IWAS recently selected to take part in a program titled "Professional Jewish Americans meet modern Germany" sponsored by the German government.
It entailed a week in Berlin both unearthing German society and examining it today 60 years after the Holocaust. What's striking about Jews and Germans is how both use the Holocaust as the building block for the collective memory of both societies.
Coming to terms with and "getting beyond" the past is unimaginable for families of survivors. They and the Jewish community as a whole live with these scars. But German society today is also grappling with its past - trying to figure out where relatives were during the war and whether they were active participants in the heinous acts under Nazi rule. Ultimately, the question is what resolution there can be - and whether the psychological and physical barriers between the two communities can be broken.
This situation has created a fear in second- and third-generation post-Holocaust Germans who are scared of what they might find when they question the past. And this has caused an identity crisis. On one hand, Germans want to be honest about the past. On the other, they have to live with the actions of family members.
A clear symptom of this is a loss of collective national pride. American Jews and Israelis happily recite both the U.S. and Israeli anthems, but most Germans barely know the words, let alone the tune, to theirs.
The chill between Jews and Germans is slowly thawing in three stages that can be called the "Three R's": Resilience, repentance and reconciliation. But this gradual process is becoming increasingly difficult with the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe by leftists and jihadists, who have embraced it as a vehicle to push their view that the West (meaning America) wants to destroy the Muslim world.
There is also the immigration factor Germany and Europe face as they deal with Muslim immigrants who despise the Jewish state that they say is oppressing the Palestinians. Germany is particular baffled by this notion. It not only meshes with Hitler's racial anti-Semitism but brings in an ingredient that has long since disappeared from the new, more secular Europe - religious ideology that validates actions in life with rewards in the afterlife.
Europe is seeing a slow but steady growth in anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism. Since 1945, there hasn't been such a level of concern, anxiety, even depression, among European Jews. One of the reasons for this is the loose definition of anti-Semitism in Germany. Until it prompts an act of violence, there are enough legal loopholes to allow perpetrators to avoid consequences. Robert Wistrich, a historian of anti-Semitism, says, "Europe cannot fight anti-Semitism if it appeases terrorists or blackens Israel's name. We need to insist that a linkage exists between blind Palestinophilia, being soft on terror and jihad, defaming Israel, and the current wave of anti-Semitic violence."
NONETHELESS, one of the most significant byproducts of the German need to repent is a strong German-Israeli alliance and a growing Israeli and Jewish community. One example: the growing number of streets in Berlin named after Israeli leaders like David Ben Gurion and Yitzchak Rabin.
But reconciliation is really the crux of the matter as the generation of Holocaust survivors is slowly disappearing, along with their stories. The question is whether Germany of 2008 has managed to reconcile itself with Germany of 1933.
Daniel Goldhagen, in his book "Hitler's Willing Executioners," says that "being ordinary in a Germany that gave itself to Nazism was to have been a member of an extraordinary, lethal political culture," suggesting that "this was a society that had undergone other important and fundamental changes, particularly . . . moral ones."
But today, among politicians, academics and students, there seems to be both will and desire to change the face of Germany as well as create a new political culture founded on strong ties to Israel and the United States. Programs intended to foster understanding and interaction with Germans and Germany are a great vehicle for furthering this dialogue.
But if they are to to succeed, the jagged memory of the Holocaust has to continue to naturally take a less painful place in public life. *