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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

Wandering Jew in Germany

The older man in an overcoat and hat, trudging along--that is what I imagine. Or the purplish plant that grows quickly and easily. But the assimilated American Jew leaving the United States? To be honest, the thought has been lodged in my head, sporadically rising to the surface. I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. To Israel, I believed. But now our ancestral, spiritual homeland is fraught with threatening political divides. Would I go from the frying pan into the fire? No, now it is Germany. Yup--escape to Germany.

My mother and father would have considered me deranged. They narrowly escaped Germany with their parents in 1938-'9. But, think about it? Young Jews from Israel have been moving to Germany to escape the highly fraught atmosphere in Israel concerning the Palestinians. Germany is not a nirvana; right wing parties with members who are antisemitic threaten stability. Certainly, a strong anti immigrant movement exists in Germany, as in other European nations.

A strict system of anti hate speech laws, passed by the Bundestag over the last 78 years since the end of World War II, mark a great difference between Germany and the United States. The German Penal Code forbids the public display of Nazi propaganda and symbols on and offline. These laws contrast with the 1st Amendment rights of Americans which do not limit hate speech. The broad interpretation of the 1st Amendment has enabled an increase in the expression of hatred and crimes against specific ethnic/racial groups in the last 12 years, as reported by CNN.

Statistics can be viewed and analyzed from myriad angles. However, the occurrence of mass shootings, virulent expressions, and rallies to promote hatred have risen in the 21st century. Of course, our country experienced racial/ethnic disturbances throughout our history. Increasingly, the latter events are accompanied by manifestos of antipathy online. The dark web is no longer cloaked in the shadows. The light shines strongly on words of detestation for the purpose of inciting hostility and violence.

Just days ago, a crazed individual broke into Speaker Nancy Pelosi's house to injure her (but seriously hurt her husband instead). And this guy carried a hammer not an AK-47. He hated the speaker which echoed the invaders of the January 6 Capitol riot, during which they shouted, "Where's Nancy?" The perpetrator spouted antisemitic tropes, as well as other junk, on his blog. He has been charged with seriously injuring Pelosi's husband, among other federal and state crimes.

Let us pause a moment--the man who injured Paul Pelosi could have stood on their street with a sign that expressed some bizarre thoughts, and he would not have been arrested or, if so, for a misdemeanor. Hillary Clinton was similarly maligned in 2016 when a Republican crowd yelled, "lock her up." These slogans not only spew hatred and encourage violence towards an opponent but are misogynistic. In September, an infamous American hater was arrested at Auschwitz for displaying a sign with an antisemitic message. The Poles did not consider free speech in such an egregious case. This individual--now released--continues spreading hate in our country, recently seen on a Los Angeles overpass with a sign, "Kanye was right."

Recently, I attended a concert by SONiA disappear fear, a Jewish folksinger from Baltimore. She frequently tours in Israel and Europe. Evidently, her music is well-known in Germany. One of her original compostions is Wandering Jew. Strange coincidence that she performed a song just as these thoughts of escaping to Germany occurred in my mind. And two months ago, after years of bureacratic hassles and confusions, I received my German citizenship, based on my parents' being stripped of their nationality and native status in 1938.

I view Germany as an escape hatch. I do not have immediate plans, but it is always good to be proactive and prepared. I will certainly travel to Germany more frequently, and I am renewing my German language skills. They have lied dormant for many years.

I have been directly involved in several projects in Germany since 2019. One is the Stolpersteine project developed by Günter Demnig, a German artist. The brass plaques, placed in the sidewalk, commemorate victims of Nazi persecution. My sister and I participated in the ceremony in Frankfurt for our paternal great grandmother. A Stolperstein was embedded in a Berlin sidewalk for a great aunt. Both of these women were cruelly murdered by the Nazis. We hope to have three more installed in Konstanz, our father's birthplace. My sister and I participated in Denk Mal Am Ort in 2019, a unique program occurring once a year in private residences in Berlin, Frankfurt, Münich, and Hamburg. The present owners of a property invite the relatives of Jewish residents of a particular house or flat from the 1920's-'30's to tell the story of their parents, grandparents, etc.

These activities introduced me to Germans who denounce persecution, oppression, and the Nazi past. The German viewpoint changed over the course of the last 80 years. The contemporary populace and government are like the criminal who was caught in the act and learned from a mistake. The U.S.A. of today is akin to the criminal who was caught but will not admit wrongdoing. One pleads guilty, the other not guilty, different from innocent.

©2022 Karen Levi

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