical and moral responsibility of Germany for the Shoah. The memory of this  
monstrous crime against humanity will also influence German politics in the future.”  
Germany Still Identified with Past  
Dr. Peck laments that, “Unfortunately, Germany is still often identified in the U.S. exclusively with past  
Nazi horrors rather than with its postwar democratic and liberal successes. The site of the OSCE  
Conference was to demonstrate dramatically Germany’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism even  
though Jews have not been targets as frequently as in France. In fact, some Jews in Germany seem to be  
less fearful than their American counterpart. For example, Cilly Kugelmann, program director for the  
Jewish Museum who has lived in Israel and criticizes the German left for its ‘anti-Semitism cloaked as  
anti-Zionism,’ still finds ‘the alarmism about an apparent new anti-Semitic danger greatly  
exaggerated.’ ... Joschka Fischer represents the special attention that Germany pays to its Jewish  
citizens and new Jewish immigrants. As he reminded Jews and non-Jews alike at the OSCE Conference.  
‘For every active attack against a Jewish Citizen, every desecration of a Jewish cemetery, indeed, every  
single anti-Semitic expression threatens not only our Jewish people and Jewish communities in  
Germany and elsewhere, but also and precisely our open and democratic society as a whole.”  
Increasingly, there are signs that Jewish life in Germany is being normalized. Dr. Peck points to a  
number of examples. One of Germany’s most popular weekly television programs featuring one of  
Germany’s prime time icons — Tatert (Scene of the Crime) with masculine, rough-hewn star Getz  
George playing Detective Schimanski. One installment took, at least in the eyes of a t.v. critic, a step  
forward in the depiction of Jewish life. Schimanski, with his usual cunning, comes to the aid of an  
Orthodox Jew who thinks he is about to be murdered by another Jew. Schimanski takes a job in a  
kosher restaurant to shadow the potential criminal. The critic emphasizes in his review in the prominent  
conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung an interesting and provocative change from the  
typical obligatory and overly pious German knee-jerk response to Holocaust victimhood and guilt that  
took a female police detective to Israel in an earlier episode.  
New Attitude  
As what he calls “perhaps a portent of new attitudes,” Peck points to the 2005 film entitled “Alles auf  
Zucker!” (Bet it all on Zucker!), the first post-war German Jewish comedy, by Swiss German Jew and  
filmmaker Dani Levy, who now lives in Berlin. Der Spiegel journalist Jody Biehl headed her review with  
the claim “Germany Breaks A Taboo” and noted that the film has blossomed into a surprise box-office  
hit and that the film’s director says he’s tired of seeing Jews portrayed, only as victims. Laughter, Liehl  
wrote, could be the best medicine for ever tense German-Jewish ties, what she calls the Germans’  
“stereotypical heaviness” toward Jews might be tempered by the humorous stereotypes Levy himself  
uses to portray his characters.  
Levy has made seven other films about German-Jewish relations, including one which he called  
“Maschugge” (English title: “The Giraffe”). About “Alles auf Zucker,” Levy states: “Germans no longer  
have any experience in relation to Jews and that creates a natural discomfort. Combine that with  
Germany’s bad conscience over the Holocaust and you get an irrational fear. I want to change that, My  
film is not a film about Jews. It’s a film about people caught up in everyday chaos who happen to be  
Jews.” Indeed, Levy hopes, “Germans can laugh with these Jews ... (and) start to see how human they are  
... Maybe then Jews will lose a little of their foreignness. And maybe, just maybe, Germans will lose a  
little of their fear.”  
“Mein Fuehrer”  
Opening in January, 2007 in Germany is Dani Levy’s latest film, “Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth  
About Adolf Hitler.” Discussing this movie, The Washington Post (January 2, 2007) reports: “Coming  
soon to German cinemas: a demoralized, drug-addled Adolf Hitler who plays with a toy battleship in  
the bathtub, dresses his dog in a Nazi uniform and takes acting tips from a Jewish concentration camp  
inmate. The movie is treading ground that once would have been off-limits. This is not Mel Brook’s  
‘The Producers’ or Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator,’ but a German movie that dares to treat Hitler  
as comedy.”  
Levy’s plot starts in December 1944, with Berlin in ruins and Hitler too depressed to deliver a much-  
awaited rallying speech. His propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, finds a solution in Adolf  
Gruenbaum, a fictional Jewish actor who once coached Hitler and is now in a concentration camp. “We  
need someone who can ignite our Fuehrer’s greatest strength — and that strength is his hatred,”  
Goebbels explains.  
