Commentary Magazine

Germany's Jews Today

To the Editor:

A reviewer is entitled to his opinions, tastes, and possibly prejudices, but surely he has no right to misrepresent the contents of the book under review; to alter its meaning by misquoting; to denounce the author for opinions and conclusions which are not to be found there (nor in his other writings) . . . . Sometimes overtly, more often by innuendo, Theodore Frankel [in his review of The Survivors, Nov. '63] ascribes to me opinions which only a Nazi apologist or a mentally deranged person could hold, and which are the opposite of my own . . . . His review amounts to a slur upon my personal and professional integrity. . . . Space permits me to answer only a few of these misrepresentations.

(1) Mr. Frankel ascribes to me the almost incredible assertion that “even Auschwitz has its silver lining,” citing, by way of proof, one half of my quotation of the reply of a survivor to her eight-year-old daughter’s question about what a concentration camp was: (“Something like a vacation resort, but not so much fun”). But Mr. Frankel suppresses the woman’s explanation of this seemingly strange remark: “I do not want my daughter to be shocked and hurt by knowledge of the horrors. I want her to grow up in a normal world as a normal child.” Whether this mother’s reasoning was right or wrong, it seemed worth reporting as one among many different reactions of German Jews to the Nazi past which, as my book states, “range from an attempt to forget to an almost obsessional recall.” While I point out that none of these is typical, Mr. Frankel claims that one among them is “typical of Mr. Muhlen’s approach,” and jumps from there to the outrageous conclusion that I see a silver lining even in Auschwitz.

(2) Mr. Frankel claims further that my book “makes its apology for the German past by the simple Victorian expedient of lacking words for anything really bad.” The subject of my book is not the German—i.e., Nazi—past, about which I have written often before, and with which better writers than I have dealt, but the Jewish-German present: as the title clearly states, and as I noted in the Foreword, my theme was the fate of the “tiny fraction of the faceless figure of the Six Million whose obituary has been written in blood and whose memory will be forever mourned.” Therefore, I open my book with what “really” is the worst of the Nazi past, Hitler’s last command to destroy the Jews; and I refer to the crimes of persecution and mass murder throughout the book whenever this is warranted.

(3) Discussing the restitution and reparations agreements of the Adenauer government with the Jewish organizations, an important chapter in present-day German-Jewish relations, I pointed out that these payments are not only due the Jewish survivors “to right the wrongs done . . .,” but whatever their extent, tragically inadequate. Mr. Frankel, however, insinuates that my enumeration of German payments “is bound to prejudice the reader against the Jew,” who—the words as well as the innuendoes of this outrageous thought are Mr. Frankel’s—appears “greedy” and “insatiably rapacious.”

I resent this sinister insinuation, particularly since I pride myself on having contributed, though in an extremely small measure, to the restitution agreements. In September 1951, I cabled from Bonn to the editor of COMMENTARY, the late Elliot Cohen, whom I was privileged to call my friend, that Chancellor Adenauer in an off-the-record interview had told me that he was eager to enter into restitution agreements with the representatives of all the Jewish organizations. Elliot Cohen, as he later informed me, relayed my message to the American Jewish Committee for further action. Rather than describe this personal episode, I quote in my book the words in which Adenauer, shortly thereafter, assured Nahum Goldmann of his recognition of Germany’s moral as well as financial debt to the Jews. My quoting of this important statement appears, in Mr. Frankel’s words, as a “device of trying to make the Germans look better by making the Jews look bad.” Mr. Frankel’s innuendo of anti-Jewish bias, without the slightest factual foundation, is tantamount to character assassination.

