On 5 November Der Spiegel online reported that the Jewish community in Germany was ‘outraged’ by the choice of Alfred Grosser to give the Reichskristallnacht memorial talk at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. His crime? He has criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. He has said: “As a Jewish boy in a Frankfurt school, I was despised, and even beaten. I can’t understand how Jews can scorn others.”And, in September 2009, he gave an interview to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger in which he accused the Central Council of German Jews of silencing critique of Israel. “As soon as a voice against Israel rises up, it’s immediately called ‘antisemitic’ … the worst is the Central Council of Jews.”
Here is the Spiegel story; a comment by Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam, the NY Times Lede story by Robert Mackey, a Deutsche Welle interview with Grosser the day before the talk and a brief report on the night itself (only available in German) which shows that the event passed off without incident.
Der Spiegel, 5th November 2010
German publicist Alfred Grosser is well known for his services to improving Franco-German relations. He is also infamous for his anti-Zionist comments. Nevertheless, he has been chosen to help commemorate the Night of the Broken Glass in Frankfurt next week. A scandal is brewing.
Der Spiegel, 5th November 2010
Alfred Grosser was born in Frankfurt in 1925. His father, Paul Grosser, was a doctor, a Jew, a Social Democrat, a Freemason, and far-sighted enough to emigrate to France right after the Nazis took power. He died there in 1934. His son Alfred became a French citizen, studied political science and German studies, and by age 30 had won a chair at the prestigious Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris. He quickly made a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of French-German understanding. He received several honors, among them the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Grand Prix de l’Acadèmie des Sciences morales et politiques, and the Federal Republic of Germany’s “Highest Order of Merit.”
Grosser was a regular guest television talkshows, and was a well-received speaker at meetings and conferences. Without question, he deserves recognition for promoting the normalization of German-French relations. His friends see in him the prototypical European: German, French, Jewish, Intellectual. His critics point out that one thing in particular stands at the center of his interests and activities: Alfred Grosser, himself. In 2003, for example, he quit the board of the French magazine L’Express, giving as the reason for his move the fact that the editors “only reluctantly” published his review of an Israeli book, and published in the next issue a flood of letters from readers “that scolded me.”
Now no one knows what Grosser will say on Nov. 9 in the Paulskirche. But the very fact that he has been invited to make the speech has led to resentment between Frankfurt Mayor Petra Roth, and the two vice presidents of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann and Salomon Korn.
Not surprisingly, each side has a different story for how the invitation came about. A confidant of the mayor says it was Korn’s idea. Korn and Graumann, for their part, insist that they were never asked for input. The first they heard of the invitation, they say, was through the newspapers.
The Secretary General of the Central Council, Stephan Kramer, has asked Roth to cancel Grosser’s invitation. He considers it “irreverent to let Alfred Grosser speak on this date, at this location.”
It is likely too late. The invitations to the commemoration have already been sent out. Only Grosser himself, it would seem, can prevent the scandal — by backing out of the engagement himself. That, though, isn’t likely to happen.
Grosser has long been controversial. In September 2009, he gave an interview to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger in which he accused the Central Council of silencing critique of Israel. “As soon as a voice against Israel rises up, it’s immediately called ‘Anti-Semitic’ … the worst is the Central Council of Jews.” The Federal Republic, Grosser says, is “so intimidated … that in front of the Knesset, the (German) president and the chancellor only make references to the terrorism from Hamas.”
In an interview with the magazine Stern in October 2007, he said “that Germans are allowed to be critical of anything possible, but not of Israel,” and that there is a “club that is regularly being swung at Germans, when they say something against Israel.” If they do it anyway, “the club says right away: ‘I’m hitting you with Auschwitz.’ I find that intolerable.” In 1998, this same club swung at writer Martin Walser on the occasion of his receiving the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, triggering the “Walser-Bubis dispute” at Frankfurt’s Paulskirche — the same site where Grosser will speak.
