From Latent to Manifest Antisemitism:
Current Trends in Germany
Lecture held at the
Conference of SICSA in Jerusalem:
"Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism in Western-Europe since 2000", 12/18/2002
Martin Ulmer, Germany
In autumn 2002 residents of a street in
Berlin shouted: "Jews out", when the chairman of the Jewish community held
his speech at a public renaming of a street. The Jüdenstraße was to receive
its original name again, which was changed to Kinkelstaße in 1930 by the
national socialists (1). Nevertheless, those hecklers
were no neonazis, but honorable male and female citizens of Berlin, who
vented their anger with antisemitic resentments. For this reason in my
report I shall concern myself with the question: Is antisemitism in Germany
acceptable again, and what kind of specifics does it have?
My lecture is about:
- The history of secondary antisemitism
- Empirical studies and data for an increase of antisemitism
- The meaning of actual antisemitic scandals in political culture
While my lecture draws attention to the
hostility towards Jews directly from the center of society and bourgeois
culture, my colleague Clemens Heni concerns himself with the actual
tendencies of anti-Zionism in Germany. In fact there are manifold interfaces
in political culture.
Secondary Antisemitism since 1945
Since 1945 the massive antisemitism in
national socialistic Germany was latent and had to be pushed aside because
of the Shoah. The unprecedented genocide on European Jews was justified in
the collective consciousness of the perpetrators as antisemitism after
Auschwitz without Jews. Crucial were social-psychological processes which
were described by following psychoanalysts, Alexander and Margarete
Mitscherlich, with the term "incapability to mourn" (2).
In addition to that, there were external political issues like recovery and
anti-Communism, both extremely supportive to a repression of NS-crimes in
Germany. The hostility towards Jews regarding Auschwitz was labeled with the
term secondary antisemitism by the Institute for Social Science in
Frankfurt. Its meaning is a refusal of memory and guilt with antisemitic
projections (3). This secondary anti-Semitism
covers such different forms, like philo-Semitism, anti-Zionism and thoughts
mainly encompassing clean breaks, which lingers in its latency. These
secondary forms function as suppression and conservation, and provide
through their flexible metamorphoses for a high level of social acceptance,
because one is not able immediately to decode antisemitism. The secondary
antisemitism is a central condition for the existence of antisemitism in
Germany. Since the reunion of Germany in 1990 and a steadily growing
national consciousness, latent forms of antisemitism have manifestly come to
light more and more often. A new escalation was created, in my opinion, on
the bases of three events, which dealt as catalysts:
- Walser-Bubis-Conflict in Autumn 1998
- Government Change to Red-Green and the Consequences
– Start of 2nd Intifada in September 2000
Empiric Studies and Data Concerning a Rise of
Antisemitism in Germany
In April 2002, shortly before the
antisemitism scandals of the liberal politician Jürgen Möllemann and the
famous author Martin Walser, an opinion poll was taken from 1000 persons
from East Germany and 1050 from West Germany about their attitudes towards
Jews and Americans (4). The representative study
was ordered by both Institutes of Psychology in Frankfurt and Leipzig. This
new study was compared to an empirical study from 1999 partially including
identical questions about Jews. The alarming result was: 1999, 20% took the
antijewish resentment ("I do well understand, why Jews are unpleasant to
some people"); in spring 2002, 36% of the interviewed were of the same
opinion. Interesting is that the results from West Germans, those who lived
in a democratic and parliament system for a long period, in contrast to the
East Germans were even one percent higher (namely 37%). At least 20% of all
people who were interviewed think that "that the Jews are to blame for the
major conflicts in the world" and another 26% are partly of the same
Additionally this study stated almost 50%
agreement to anti-American resentments: "I understand very well that
US-Americans are unpleasant to some people". According to the preferences of
parties there are 31% followers of the liberal democrats, 37% of the
christian democrats, but 42% of social democrats and socialists, and at the
top 50% partial to the Green Party.
The massive increase of antisemitic
resentments of 80% within three years is an expression of a paradigm change
in Germany to an increasing acceptance and desirability of manifested
antisemitism. It has been shaped by a new dangerous dimension in political
culture through a deliberate manufacturing of antisemitic breaks with taboos
(refer to the new book) (5). In this context the
authors write about the 36% consented values of manifested antisemitism: "We
do not know, to which extent current polling is now admitted more blatantly,
compared to earlier polls in which great care was taken to avoid
Social scientists point out to a shifting
option of latent and manifest antisemitism, which depends always on the
social acceptance of antisemitism in political culture. Both latent and
manifest antisemitism is a fixed component in political culture and rises
from the middle of German society.