Gruenbaum uses the mission to try to kill Hitler, but fails. So he puts him through humiliating  
exercises, such as crawling about barking like a dog. The farce broadens when Hitler’s barber  
accidentally shaves off half his mustache; the enraged dictator shouts himself hoarse and Gruenbaum  
has to lip-sync the big speech, but deviates from the script to make Hitler look even sillier.  
Unthinkable a Decade Ago  
Paul Nolte, a professor at Berlin’s Free University, says that all of this would have been unthinkable a  
decade ago, when Germans were engrossed in “a very serious appraisal of Nazism” and how to  
commemorate its victims. “Today they find it easier to go beyond that, and enter other genres.”  
Director Dani Levy notes that the German people’s distance from the events has grown as the World  
War II generation dwindles. He points to Italian Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning “Life Is Beautiful” of  
1997 as a taboo-breaking forerunner, about a father who uses desperate and hilarious means to shield  
his son from the horrors of a Nazi death camp and convince him it is all an elaborate game. “I think it is  
important that we create new pictures of our own, also of the Holocaust or Nazism, and not always  
work off the old, realistic pictures, because I think that just makes us lazy and tired, and we don’t learn  
anything from it,” Levy said.  
Der Spiegel, the German weekly, says that the new wave of films about Hitler is demonstrating “a need  
to break the myth down to a normal human ... that makes him more everyday, perhaps easier to  
understand, in any case smaller. The ultimate way to shrink a myth is to make it laughable.”  
The Washington Post reports that, “Germans have experienced, perhaps for the first time since before  
the war, the full force of national pride, engendered by their successful staging of the soccer World Cup  
last summer. ‘Mein Ball,’ a musical staged in Hamburg this year, even managed to marry the disparate  
themes by imagining Hitler trying to save Germany by staging the World Cup. The film version of the  
Broadway staging of ‘The Producers,’ with its signature song ‘Springtime for Hitler’ was shown in  
cinemas last spring without creating a major stir. In a related sign of changing attitudes, it also was a  
huge hit in Israel, home of tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors, with few complaints about bad  
Rebirth of Community  
In his description of the rebirth of the German Jewish community, Jeffrey Peck argues that there is,  
indeed, a vibrant and significant future for Jews in Germany. He also speculates that contemporary  
European Jewry can transform Judaism to be more inclusive, which he feels would be an important step  
forward. He dismisses complaints that events such as Jewish cultural festivals, open to Jews and non-  
Jews alike, don’t count as genuinely Jewish. “Just as branding an automobile as ‘made in America,’  
though parts are imported from around the world and assembled by immigrant labor, a state of pure  
‘Jewishness’ is no longer possible to achieve ...”  
Jeffrey Peck is hardly alone in his optimistic analysis. Another recent volume, Turning the Kaleidoscope:  
Perspective on European Jewry (Berghan Books) collects a series of essays about European Jews. Lars  
Dencik, a Swedish professor of social psychology, agrees with Peck’s expansive model of Jewish  
identity. He cites surveys showing that Jews in Sweden identify strongly as both Swedes and Jews — not  
one or the other, but fully both at once. Swedish Jews pick and choose from both Swedish and Jewish  
traditions in what he calls a “postmodern, Swedish smorgasbord Judaism.”  
Another possibility for European Jewry, suggested by British contributor Clive Lawton, is that they “can  
mediate the gap” between America and Israel the way England has between America and the E.U. He  
contrasts the American model of Jewish identity, which is based on one’s private relationship with faith,  
to its opposite extreme, the secular Israeli model, in which Jewish identity is nationalized and has, for  
many, almost no religious component. Lawton posits the existence of a European identity model that  
falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and is about “community.”  
Worthy of Attention  
The Jewish community in Germany, being Europe’s third largest and fastest growing, is worthy of  
continued interest and attention, particularly given the history of the Holocaust. Professor Peck has  
provided us with a landmark study of that community and of the larger changes taking place within a  
reunified Germany, and a larger European Union which faces new challenges of immigration and in  
which many of its members are moving toward genuinely heterogeneous societies.  
It is essential, Dr. Peck declares, that Americans in general, and American Jews in particular, see today’s  
Germans and contemporary Germany as they really are, and not as reflected in memories of the Nazi  
era. It is also essential, he believes, that Israelis abandon the idea that Jews living outside of its borders  
are, somehow, in “exile”, and that genuine Jewish life cannot exist in the larger world and, in particular,  
in a country so burdened with history as Germany. Sharing the idea that a thriving and growing Jewish  
community in Germany is, indeed, a final defeat for Hitler, Jeffrey Peck is optimistic about the future.  
His book deserves widespread attention, regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with all of his  

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