(Editor’s note: In that speech Walser spoke of the country’s “historical burden,” and said, “when every day in the media this past is presented to me, I notice that something inside me is opposing this permanent show of our shame.” He also spoke of the “instrumentalization” of Auschwitz. The talk was criticized by Ignatz Bubis, then the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who accused Walser of committing “intellectual arson.”)
A Modern Variation of Anti-Semitism
Anti-Zionists on the left and the right sound much like Walser and Grosser when they criticize that Germany is in the “stranglehold of the Israel Lobby.” Grosser, of course, carries more weight. As a Jew, he is above suspicion in offering up anti-Semitic resentments. When he says, for example, “that Israel’s policies encourage anti-Semitism,” then he is only dealing out criticism to Israel. Even if it is the modern variation of the classic accusation — that the Jews are at fault.
When asked about Grosser’s past statements, the mayor of Frankfurt says some of the information was “already known” and “some new.” She points to the “clear and undisputed stance of the city of Frankfurt to the state of Israel, and the especially friendly relationship with the city of Tel Aviv.”
Concerning Grosser, Roth says he has a “personal connection with Frankfurt am Main,” and also has “worked over the course of many decades for the reconciliation of peoples, and especially achieved a lot for the new German-French relationship,” for which he was awarded the 1975 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. “All of this moved us, 35 years after that ceremony, to invite Mr. Grosser to speak in the Paulskirche on November 9,” she said.
Bashing the Central Council of Jews
The mayor’s office, it would seem, believes that Grosser is still very much involved in reconciliation. But that is all in the past. Today he is wondering why the Jews haven’t learned anything from their history.
The Central Council of Jews is not happy about the situation they have been left with. “We didn’t invite him, and we can’t revoke his invitation,” said a leading official. “We’re in a no-win situation.” The official said they will take a bashing “no matter what, if we take part in the commemoration, or stay away.”
Therefore, they are going to go and see what Grosser says. “We are not going to publicly announce how we are going to conduct ourselves at the event in the city of Frankfurt on November 9th in the Paulskirche. But we will take appropriate action.”
It could be an interesting evening.
There are some practices of the Israeli government which I find merely offensive. Then there are some that go far beyond that. Like the denunciation by an Israeli diplomat in Germany of Holocaust survivor, Alfred Grosser, who is due to keynote the dedication of a Kristallnacht memorial in Frankfurt. What is Grosser’s crime? He apparently is a little to sympathetic to Palestinian suffering and a little too critical of the Israeli Occupation for the Israeli foreign ministry’s comfort. Which is why they issued this odious statement:
Israel’s deputy chief of mission in Germany, Emmanuel Nahshon, said that Frankfurt’s decision to invite Mr. Grosser to speak at the memorial “casts an unfortunate and unnecessary shadow on the event.” He also said that Mr. Grosser’s criticism of Israel was “illegitimate and immoral,” and suggested that his “extreme opinions are tainted by self-hatred.”
Excuse me, but where does a two-bit Israeli underling get off smearing an 85 year-old Jewish victim one of history’s deepest injustices? Where does he get the chutzpah to do such a thing, the twerp? Since when is criticizing Israel “immoral?” And how in God’s name can anyone with a brain in their head accuse a survivor of “self-hatred?” The very thought is odious. This man hates suffering and injustice because of what he himself suffered. He doesn’t hate himself.
Before we go slinging mud at Grosser, let’s consider that he’s a retired professor of political science and generally considered the architect of postwar German-French reconciliation. Which should give him a small amount of credit in judging the bona fides of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians in that regard.
The Israeli MFA has managed to get the German Jewish communal leadership to carry water for it as well. Keep in mind once again, that the words below are being used to describe a Holocaust survivor:
Germany’s Central Council of Jews condemned the invitation to Mr. Grosser, saying that he “does not tire [of] equating the situation of the Palestinian population with the fate of millions of Jewish men, women and children during the Shoah… and for this reason plays down the Holocaust and the unspeakable suffering of the victims of National Socialism.”