Also other studies have established
approximately 20% manifest antisemites and about 30-40% people with latent
anti-Jewish attitudes in the population, in which their latent antisemitic
attitudes and feelings are only partly conscious (6).
In this total count of 50-60% latent and manifest antisemitic attitudes in
the German population a change in attitude is taking place in favor of open
hostility toward Jews.
Another study about attitudes of the future
German elite, that is students interviewed about the NS's past, holocaust,
and antisemitism, supplies evidence for this alarming trend in Germany.
Based on an interview in the year 2000 it was
found that 37% of more than 2000 students (including 23% future teachers) at
the University of Essen were of the opinion, that Jews profit from their
NS-past and take advantage of the German's guilty conscious. If the
interviewed persons were influenced by an authoritarian socialization, they
are more agreeable to antisemitic resentments, which makes reference to the
actuality of the Frankfurter Schule concerning the "authoritative
character". 36% want to consider the NS's past closed and the majority of
61% are of the opinion that the Germans should finally develop a new
national awareness. Finally the knowledge of the majority of students (71%)
is incomplete or poor about national socialism and the holocaust. In the
results it becomes clear that the wish to draw the line to national
socialism is connected with the new national consciousness in Germany and
the Jews' legitimate demand for an explanation and reviewing of the NS past
and the Shoa are an obstacle to this awakened need for national awareness,
which inadvertently promotes secondary antisemitism. Due to this admonition
Jews become more and more targets of antisemitic resentments.
Parallel to the great increase of manifest
antisemitic resentments there is a rise of antisemitic crime. The
willingness for antisemitic violence and propaganda is growing in Germany's
political culture from latent to open antisemitism due to the of a paradigm
change. Compared to former years an obvious increase of antisemitic crimes
of more than 1400 in the year 2001 has been observed. Additionally in the
year 2001 1,300 websites were registered by the Office for the Protection of
the Constitution concerning hostility towards Jews.
Möllemann's and Walser's Production of Antisemitic breaks
– an Anatomy of Antisemitic Scandals
In spring 2002 two renown German
personalities in perfectly different roles, one in political and one in
cultural context, entered the political and cultural stage of the German
public in order to protest as self-styled antisemitic rebels against the
alleged "Jewish" mainstream in media, politics, and the public.
First leading actor was the liberal
top-politician Jürgen W. Möllemann, who was simultaneously Chairman of the
Arabic-German Society and parliamentary leader of the Free Democratic
Party's (FDP) largest union in Germany. In April and May FDP politician
Möllemann picked up on several breaks of taboos of the already antisemitic
change of mood in the society, popularized it even more, not least in favor
of the FDP and his own person.
1. Several times Möllemann repetitively
sympathized with the Palestinian suicide assassinations against Israel, for
which he held the alleged "terrorism of the state Israel" responsible.
2. Parallel to that, an antisemitic representative, Syrian by birth, became
a member of the FDP state parliament, who spoke about the "Zionist lobby
throughout the world".
3. After that Möllemann constructed, in the form of an antisemitic world
conspiracy fantasy, the absurd taboo that one is not allowed to criticize
Israel, because interested Jewish and pro Israel circles would allegedly
4. When Michel Friedman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany criticized
Möllemann, Möllemann attacked sharply Friedman and the Prime Minister of
Israel, Ariel Sharon, who " create antisemitism in Germany with their
spiteful manner". Möllemann used the antisemitic stereotype, Jews were to
blame themselves for the anti Jewish hostility. During the escalation with
the Central Council of Jews, Möllemann stylized himself as an antisemitic
rebel who would finally have the courage to take the risk to liberate the
antisemitic break of taboo against Israel and Jews, regardless of historic
legacies, on the pretext of a self-constructed taboo to ban criticism toward
The great approval for Möllemann is
documented not only by 15,000 mostly positive replies by readers, with
exceptions, but also by the predominantly neutral and positive response of
the media. On May 23rd in 2002, the reputable newspaper, "Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung", praised both Möllemann's heroic deed and the Free
Democratic Party (FDP), because the FAZ claimed that the FDP is the first
party in Germany which historicizes the national socialism and makes
attempts to free the criticism toward Israel from suspicion of antisemitism,
which would mean "progress".