(4) Mr. Frankel denounces my denial of any importance to neo-Nazi groups in present-day Germany, a conclusion at which I arrived after fifteen reportorial tours of postwar Germany (though I am aware, of course, of the survival of individual Nazis and anti-Semites in Germany—a whole chapter of my book is devoted to evaluating them—and though I advocate vigilance against their doings). To expose this “whitewash,” he points to the case of former Admiral Doenitz, a convicted war criminal and Hitler’s official successor, who “was invited to address the graduating class of a German high school.” Knowing the facts of this case, I admit that I would not have presented it as evidence of Nazi group influence even if it had happened before, rather than after, my book went to press: for Doenitz—not unlike such Nazi or Communist spokesmen as George Lincoln Rockwell or Gus Hall in this country—was invited to give a lecture to the contemporary history class of what by American standards would be junior college students. The German public protested against this invitation, and if I were a German, I would have joined in this protest, but I surely would not have considered it an indication of Nazi power or influence.

(5) Mr. Frankel repeatedly uses the device of falsifying my quotations in order to change their meaning. He censures me for writing, in my Foreword, that the epitaph of Hitler’s Jewish victims could be that “they did not die in vain”—but he suppresses the second and key half of the sentence: “If—and this is a big ‘if’—the world learns a lesson from their fate.”

A good part of Mr. Frankel’s review is devoted to an alleged résumé of my article published in Der Monat which was, as he does not mention, translated from an article published in the American quarterly, Modern Age; by quoting out of context, he misrepresents its contents no less than those of my book.

(6) Not even the complete title of my book is given correctly by the reviewer. He omits mention of the Introduction by Professor Hans Kohn. Could this be because the eminent historian, one of American’s most respected authorities on modern German-Jewish history . . . calls my book an “authoritative study, presented with all the impartiality that such a controversial question demands”?

(7) Mr. Frankel censures my “high-minded hope that the Jewish community in Germany will experience a new birth of vitality.” What, in fact, I wrote was merely that “it is still too early to answer the question of whether or not there will be a Jewish revival in Germany,” and that “German-Jewish regeneration does not seem altogether impossible,” which is, of course, not at all what Mr. Frankel tells the readers I wrote. I admit that I would be personally gratified by such a revival; in my book, I merely tried to tell Americans—as a reporter who reports the facts as he finds them—how Jews live in Germany today. If my findings lack the bright colors of happiness, as I concluded in my book, fortunately they are not all black, either.

Norbert Muhlen
New York City



To the Editor:

. . . To disagree with an author’s point of view is a reviewer’s privilege. . . . But to say of a book written by a man who has himself been subjected to Nazi persecution, that its sole purpose was to “whitewash the Germans” for their crimes in the past . . . is an outrageous statement . . .

It may still be difficult or even impossible for a Jew at this moment to discuss the German problem “objectively.” Any response, from silent hostility to eternal hatred, should be . . . respected as an all-too-human reaction to a traumatic experience beyond words. But another attitude is also possible . . . the searching spirit, the passion for truth and justice in the Jewish heritage which brought about the Ten Commandments as well as the writings of Freud and Marx and Buber . . . It is the opposite of what anti-Semites attribute to the Jews when they talk about the Jewish “God of Vengeance.”

One may disapprove of Norbert Muhlen’s readiness to plunge into the ambiguities of German-Jewish relations at a time when nobody knows what may happen next . . . (although my own experiences in postwar Germany seem to corroborate Muhlen’s rather carefully worded observations). But this is not the point. What I object to is the character assassination of a writer whose honesty and integrity should be obvious even to a reviewer who seemed to have read this book only to find what he wanted to read into it.

Hans Sahl
New York City



To the Editor:

. . . I agree, in substance, with Mr. Frankel’s evaluation of Muhlen’s attitude, though only the most objective appraisal of such writings can be helpful . . . . I regret therefore that to illustrate Muhlen’s “rapturous, simpering, effusive language,” Mr. Frankel quotes as an example only one half of the reply of a Jewish woman in Hamburg who upon being asked by her eight-year-old daughter what a concentration camp was, replied “something like a vacation resort but not so much fun.” In fairness to Mr. Muhlen, Mr. Frankel should have included the second half of the quote as well . . . .