How does a Holocaust survivor “play down the Holocaust?” This is an event that is at the core of their existence, one they think of every day, probably more than anything else in their life? And yet because Grosser disagrees with the Council’s views of the Israeli Occupation he is somehow cheapening the Holocaust? To her credit, Frankfurt’s mayor has not yet buckled to the unseemly pressure of the Council or Israeli apparatchik. I hope she stands her ground. Holocaust survivors owe no explanation to anyone for the moral code they espouse. When Emmanuel Nachshon has walked for a step, let alone a mile in the shoes of Alfred Grosser, then he can criticize. Till then, stom et ha-peh (“shut your mouth”).
And lest anyone argue that Grosser is in the minority as a survivor in his criticism of Israeli policy, there are a long line of such distinguished Jewish figures including Pierre Mendes France, Nahum Goldman, Saul Friedlander, Martin Buber, and Albert Einstein.
For any German speakers, his book From Auschwitz to Jerusalem is available at Amazon.
Updated | Tuesday 2:48 p.m. Reports on German news sites indicate that the Kristallnacht memorial in Frankfurt passed off without incident on Tuesday evening. A photograph of the event on the Web site of Süddeutschen Zeitung showed the keynote speaker, Alfred Grosser, and Dieter Graumann, a leader of Germany’s Jewish community, smiling together.
Original Post: An Israeli diplomat in Germany condemned the city of Frankfurt on Sunday for inviting a Jewish intellectual who has been critical of Israel to speak at a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nov. 9, 1938, attacks on Jewish synagogues and businesses in Nazi Germany.
The keynote address at Tuesday’s commemoration of the pogrom at Paulskirche, a former church in Frankfurt that is a symbol of German democracy, will be delivered by Alfred Grosser, who was born in the city 85 years ago, before fleeing to France with his family at the age of 8. Last year, he published a book called “From Auschwitz to Jerusalem,” in which he suggested that Germany was not critical enough of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians because of the legacy of the Holocaust.
“From the German side they don’t say anything because of Auschwitz,” Mr. Grosser told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle last year. He added, “When the Israelis want something from the Germans, they like to remind them of Auschwitz.”
Mr. Grosser, a retired professor of political science who was considered one of the architects of postwar reconciliation between France and Germany, also said last year that he was pro-Palestinian, “because the Palestinians are despised, are occupied, and I think that the majority of Israel’s citizens despise Palestinians.”
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s deputy chief of mission in Germany, Emmanuel Nahshon, said that Frankfurt’s decision to invite Mr. Grosser to speak at the memorial “casts an unfortunate and unnecessary shadow on the event.” He also said that Mr. Grosser’s criticism of Israel was “illegitimate and immoral,” and suggested that his “extreme opinions are tainted by self-hatred.”
Mr. Grosser responded by telling the Post that “criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism have nothing to do with each other. It is rather Israel’s policies that promote anti-Semitism globally.” He also told the Israeli newspaper that he plans to criticize Israel during his speech on Tuesday and will refer to the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, to support his argument that there should be “no discrimination by sex and religion” in Israel.
In a letter to Frankfurt’s mayor, Petra Roth, Germany’s Central Council of Jews condemned the invitation to Mr. Grosser, saying that he “does not tire [of] equating the situation of the Palestinian population with the fate of millions of Jewish men, women and children during the Shoah… and for this reason plays down the Holocaust and the unspeakable suffering of the victims of National Socialism.”
As the German magazine Der Spiegel reported, last year Mr. Grosser accused the Central Council of silencing any criticism of Israel. Mr. Grosser told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, “As soon as a voice against Israel rises up, it’s immediately called ‘anti-Semitic.’” He added, “the worst is the Central Council of Jews.”
The Post reported that “Dieter Graumann and Salomon Korn, both vice presidents of the Central Council and residents of Frankfurt, plan to attend the Kristallnacht event,” but reserved the right to walk out if they object to Mr. Grosser’s speech.
In a statement last week, Mayor Roth noted what she called “Germany’s special responsibility for the security of Israel,” but refused to withdraw the invitation to Mr. Grosser. She added, “Israel has my personal unconditional solidarity as well as that of the city of Frankfurt.”