The production of anti-Jewish breaks of
taboos was a populistic strategy, covered by the FDP-leadership, for the FDP
to gain antisemitic votes on their way to the election-project 18%.
Following the example of the Liberal Folk's Party under Jörg Haider in
Austria, the Free Democrats should become the People's Folk Party
("völkische Volkspartei"). Characteristic of the antisemitic climate in
politic culture was the isolation of the Central Council of Jews in the
fight against the anti-Jewish attacks by Möllemann. The FDP-leadership under
Guido Westerwelle allowed the election strategist Möllemann consciously have
his way, regardless of the moral pressure by several old liberals.
Nevertheless, in May the results of an opinion poll for the FDP was raised
by a few percent. Only when the international reputation of Germany was
endangered, did the political class condemn the attacks of Möllemann.
From Möllemann to Walser
Möllemann was the first taboo breaker, and in
the cultural sector , the author, Martin Walser, followed with his novel,
"Death of a Critic" ("Tod eines Kritikers"). In his speech for the
"Nobel-Peace-Prize" in October 1998 Walser had already gathered very good
experiences with antisemitic breaks of taboos, when the German top elite
cheered him for his criticism on the "Instrumentalisation of Auschwitz" and
on the "threatening routine and moral club (Moralkeule) Auschwitz", except
for the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, back then Ignaz
Bubis. Bubis reproached Walser for "intellectual arson". Supported by broad
circles of the public, Walser persisted in his position, while Bubis,
because of strong public pressure, had to withdraw his suspicions toward
Walser. Already in 1998 Pandora's antisemitic box had been opened in the
politic culture, and a broad solidarity of many politicians and
intellectuals were with the author, Walser.
In this key novel "Death of a Critic",
published in June 2002, Walser writes about retaliation with Germany's most
famous critic of literature and Holocaust-survivor Marcel Reich-Ranicki (7).
In the novel Reich-Ranicki is easily identifiable with the figure
"Ehrl-König". Walser uses numerous antisemitic stereotypes, in order to
defame the Jewish critic in the eyes of the readers. He talks about his
"lack of restraint", about "jungle of rumors, in which he moves so
splendidly", about his sexual excesses. Walser hardly leaves out any
antijewish cliché, up to the basic tenor, the Jewish critic with his "lust
for disparagement" is in opposition to his non-Jewish advisers with his
spiritually unproductive and uncreative figure of entertainment. Walser was
inspired by Richard Wagner's inflammatory paper published in the 19th
century "Jews and Music"?
During the scandal with Möllemann, Walser was
planning a publication of his novel in advance with the FAZ. Walser usually
published regularly in the FAZ (Hausblatt), but this novel, as a "document
of hatred", was refused, as reported the editor, Frank Schirrmacher. At the
same time of the refusal of Walser's opus a "hype of media" arose. Walser,
thereby, played consciously the role of the pursued persecutor, who resisted
against the power of media, which again only tried to suppress his hidden
and openly expressed antisemitic insinuation. In the public extracts of the
opus and also before the publication of the novel in June, the question was
discussed in Germany, whether the novel is actually antisemitic or not. Only
a few intellectuals, like the scientist of literature and initiator the
critical exhibition on Armed Forces, Jan Philipp Rentsma, and the author and
Auschwitz-survivor Ruth Klüger, reacted with a sharp critique on Walser's
novel. The public interest on the announced break of taboo let the advanced
order at Suhrkamp publishing house rise to the top and within the first
weeks the first edition of 70.000 books was completely sold out. Until today
there were 150.000 copies sold. In the broad bourgeois society the novel
gets a mainly positive feedback, which is faced with a series of critical
reviews. But even the critique on the novel is confined to bad literary
quality, and again not on Walser's antisemitism. Also this can be
interpreted as a sign of a paradigm change up to manifest antisemitism.
Neither Antisemites nor Antisemitism?
