A Jew Among the Germans
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A Summary

The controversy was triggered by a speech made by prominent German novelist Martin Walser in accepting the Frankfurt Book Fair Peace Prize in October 1998. In the speech Walser condemned the "Holocaust industry" saying Auschwitz was being used as a routine threat against today's Germans and cited Germany's new Holocaust memorial in Berlin that was nearing final approval from the Bundestag.

Walser said that no serious person could deny the Holocaust, but that "if the media presents this past every day, I feel in myself something that begins to resist the permanent presentation of our shame ... I am shivering from boldness when I declare: Auschwitz is not suited to becoming a routine threat, a tool of intimidation that can be used any time, a moral cudgel [Moralkeule] or merely a compulsory exercise."

He lamented the "exploitation [instrumentalisierung] of our disgrace for present purposes" and he criticized the "monumentalization of the shame," and said that Auschwitz is exploited as a "ceaseless presentation of our shame."


"About Public Speeches and Private Silence"
A rebuttal to Martin Walser's speech on "the Holocaust industry" by Dr. Birgit Romelspacher, a second generation German,born after World War II, who has extensively researched anti-Semitism among younger Germans.


"It will be obvious later what kind of harm was done by those who, in the discussion about the Holocaust memorial, felt responsible for the conscience of others. To concrete the center of a capital with the football field-sized nightmare! To monumentalize the ignominy! ... Take all towns in the world. Check whether in any of these towns there is a memorial of national ignominy. I have never seen such. The Holocaust is not an appropriate subject of a memorial and such memorials should not be constructed. …"

Ignatz Bubis, the respected head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and someone who had long worked to reconcile Jews with non-Jewish German society, attacked Walser, warning against a growing "intellectual nationalism" in Germany that was "not altogether free from subconscious anti-Semitism." He later accused Walser of "mental arson," compared his statements with those of right-wing extremists and said that parts of the speech would encourage anti-Semites and neo-Nazis in Germany.

The public reaction was divided. Some supported Walser, some were outraged, and some feared that the speech would provoke right-wing extremists. Hamburg's former mayor, Klaus von Dohnanyi hailed Walser for his courage and criticized the Jewish community's response, saying he was not sure Jews would have behaved any better under the Nazis had the situation been different, asking whether the Jews would have helped if "only" the physically disabled, homosexuals or gypsies had been persecuted. Dohnanyi later said he regretted these words.


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posted may 31, 2005

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