For his part, Mr. Grosser told Deutsche Welle on Monday:
First of all, there is a need to remember this particular day. Since August 1944 in Marseille, when I heard that part of my family had been transported to Auschwitz, I have been sure that there is no collective German guilt and yet that I also share some responsibility for the future of liberal democracy in Germany. This was my starting point for the speech.
Asked about the controversy over his selection, Mr. Grosser argued that he was not the only Jewish intellectual to criticize Israeli policies in recent years. He pointed out that an Israeli novelist and peace activist was just given a prestigious prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair last month. “David Grossman, who this year won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, is someone who constantly criticizes Israeli policy and yet he won that prize,” Mr. Grosser said. “So, what’s the problem?” The award to Mr. Grossman was made in the same location, Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s, or Paulskirche, where Mr. Grosser is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.
Asked about the likely response to his speech, Mr. Grosser said, “It’s difficult to say. I think that when I say the word Israel, some of the listeners will listen more attentively while others will leave the room. I have always found that it never comes to a debate.”
After he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade last month, Mr. Grossman — whose new novel is “To the End of the Land” — was indeed critical of Israel’s government in a television interview (in English) with Deutsche Welle.
Mr. Grossman, who is active in opposing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, told the German broadcaster: “In a strange way we have now a government in Israel that is more extreme than the majority of the people. You know, in a way they over-advocate the Israelis, or, let’s say they advocate more the fears of the Israelis, of most of the Israelis. They do listen, you know, its strange but things that Amos Oz, my friend, or A.B. Yehoshua or myself, that we said 30 years ago and then we were regarded almost as traitors, now you can see them from someone like Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Olmert before him or Ariel Sharon before him. It takes time for such formulations to infiltrate into the minds of the leaders, of the politicians – in the end, it does, it succeeds.”
Update: On Tuesday morning, a representative of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, Elan Steinberg, wrote to The Lede to say, “As victims of Nazi brutality, including those subjected to the terrors of ‘Crystal Night’, we condemn the invitation by Frankfurt to Alfred Grosser as a mark of disrespect that mocks our suffering.” Mr. Steinberg also called on the city of Frankfurt to rescind the invitation to Mr. Grossser to the memorial, which is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. local time in Frankfurt (10 a.m. ET).
8 November 2010
Every year on November 9, St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt commemorates the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938. Deutsche Welle spoke to the controversial writer Alfred Grosser who has been chosen to give the keynote speech.
On November 9 the author Alfred Grosser is to give a speech in remembrance of the Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, pogrom against Jews in Germany carried out under the Nazis in 1938. The choice of speaker has caused controversy with historians and Germany’s Central Council of Jews questioning Grosser’s credentials.
Grosser comes from a Jewish family and emigrated to France with them in 1933. The political academic and author of numerous books and essays is seen as an important pioneer in post-war Franco-German understanding. In recent years he has become increasingly interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His 2009 book “Von Auschwitz nach Jerusalem” (“From Auschwitz to Jerusalem”) caused controversy as he dealt with the question of how much it is permissible to question the policies of Israel.
Germany’s Central Council of Jews is not happy, and has written to the Mayor of Frankfurt to complain that Grosser is an inappropriate choice of speaker.
Deutsche Welle: Alfred Grosser, you’re French with German and Jewish roots. You were born in 1925 in Frankfurt and fled from there to France in 1933. Now you are to give a speech in the place of your birth at the November 9 memorial. Regardless of the criticism, what were your thoughts and feelings about doing this?
Alfred Grosser: First of all, there is a need to remember this particular day. Since August 1944 in Marseille, when I heard that part of my family had been transported to Auschwitz, I have been sure that there is no collective German guilt and yet that I also share some responsibility for the future of liberal democracy in Germany. This was my starting point for the speech.
How exactly does one qualify to make such a speech? Is it for instance through a certain behaviour or membership of some kind of official Jewish organisation. Is only a “real” Jew allowed to give such a speech? You have been accused of distancing yourself from Judaism. That is, at least, what the German historian Michael Wolffsohn asserts.