At the peak of both antisemitic scandals in
early summer of 2002 the public discourse was dominated by the question,
whether Walser and Möllemann are real antisemites despite their antisemitic
remarks. This playing-down of antisemitism and their related reactions of
defense ("but this is really not antisemitism") are a new phenomenon. In
former days one distanced oneself more often, but in 2002 the German public
gives preference to deal with questions like these. These conflicts seem to
have nothing to do with antisemitism. In addition toward indignant reactions
against all forms of antisemitism suspicion are widely spread. Apparently,
the actual German debate is formed by a strong wish for the acceptance of
open antisemitism, regarding it as a quite normal legitimate opinion, and
simultaneously doing away with its affinities toward national socialism, the
Shoa, and its antisemitic prehistory. A satire magazine treated the semantic
core of the discourse with irony: "Terrible suspicion: Was Hitler
Renewed Smear Campaign by Möllemann
After Möllemann had already so much success
with his early summer campaign, he distributed, briefly before the election
of the Lower House of Parliament in September, with a renewed attempt to
spread eight million antijewish Flyers against Sharon and Friedman, but
ended in a quarrel with the FDP. Möllemann was reproached by the FDP,
because he acted unauthorized without having consulted the top of the party.
The liberal democrats, among other reasons, were behind their expectancies
by 7,4% at the election, because of this conflict. The conflict about
Möllemann in the FDP is dealing only with Möllemann's single-handedness and
the illegal financing of donations for the flyer; the antisemitism is
absolutely never mentioned. Therefore, my thesis is, that the FDP meanwhile
tries to get rid of this negative image figure, but at the same time is
trying to save the present and prospective antisemitic electorate for the
It is true that the incorporation of manifest
antisemitism in the political system of Germany, despite Möllemann and other
partially successful populisic right-winged parties, like the Republicans
and the DVU, has up till today not much chance. Nevertheless, the latent and
manifest forms of antisemitism in the political culture and bourgeoise
everyday culture tend to be more virulent according to the results of
opinion polls, from which politics and media make intensified use. In
Germany antisemitism often unfolds references to the national socialistic
past. This complex continuity is a central motive for German antisemitism.
Therefore, secondary forms of antisemitism dominate the projective need for
rejection of guilt and memory. In manifest forms there exists a wish to
liberate the break of taboo, to be finally open to and to free itself from
all forms of national socialistic past, and to be without sanctions for
holding antisemitic resentments. Möllemann and Walser have definitely
contributed to further antisemitic popularization, due to their renown and
popularity, because they grant antisemitic manifestations of normal people
an important and supplementary legitimacy. Calls like "Jews out" by noble
passers-by at the renaming of streets in Berlin or in Frankfurt are again
presentable. The prevailing reactions in Germany toward the emergance of
open antisemitism are approvals or to even stronger indifferences. At the
same time critical voices remain a minority, in comparison to former years,
and are more and more an issue of the Jews in Germany.
Thank you for your attention.
(1) Die Zeit, Nr. 47, 14.11.2002: Volkszorn in der
(2) Alexander und Margarete Mitscherlich: Die Unfähigkeit
zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens. München 1967.
(3) Lars Rensmann: Kritische Theorie über den
Antisemitismus. Studien zu Struktur, Erklärungspotential und Aktualität.
Berlin/Hamburg 1998. S.231f.
(4) Elmar Brähler/Horst Eberhard Richter: Einstellungen zu
Juden, Amerikaner und Arabern und andere politische Einstellungen in
Deutschland – Ergebnisse einer repräsentativen Befragung im Frühjahr 2002.
(5) Michael Naumann (Hg.): „Es muß doch in diesem Lande
wieder möglich sein....“ Der neue Antisemitismus-Streit. München 2002.
(6) Alphons Silbermann: Sind wir Antisemiten? Ausmaß und
Wirkung eines sozialen Vorurteils in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Köln
(7) Martin Walser: Tod eines Kritikers. Roman. Frankfurt
Sources and literature:
Klaus Ahlheim/Bardo Heger: Die unbequeme
Vergangenheit. NS-Vergangenheit, Holocaust und die Schwierigkeiten des
Erinnerns. Schwalbach 2002.
Elmar Brähler/Horst Eberhard Richter: Einstellungen zu Juden, Amerikaner und
Arabern und andere politische Einstellungen in Deutschland – Ergebnisse
einer repräsentativen Befragung im Frühjahr 2002.
Michael Naumann (Hg.): "Es muß doch in diesem Lande wieder möglich sein...."
Der neue Antisemitismus-Streit. München 2002.
Lars Rensmann: Kritische Theorie über den Antisemitismus. Studien zu
Struktur, Erklärungspotential und Aktualität. Berlin/Hamburg 1998.
Newspapers and magazines: "Die Zeit", "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung",
"Frankfurter Rundschau", "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "Der Spiegel", "Allgemeine