After translating/blogging German news stories into English for only six weeks, I have already made the news in Germany. My other blog, "The Moellemann File", which tracks the bizarre story of Jew-baiting German politician Juergen Moellemann, got a brief but significant write-up in the current version of Der Spiegel, the country's leading newsweekly. The item, which is on a "Personality" page that also spotlights Halle Barry, Queen Elizabeth II, Lionel Jospin and others, says this:
Jürgen Möllemann, 56, Vice-Chairman of the Free Democratic Party is finally world-famous. Since the end of May there is a web-site www.moellemann.com exclusively devoted to the man from Muenster. The domain was registered by a software developer from San Francisco, Stefan Sharkansky, who was concerned that the Möllemann affair was barely getting coverage in the U.S. press. Sharkansky, born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1963, learned German at the Goethe-Institut in San Francisco. He is interested in current events in Germany, so he clicks onto SPIEGEL ONLINE everyday: "I simply want to understand what's going on in Germany". His main intent was to share his findings with other Americans, but most of the visitors to the website come from Germany. "Many of the emails start with Dear Mr. Möllemann! and end with Don't let yourself get discouraged. Keep it up! Sharkansky now plans to put some of these fan-letters online, both in the original German as well as in translation, "so Americans can see for themselves". So far, Möllemann has not taken any action against the use of his name by the website.There's a lot to say about the odd case of Juergen Moellemann, the first ostensibly mainstream German politician of the post-war era to intentionally provoke a fight with the Jewish community. In a nutshell, he made a number of provocative statements designed to appeal to Germans who are less than sympathetic to Jews and Israel. For example, he blamed Michel Friedman, a German Jewish community leader and television talkshow host, for fueling anti-Semitism. (See the Moellemann File website for more details). Fortunately, he was widely condemned by other mainstream politicians across the spectrum, including the other leaders of his own party. As a result, he has discredited himself, and is unlikely to attain his goal of a ministerial appointment in the next government.
Unfortunately, there also seems to be a disconnect between the political and media classes, which seem to feel that Germany has a historical responsibility toward Jews and Israel, and many ordinary Germans of the post-war generations who don't feel responsible for the Holocaust, are not sympathetic toward Israel, and who feel no special sensitivity toward Jews.
Indeed, the essence of the Moellemann affair is that a German politician (in the middle of an election campaign, where serious economic issues are waiting to be addressed) goes out of his way to criticize Jews, for no reason other than that lots of Germans are in the mood to criticize Jews, mainly because they have felt for a long time that they were forbidden from criticizing Jews.
What is this really about? Some German commentators argue that it partly stems from a desire of many to absolve themselves from the historical guilt for the Holocaust. The images of Israeli soldiers acting with force against the Palestinians creates an opportunity for today's Germans to draw comparisons (however off the mark) with their grandfathers' crimes, and therefore diminishing the weight of the Holocaust.
In any event, although Moellemann himself is (temporarily, at least) making less noise now, many Germans hold certain resentments that will eventually express themselves. I have translated and posted a number of very candid e-mails that German visitors sent to my website, apparently thinking they were sending the emails directly to Moellemann in support of his efforts. (I removed any information that identifies the correspondents). Read these letters for a fascinating, if uncomfortable glimpse at post-war German attitudes toward Jews and Israel.
Also, for a broader context on the reflowering of anti-Semitism in Germany, see Seth Gitell's very good article, "Heil Hate", in the latest Boston Phoenix. Gitell visited Germany last month and spoke with prominent journalists and politicians.
UPDATE Sept. 23, 2002 In yesterday's federal election, Moellemann's party (FDP) got only 7.4% of the vote, falling far short of its expectations, blamed in large part on Moellemann's use of anti-Semitism in the campaign. Due to this poor showing, Moellemann was forced to resign his post as vice-chair of the federal FDP. He will retain his positions as head of the state party in Nordrhein Westfallen.Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at July 01, 2002 07:00 AM