Growing anti-Semitism concerns German Jews

LAST school term, I spoke with German Jewish students at Carmel College (an exclusive Jewish private school) in the Oxfordshire countryside. Their parents sent them to England because of what they see as rising anti-Semitism and the lack of sufficient education about the Holocaust. I also traveled to Berlin and spoke with several families. Many were reluctant to speak to a reporter, and some asked that their names not be published.

``I think there are better places than Germany for a Jew to live right now,'' 16-year-old Jossi Blodinger says.

Dahlit Brin, 15, tells of an incident at a public swimming pool in Berlin. Some boys saw the Star of David around her neck, and began hitting, splashing, and swearing at her.

Jossi Fuss, 16, recalls the time at a Burger King in Berlin when he did not order food with the rest of his friends, explaining that he was observing kosher rules. The woman behind the counter made malicious jokes. Fuss explains that, until recently, there was a taboo in Germany about displaying anti-Semitic feelings. ``Before, they would think it, but they wouldn't say it. Now they also start to say it,'' he says.

The Berlin families have much the same response, but it took several hours before they spoke frankly.

``If someone asks you how life is in Germany for a Jew today, you just say everything is fine. You don't say what is the real situation,'' one man said.

Malte Lehming, political editor of Berlin's influential daily Der Tagesspiegle, says, ``The situation in Germany, and especially Berlin, is getting more aggressive every day.... The average German does not want to be reminded too often about his past; he doesn't like it. And every time he hears a reference to it, he connects it with the Jewish community.... This is what the Jewish community is feeling - and fears. They say to themselves, `If we are loud, then we are responsible for the growing anti-Semitism.... Right now, most of the synagogues around Germany that are in use are protected 24 hours a day; in Berlin all of them are.''

About 560,000 Jews lived in Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Almost all died in the Holocaust. There are about 50,000 Jews in Germany today.

A government spokeswoman says Jewish fears are not ``borne out by the facts.'' She says the opening of Germany's first postwar Jewish grammar school is a positive sign, and that anti-Semitism has largely been confined to ``the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries.''

``Desecrating cemeteries has really strong symbolism,'' Mr. Lehming says. ``By this the right-wingers are saying, `We don't accept that the murder of 6 million Jews, done by Germany, plays a role in German society anymore.' The government still doesn't really understand the extent of what is happening in this country.''

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