Jews face uncomfortable existence in Germany, Holocaust survivor says

Nearly 60 years after its defeat in World War II, Germany still views Jews as the “quintessential minority,” according to a prominent German scholar and Holocaust survivor.

“The German public is anything but indifferent. Jews haunt them,” Ruth Kluger said.

Kluger, professor emeritus of German at the University of California-Irvine and author of Still Alive, a memoir of her childhood in occupied Germany, spoke to a thin crowd Tuesday night in the Union Panorama Room about how Germans deal with the Holocaust in their literature and thinking.

“Germany has treated Jews within its borders exceptionally well for the past 60 years, but immediately after the war, denial was the rule,” she said.

Though that denial has continually seeped into works spanning to the present day, Kluger said the plight of Jews during the Holocaust did not become a dominant issue until the 1970s.

“The Allies didn’t emphasize the murder of the Jews any more than any other German atrocity. Friends told me that references to Jews were creepy and made them feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Kluger was the first speaker in the U’s 20th annual Days of Remembrance commemoration, designed to recognize victims of the Holocaust.

Following the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1949, Kluger said there was a shift in the German psyche where it became “fashionable to treat Jews with empathy.”

That led many Germans to recast wartime history in a new and different light.

“German intellectuals were stirred into rethinking what their country had done, and that’s grown over the years. Modern Germans look to their fathers and grandfathers as the despised generation,” she said.

However, gentile German authors attempting to paint a picture of Jewish life often fell short.

“Minority characters in books by minority authors aren’t passive. As a consequence, the events themselves change, not just the view,” Kluger said.

That skewed perspective led to the termination of a 55 year-old friendship between Kluger and German writer Martin Walser in 2002, after he published a book-a failed attempt at satirizing Jews, in Kluger’s opinion.

“I think his book is unforgivably anti-Semitic. It conforms to every stereotype in the book,” she said.

But Germans have done a good job of recognizing the 12 year reign of Hitler’s Nazi Party into the nation’s broad historical scope, Kluger said.

“Germans finally began to face up to what their neighbors did during those 12 years, and it’s a good place for Jews to live if they can cope with the past,” she said.

But for those Germans who are still plagued by the “most fascinating and frightful decades of the century,” the Holocaust will hold an indelible mark on their lives and in their literature.

“The German mind may very well be a haunted house,” she said.

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