Forum looks at German issues

David Anderson

Whether in literature, cinema or the news, traces of anti-Semitism linger in the new Germany.
The 1949 German movie “The Last Illusion” traces the life of a German Jew who flees to California to escape Nazi persecutions but returns to Germany after World War II with hopes of enlightening his compatriots. However, he is not as welcome as he had imagined, and he discovers that anti-Semitism exists even after the war.
“That last illusion is basically that there can be some sort of German-Jewish symbiosis,” said Robert Shandley, a professor of German at Texas A&M University.
Shandley will present the movie Friday as part of the fifth Minnesota Forum on German Culture, held this week at the Weisman Art Museum, focusing on the changing relationship between Germany and the Jewish community.
The four-day event opened Wednesday with the acclaimed German novelist Katja Behrens, as well as features presentations by University professors and scholars from the United States and abroad.
Since the end of the war in 1945, Germany has been trying to rebuild from the rubble of Nazism. After decades of division, the reunited nation is now trying to move forward as a member of the European Union.
Michael Brenner, a Jewish history professor at the University of Munich, Germany, speaks today on whether German-based Jews can still consider themselves German after the Holocaust.
Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said although Germany is more active in confronting its anti-Semitic past than other European countries, problems still persist. For instance, synagogues are still under guard in many German cities.
There is a dialogue between Germany and the Jewish community, Feinstein said. “But I’m not sure if the Germans really understand the whole dimension of the problem because of how they have treated in recent years Turks, and they have some problems with religious minorities.”
Despite opposition from some intellectuals and politicians, including Berlin’s mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, the German parliament, recently dedicated a plot of land near the Brandenburg Gate in the capital to serve as a national Holocaust memorial.
Critics of the project argue that it is time for Germany to look ahead instead of at the past and stop apologizing about the Nazi era.
Two years ago, in an acceptance speech for the German Booksellers’ Peace Prize, novelist Marin Walser called for Germany to stop “exploiting the shame” of its population for present purposes.
But Richard McCormick, an associate professor of German, said that remembering the Holocaust isn’t a fixation on the past but a fixation on what could happen again.
Wolfgang Benz, a professor from the Technical University of Berlin, speaks today about the difficulties the Jewish minority have living in present-day Germany, viewed from the majority’s perspective.
After the end of the war, many surviving German Jews immigrated to countries such as the United States and Israel. And the growing current Jewish community, composed mostly of Eastern European immigrants, has launched a rebirth of Jewish culture in Germany.
The purpose of the forum is to look at those demographic shifts and examine the resulting new attitudes toward Jews, said Jack Zipes, a professor of German who co-organized the event.