What does that have to do with my speech? A non-Jew could also be chosen make the speech because the speech should also be for all German people. There is an enormous volume published by Raphael Gross that documents all the terrible things that happened. In contrast, there is also the fact that hundreds of non-Jewish Germans helped Jewish Germans. That is something that is always downplayed. I will also speak about this. There is no collective guilt.
How, in 2010, should November 9 be remembered? Is there a way of doing it, so that it is not simply a ritual repeating the maxim “never again”?
Perhaps I was invited so that it would not become a pure ritual.
But it now seems that a lot of people in Germany are upset.
There are not that many people, let’s not exaggerate. Yes, the general secretary of the Jewish organization – he was very upset. But, David Grossman, who this year won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade is someone who constantly criticizes Israeli policy and yet, he won that prize. So, what’s the problem?
The problem seems to be that you, it is said, have distanced yourself from Judaism and have lived in France for a long time. It is said that someone like Grossman, who comes from Israel is on more of a position to criticize, even if he does meet with criticism himself in Israel for his opinions.
Yes, but it is possible to speak freely in Israel. In Germany the Central Council of Jews would like it if there were only one single truth. The American historian Fritz Stern and the former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt both said that they are amazed that, from organizations here in Germany you only hear a case of “right or wrong – my Israel.”
During the German Book Trade presentation ceremony, I was very moved by what Joachim Gauck, correctly, said. “My country right or wrong – if it is right, let it keep it right, If it is wrong, let it set it right.” That means that we should judge each Israeli policy accordingly.
You criticize the policies of Israel – for example the policy of occupation and the separation wall between Israelis and Palestinians. From a French point of view, why do you think such criticism always leads to such strong reactions from Jewish organisations in Germany?
It’s exactly the same in France. One of the people I admire most, the former concentration camp inmate and French ambassador Stephane Estell – who also worked on the international declaration of human rights – has now travelled to Gaza from Egypt to see what the situation is like there. Immediately there were complaints, worse than I have had in Germany – that he had not really been in the concentration camp, that he had in fact been a spy and so on… Yes, we do have those reactions as well, at least from a few.
But it is a sensitive issue. Here in Germany, of course, political correctness obviously plays a certain role.
I don’t know. I would cite the former president Koehler who in his speech to the Israeli Knesset – without referring to the Palestinians – said that, as a result of its past, Germany has the duty to defend human rights across the world. That is something that is crucial for me and something that we should explain to young people who increasingly distance themselves and ask why they should bear any responsibility. The responsibility is to learn from the past to defend so that we can defend human rights around the world, including Germany.
What sort of reaction are you expecting on November 9 in Frankfurt?
It’s difficult to say. I think that when I say the word Israel, some of the listeners will listen more attentively while others will leave the room. I have always found that it never comes to a debate.
I constantly try to debate the issues. For example, at the launch of my last book “Von Auschwitz nach Jerusalem” (“From Auschwitz to Jerusalem”), about Germany and Israel, I insisted upon inviting Jewish congregations in several German cities, but they did not come. They do not want to debate because they do not want to have to always prove that they are right.
Interview: Cornelia Rabitz (rc)
Editor: Rob Turner
Die erwartete Kontroverse in der Paulskirche zum Pogrom-Gedenktag blieb aus. Trotz der heftigen Auseinandersetzung im Vorfeld mit Dieter Graumann (Vize-Präsident des Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) reichten sich die beiden Männer nach der Rede die Hand.
Der befürchtete Eklat in der Paulskirche ist ausgeblieben: Bei der Gedenkfeier in Erinnerung an die Reichspogromnacht 1938 am Dienstag in der Frankfurter Paulskirche bemühten sich die Redner um Mäßigung: Am Ende reichten sich Alfred Grosser, Friedenspreisträger des Deutschen Buchhandels von 1975, und Dieter Graumann, Vize-Präsident des Zentralrats der Juden in Deutschland, die Hand. Auch Graumann hatte am Ende von Grossers Rede applaudiert.