As to Mr. Frankel’s citation of the “very good record of the German courts in putting more than 5000 Nazi criminals behind bars,” he is as much mistaken as Mr. Muhlen. Only recently the German counterpart of our National Conference on Christians and Jews (the late Theodor Heuss was the honorary president of this organization) published a memorandum showing that Nazi criminals (among them murderers) had been given mild prison sentences similar to those pronounced against embezzlers, burglars, and thieves. The memorandum rightly says that the German people is in danger of viewing murders against Jews, Russians, Poles, and gypsies as a lesser crime than other violations of the penal code.

In this connection, Mr. Muhlen should be reminded that Dr. Erwin Schuele, Head of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes acknowledged that German witnesses often do not like to cooperate with Schuele’s office. “They even may lie to us by saying certain people sought by us have long since died. If we always believed them we could have closed our office a month after it opened because of lack of work.”

Space does not permit listing the many factual errors Muhlen made in his earlier book, The Vanishing Swastika, and now makes again in The Survivors. I share Frankel’s view of his “lack of insight or sympathy” and his continuous . . . simplification and degradation of tragic events. Muhlen . . . does not comprehend apparently that in this way he does a great disservice to the German people and at the same time dishonors the victims of Nazi persecution. . . .

As one who published the first book dealing with the help given by German Christians to Jews during the Hitler years, I believe that our relationship to Germany can be based only on these principles:

German history must be judged objectively without the kind of public relations angle represented by a recent hearing [May 14, 1963] before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations which featured the testimony of Major General Julius Klein—an example of how not to deal with the new Germany.

We as the survivors of the holocaust should evaluate present-day Germany not on the basis of personalities, but by facts and deeds.

We should by all means encourage the forces of decency and democracy, in other words the other Germany which exists but does not yet rule. . . .

Kurt R. Grossmann
Kew Gardens, New York



Mr. Frankel writes:

Mr. Muhlen specifically cites seven major misrepresentations. Let us examine them:

(1) He states that I ascribe to him the assertion that Auschwitz has its silver lining. Not so. What I claim is that his disingenuous and cloying style conveys that impression to the reader by indirection. For proof I cited not the half-quote about the Jewish woman from Hamburg, but the entire quote concerning Frau Renate Lasker-Schueler who “has often described her Auschwitz experiences in a warm, moving appeal.” If a warm, moving appeal about an abattoir like Auschwitz, delivered to millions of German TV listeners, is not a silver lining, what is it?

The half-quote on which Mr. Muhlen concentrates his fire was meant as supporting evidence for. the fatuousness to his approach. If I did not give the anecdote in toto, it was because I thought the mother’s motivation self-explanatory, and still do. What was not self-explanatory was Mr. Muhlen’s lack of comment in the book.

Furthermore, my contention that these two anecdotes are typical of Mr. Muhlen’s approach is not disproved by his disclaimer that the people and reactions described by him are not typical (incidentally, if they are not typical why include them?). One need only read Mr. Muhlen’s little jokes on the subject of Jewish oversensitivity to realize just how well they represent his style.

(2) Mr. Muhlen denies my contention that his book makes an apology for the German past on the grounds that this time he was writing about the German present only. To begin with, the very attempt to establish a German present without a German past is a species of apology. Second, it simply is not true that Mr. Muhlen does not deal in the book with the Nazi past; as I showed in my review, he refers to it repeatedly. The trouble is he works a little too hard at accentuating the positive, as in his remark that “some Germans approved active anti-Semitism and others did not.” Unfortunately, Mr. Muhlen’s “rebuttal” of my article does not address itself to refuting such specific evidence. Instead, he makes part of his defense the fact that he opened his book with what was “really the worst of the Nazi past” by referring to Hitler’s 1945 order to destroy the Jews. I am afraid here, too, he proves nothing but his alarming lack of understanding, for surely the worst of Nazism was not the post-factum order by a single man (how convenient if it were), but the long horror perpetrated by hundreds of thousands which preceded it.

