As one German critic wrote: “not the kind of book you’d want to be seen reading on the U-Bahn”. Alone the title and subtitle of the veteran firebrand of German journalism’s latest book contain multiple provocations: Vergesst Auschwitz: Der deutsche Erinnerungswahn und die Endlösung der Israel-Frage (Forget Auschwitz: The German Remembrance Mania and the Final Solution to the Israel Question).
Born in 1946 as the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, Henryk Broder conjectures that Germans’ unresolved Holocaust guilt and the official culture of remembrance have resulted in a new, often subconscious anti-Semitism disguised as left-wing criticism of Israel. Characteristically – he’s a commentator for the conservative Springer Verlag after all – Broder takes a swipe at his usual enemies: lefty do-gooders “who hate Israel but tolerate Islamic extremism in Germany” – and those who compare Israeli policies towards the Palestinians to the Nazi Holocaust.
While it might be worth looking into (left-wing) anti-Semitism – pages and pages of anti-Semitic emails Broder has received make up the most interesting, shocking part of the book – most of Vergesst Auschwitz reads like an unstructured blog packed with half-baked ideas.
On a side note, Broder holds the dubious honour of being quoted in Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik’s “manifesto” on how, if he were younger, he would leave Europe for a country not threatened by creeping Islamisation. Ranters like Broder are not particularly easy to interview: impatient, accusatory and intolerant, he abruptly hung up the phone 10 minutes into our talk.
Why did you write this book?
The remembrance of Auschwitz has deteriorated into a trite ritual, which is about saving the dead Jews. And this ritual of saving the dead Jews is used as a moral alibi. The remembrance of the Holocaust is an excuse to not have to deal with a potential second Holocaust in the Middle East. Not only that: I am absolutely convinced that a portion of the Germans – consciously or not – would like to see a second Holocaust so that the previous one disappears into the fog of history.
What’s the evidence of this? How many do you believe harbour these feelings?
I didn’t do a body count. I just read what’s in the newspaper. I read the hundreds of thousands of posts on websites. I read the comparisons made between Israel and Nazi Germany, between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto, and I see that the Germans are trying to overcome their own history on the backs of the Israelis. But you ask about evidence. It’s not a mathematical formula. The Germans’ absolute obsession with Israel shows that they have a problem with themselves, which they try to solve at the expense of the Jews.
But doesn’t the German government actually support Israel?
I’m not talking about the German government. The German government isn’t mentioned once in the book.
But still, what about Germany’s ‘special relationship’ to Israel, the diplomatic support, the weapons?
The ‘special relationship’ to Israel is based on the fact that Germany murdered six million Jews and nothing else. If the Germans had killed six million North Koreans, then they would certainly have a special relationship to North Korea today. You’re saying exactly what I criticise in my book. The mass murder of Jews gave the Germans the right to worry about the moral misconduct of the Jews, right? You are the prototype of what I describe in the book.
And I’m an anti-Semite because I said that?
No, I’m not saying that you’re an anti-Semite. I’m just saying you have the same problem. You say you can criticise befriended countries. Germany is also friends with other countries. With Russia for example, and has never criticised Russia’s actions in the Chechen War, where more people died than in all wars in the Middle East together.
You say criticism of Israel is often simply a disguise for a deeper anti-Semitism. Doesn’t a German citizen – let’s take an intellectual like Günter Grass – have a right to criticise his country’s support of Israel?
Grass has every right to criticise and I have every right to call him what he is: an anti-Semite. Since Grass’ poem [“What Must be Said”] appeared, North Korea threatened to annihilate South Korea, Moscow threatened NATO with a first strike in case NATO built up its missile defence system. On neither topic has Grass offered his opinion. He is just as obsessed with Israel as most other Germans.
The subtitle of the book contains the provocative phrase, “the final solution forthe Israel question”…
In Germany there is often discussion about the ‘one-state solution’ for Israel. A part of the German left which is always against interfering with the affairs of other states always feels called to solve the Middle East problem, and the ‘one-state solution’ is the ‘final solution’ for the question of Israel, because it’s clear that if there is one state, there’s no Israel any more. The ‘one-state solution’ is a euphemism, a friendly rewriting of the ‘final solution of the Israel question’. Seriously minded people meet at conferences to discuss how this can be solved. They probably see it as a sign of friendship, but for me it’s a sign of a will to exterminate.
You give many examples of what you describe as “left-wing anti-Israeli anti- Semites”: the guy who’s been camped outside of Cologne cathedral for years, Die Linke… this isn’t really the mainstream of German society. It’s the left-wing fringe.
You know, I’m not in the mood for this talk. When you talk about “mainstream”, all I can say is: the Nazis weren’t mainstream either. Only a third of Germans voted for them… I don’t feel like answering your stupid questions any more!