Grosser erinnerte an die Menschenrechte, die für alle gelten müssten und sagte: „Auschwitz ist die Grundlage dafür, dass man an den Anderen denkt. Unsere Werte sind Werte für alle. Israel gehört zu unserem Westen.“ Deswegen müsse man Israel auch wegen der Palästina-Politik kritisieren, sonst mache sich der Westen mit dem Anspruch der Universalität der Menschenrechte in der Welt unglaubwürdig: „Wir können Grundwerte nur wollen, wenn wir sie nicht verletzen“, betonte der deutsch-französische Publizist, der daran erinnerte, wie er einst gemeinsam mit Ignatz Bubis das Clementinen-Krankenhaus besuchte: Bei einer Gedenkveranstaltung für frühere Mediziner des Hospitals, deren Namen in Erinnerung bleiben sollten, weil sie vor den Nationalsozialisten hatten fliehen müssen. Unter ihnen auch sein eigener Vater, berichtete Grosser: Seine Familie jüdischen Glaubens hatte 1937 Frankfurt verlassen müssen.
Diese Erinnerung werde die Jüdische Gemeinde stets wach halten, machte Graumann deutlich, schließlich sei „die Shoah ein Meer von Tränen“. Aber, setzte der Ende des Monats als Präsident des Zentralrats der Juden antretende Graumann hinzu, „wir dürfen uns nicht allein auf den Holocaust fixieren“. Schließlich erlebe die Frankfurter Gemeinde gegenwärtig, dass die Mehrheit der aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion Zugewanderten ein ganz anderes historisches Bewusstsein habe: Sie seien zuallererst nicht Opfer, sondern Sieger. „Wir dürfen uns nicht auf die trübsinnige Opfergemeinschaft reduzieren lassen, wir wollen nicht allein als Mahner verharren“, sagte Graumann, vielmehr seien die jüdischen Gemeinden überaus lebendige Gemeinden.
“Ein Gedenktag ist kein Spektakel”
Eines aber, das könne er heute versprechen, eines werde die jüdische Gemeinschaft niemals aufgeben – ihre Kritikfähigkeit. Graumann hielt zum Anfang seiner Rede fest: „Wir haben heftige Einwände“, und meinte damit das Auftreten Grossers in der Paulskirche. „Aber ein Gedenktag ist kein Spektakel.“
Bereits unmittelbar vor der Veranstaltung gab es Zeichen, dass Vertreter der Jüdischen Gemeinden, der Stadt und Grosser nach der Feierstunde gemeinsam zum Gedenken in die Synagoge und anschließend zu einem Essen gehen wollten.
Damit hätte noch am Tag zuvor niemand gerechnet. Denn wieder sorgten Interview-Äußerungen für eine Menge Ärger zwischen den Beteiligten. Zu Beginn dieser Woche hatte Grosser den Anstoß geliefert, indem er behauptete, seine Einladung sei mit allen abgesprochen gewesen. Davon könne keine Rede sein, konterte Graumann. Wenn er davon gewusst hätte, dass Grosser sprechen sollte, hätte er sein Veto eingelegt. Schließlich habe sich der Publizist zuletzt als entschiedener Kritiker der israelischen Palästina-Politik erwiesen. Unvergessen sei Grossers ausdrückliche Unterstützung für den Schriftsteller Martin Walser, hob Graumann hervor.
Seit der Debatte zwischen dem Schriftsteller Walser und dem damaligen Präsidenten des Zentralrats der Juden, Ignatz Bubis, kommt der Frankfurter Paulskirche als Ort des Gedenkens eine besondere Bedeutung zu. Der Generalsekretär des Zentralrats, Stephan Kramer, machte das in einem Schreiben an Oberbürgermeisterin Petra Roth deutlich. Er hatte verlangt, die Stadt möge auf Grossers Auftritt verzichten.
Das lehnte Roth ab. Am Dienstag machte sie deutlich, dass es keinen Zweifel daran geben könnte, „die Sicherheit Israels immer wieder zu unserem eigenen Anliegen zu machen“.