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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 opinion.

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 embarrassment".

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 with Taboos
– 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 prevent this.
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 Israel.

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 antisemite?"

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 future.


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 Jüdenstraße.
(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 1982.
(7) Martin Walser: Tod eines Kritikers. Roman. Frankfurt 2002.

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 Jüdische Wochenzeitung" 17-12-2003

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