Staging an unprecedented protest, the German Jewish Community Council decided to boycott the official German government state ceremony marking international Holocaust Memorial Day. The event, held on Tuesday at the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, in Berlin.
German President Horst Koehler, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and all of the members of the German cabinet and parliament attended.
The boycott was called because the Speaker of the Bundestag, the host of the memorial service, has refrained from acknowledging the presence of the leaders of the Jewish community in Germany in the chamber, even though they are all Holocaust survivors, including the current chairwoman of the German Jewish Council, Charlotte Knobloch.
“It is inconceivable that Holocaust survivors should be seated in the honorary balcony and be treated there like the audience at the theater, as if the ceremony had nothing to do with them,” said Stephan Kramer, the secretary general of the German Jewish Community Council, to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
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That treatment attests to the nature of the accepted culture of remembering the Holocaust in Germany. It is not done out of deep intention and understanding but, rather, automatically,” said Mr. Kramer.
“The community leaders find themselves standing like extras at the event, marginal figures,” said Dieter Grauman, the vice president. “We want more respect.”
The Jewish community’s protest follows a growing sense that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, especially with regard to commemorating the Holocaust.
The Israeli incursion into Gaza was accompanied by a number of anti-Semitic incidents, which failed to elicit any response from German authorities.
Furthermore, German public television, ARD, broadcast last week a debate about the situation in the Middle East rife with explicit anti-Semitism.
As a result, seats in the guest balcony that had been reserved for the Jewish community leaders, were left partially empty. Not everyone was notified of the boycott in a timely manner because the decision to hold the protest had only been made a few hours earlier.
Rabbis from the various schools of Judaism attended the ceremony, as did a number of the local community leaders, such as the chairman of the Jewish community in Berlin.
Members of the Jewish community broadly supported the German Jewish leadership’s protest.
“Finally something has been done,” said one senior activist in the Jewish community. “The situation in German society has become insufferable. Anti-Semitism has crossed every limit. The general sense in the public is that there isn’t any need for those memorial services. People in Germany prefer to hold ceremonies in memory of the destruction of Dresden than the day Auschwitz was liberated.”
German President Horst Koehler responded in his speech indirectly to the criticism that was voiced by the leaders of the Jewish community and called on the citizens of Germany to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.
“The past should not become a museum. What happened is part of our present. I want to assure you today: we, the Germans, will preserve the memory of the crimes of Nazism and its victims,” Mr. Koehler said. “For us, that is a mission.”
Noah Klieger, a concentration camp survivor who writes for the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper, commented in his column: “The decision by the German Jewish Council to boycott the ceremony in honor of international Holocaust Memorial Day in the Bundestag, the German parliament, was most certainly an unprecedented step, but one that was absolutely necessary… This step that was taken by the leaders of the German Jewish community, which stands at 200,000 people, should have been taken long ago in light of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Chancellor Merkel’s country.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com