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To douse growing anti-Semitism, Germans call for Holocaust education for recent migrants

With more than a million newcomers to Germany since 2015, there's been a resulting rise in anti-Semitism. Now there are growing calls to mandate that refugees and Muslim migrants visit concentration camps to help improve their understanding of the country's terrible past and the echoes today. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, Angela Merkel was sworn in today to serve again as Germany’s chancellor.

    Her task now is to unify a population deeply divided over her immigration policies which allowed more than a million newcomers to enter the country in 2015.

    There’s been a resulting rise in anti-Semitism in Germany. And now there are growing calls to mandate that refugees and Muslim migrants visit concentration camps to help improve their understanding of Germany’s terrible past and its echoes today.

    From Berlin, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This Jewish restaurant in Berlin has frequently been the target of abuse that owner Yorai Feinberg didn’t consider worth reporting to the police.

    But the most recent episode, involving a drunken man from former East Germany, has provoked nationwide alarm about growing anti-Semitism.

  • Man:

    Why are you even here after 1945, if six million people of your kind were murdered? What are you doing here? No one protects you, no one protects you. They will all end up in the gas chamber, all back to your stupid gas chambers. Nobody wants you here. Nobody wants you. No one wants you here in your small Jewish restaurant.

  • Yorai Feinberg:

    Most of my family was murdered. It’s not pleasant to hear something like this.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The video triggered a torrent of further threats and abuse, most, reportedly, from Muslims, that are now being investigated by German police.

  • Yorai Feinberg:

    The day after, two guys, two Arabic guys threw fireworks on our guests, at us. Some people called to say they were coming to eat here dead Jews. We are facing often anti-Semitic attacks, vandalism, phone calls with regards from Hitler or regards from Adolf.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This Berlin street is the location of the Grand Synagogue ransacked by the Nazis in 1938, a testament to the most diabolical consequences of anti-Semitism.

    Deidre Berger heads the American Jewish Council, whose recent survey showed that anti-Semitism is widespread amongst Arab refugees.

  • Deidre Berger:

    We’re concerned that taboos are being broken about expressions of anti-Semitism. It’s like a Pandora’s box, and suddenly the lid has been opened. It’s coming from all directions, from all parts of society, from the left, from the right, from certain parts of the Muslim society.

    There’s conspiracy theories from social media. The sheer dimension of the problem, I think, has simply become more apparent to everyone.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    To counter the corrosion of anti-Semitism, a Berlin government official of Palestinian descent has suggested that all new arrivals in Germany be required to visit concentration camps or other Holocaust memorials.

    This is Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, where 30,000 Russian POWs and other political prisoners were murdered. It’s an essential component of schoolchildren’s history curriculum.

    At the moment, integration courses for migrants concentrate mainly on the German language, the legal system, Germany’s culture and also its history. But the country’s justice minister has said that he wants to see more emphasis on the Holocaust in these courses.

    And he’s being backed up by the head of the country’s Jewish community, who says that anyone who wants to live in the country permanently must identify with Germany’s history.

    Sachsenhausen earned its place in the pantheon of industrial extermination not least because it was a training ground for S.S. officers who accelerated the Holocaust in other death camps.

    The guest of honor on Holocaust Day recently was 93-year-old Bernt Lund, a former Norwegian resistance fighter, who survived two years in Sachsenhausen.

  • Bernt Lund:

    For me, it’s very important to take young people down here. I do it still. And I think it’s important, because you must know what never should happen again. That’s what I try to pass on.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    German pupils read out the names of Norwegian prisoners who perished in Sachsenhausen.

    The occasion made an indelible impression on 17-year-old Jonas Scholich.

  • Jonas Scholich:

    I think it’s really depressing being here and remembering how terrible people like us have lived here. I mean, it’s very, very hard to imagine that things like this could even happen in a world like this. But I think being here really helps trying to figure out why it happened and that it should never happen again.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But is there any merit in compelling migrants to visit the camps? Will negative perceptions of Jews change?

    Horst Seferens is spokesman for the Sachsenhausen Memorial.

  • Horst Seferens:

    We are open sites for education, for learning. And if there is a — if you are forced to come here, you are not open for learning. You are not open to think about what happened here.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    So what do Muslims think of this suggestion? Germany’s Central Council of Muslims didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview, but eventually provided us with a written statement.

    “Regrettably, we acknowledge that there are some isolated cases of anti-Semitism among Muslims from the Middle East. Our organization has set itself the task of heightening awareness for this topic. For years, we have been accompanying mostly Muslim migrants from the Middle East to concentration camps. We rely on the educational means of convincing, rather than coercion. And we strongly warn against having a debate on this issue at the expense of refugees.”

  • Walter Rothschild:

    Germany is a beautiful country with a horrible history.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In a time or rising anti-Semitism, in common with other Jews in Germany, Rabbi Walter Rothschild has to be discreet about his faith. He dare not wear the skullcap in public.

    He’s reminded of the past every time he walks down his street, past the site where a synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht, and so-called stumbling stones that memorialize Jewish families who disappeared.

  • Walter Rothschild:

    It says they fled into death, the poetic way of saying they took their life to avoid what they were fearing could be even worse.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Although the rabbi is a keen advocate of people learning about Germany’s dark past, he opposes the suggestion of the country’s Jewish establishment.

  • Walter Rothschild:

    If someone has come from a country where half their relatives have vanished into a secret police camp, and where their whole suburb of Damascus or wherever has been bombed flat, and you say, come and look at how people suffered here, people went into a camp and — they will say, well, so what? We have experienced it ourselves.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Even on a cold, wet winter day, Berlin’s memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe is a magnet for the curious.

    But isn’t it naive to believe that people from nations with a deep-seated antipathy towards Jews can have their prejudices softened or even erased by visiting such places?

  • Deidre Berger:

    They grew up in a world where there was only propaganda that was against Jews, against Israel. If they are in Germany today and they learn what it means to be part of a democratic society where all minorities live in peace together, yes, it can make a big difference.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back at the restaurant, Feinberg has been heartened by gestures of support from Germans and by the police investigation, but he’s worried about his long-term security.

  • Yorai Feinberg:

    There is a problem with this topic. And I think that if Germany will not do anything against it in a matter of education, prevention, and also very harsh punishment, the situation will be very difficult here for me to stay.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Germany’s enduring guilt over its Nazi past contributed to Chancellor Merkel’s open-door immigration policy. But, for many Jews, the irony is that her act of generosity has, in part, given oxygen to the embers of anti-Semitism.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant in Berlin.

  • Correction:

    The American Jewish Committee was incorrectly identified in this report as the American Jewish Council.

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