(3) Turning to Mr. Muhlen’s account of restitution (and leaving aside his personal contribution to that effort in the past), I can only reiterate that I find his present treatment odious. To be sure, he remarks somewhere in the book that German restitution is morally inadequate, but his anecdote tells a different story. And, as Mr. Muhlen well knows, in a book designed for popular consumption—and The Survivors clearly is—it’s the human interest story that sticks in the mind, long after the qualifications are forgotten, particularly when they are placed elsewhere in the text.

As for the innuendo of rapaciousness in the story of K.B., let the reader judge who placed it there. It was not I who picked just this story of a victim whose parents died natural deaths and who spent his time in peaceable exile, when there are at hand much more typical cases numbering in the hundreds of thousands of people asking for restitution whose relatives were butchered in the most inhuman fashion and who, in their own flesh, experienced the most excruciating torture and humiliation.

Concerning the Adenauer-Goldmann exchange, I guess there is no way of penetrating Mr. Muhlen’s obtuseness and proving to him how insulting his version is, not only to Dr. Goldmann but to ex-Chancellor Adenauer as well.

(4) Mr. Muhlen either does not consider what I have to say about his statements on remaining Nazi influences or twists it. I cited specific evidence concerning Nazi influence in the judiciary, the administration, and one of the security services to contradict his sweeping whitewash on this count. All of this he blandly disregards to concentrate instead on the Doenitz affair. He compares the invitation tendered to Hitler’s official successor to address as guest of honor a captive audience of German Gymnasiasten with the American academic custom of inviting in turn representatives from all political groups to expose themselves to debate and critical free-for-all before audiences prepared for these occasions. This analogy not only misleads the reader concerning the Doenitz case but also insults an American institution embodying free speech. If inviting Doenitz is really “not unlike” the American custom cited, why would Mr. Muhlen protest were he a German?

(5) Mr. Muhlen charged me with repeated falsification of his statements and quoting out of context. Naturally, since no reviewer can give anything but excerpts, it is easy to charge that one is quoted out of context. Mr. Muhlen submits for evidence only one such item under his fifth point, his truncated cliché that the six million Jews “did not die in vain” from which I deleted the second part “if . . . the world learns a lesson from their fate.” I submit that the vulgarity of this bromide is not altered one whit by being quoted in its entirety instead of by halves. For God’s sake, let’s have no more about the beneficial pedagogic after-effects of the murder of our parents and relatives.

Since Mr. Muhlen cites no proof for my alleged misrepresentations of his article in Der Monat I shall do no more than assure the reader that my résumé was a restrained paraphrase of what struck me as a particularly nasty little job. Frankly, I had not realized that I was dealing with a translation since the blurb in Der Monat . . ., stated only that an English version “mit annaehernd gleichem Wortlaut” (with approximately the same text)—whatever that may mean—was being published in Modern Age. In any case, I can’t see what earthly difference it makes. What counts is surely that a German audience was told of an alleged anti-German campaign for which the blame was attached to “left-wing radicals and relatively small but influential groups with anti-German prejudices.” The very combination of words gave me goose pimples; that Mr. Muhlen characterized that influential minority as “part of the American reading public” did absolutely nothing to soothe me.

(6) Mr. Muhlen has me on not giving the full title of his book. For the record it is: The Survivors: A Report on the Jews in Germany Today. However, Mr. Muhlen is in no position to be overly severe on such trivia, since he is not exactly immune on this score himself. For example, he twice confused the Communist magazine, Mainstream, with the Zionist publication Midstream. I am glad, however, that he raised the question of the Introduction. It gives me a welcome opportunity to express my astonishment at Professor Kohn’s endorsement of the book.

(7) Finally, Mr. Muhlen rebukes me for reporting that he entertains high-minded hopes for a new rebirth of vitality for the German Jews and claims more modest expectations. For once, it is really a question of judgment. Mr. Muhlen can point to sentences like “It is still too early to answer the question of whether or not there will be a Jewish revival in Germany.” On the other hand, so diffuse is his treatment that I can point to the general air of hopefulness wafting through the final chapter, . . . the discussion of how fertile German soil has always been for the development of Jewish culture, the remark that the return of tens of thousands of Jews to Germany is one of the more hopeful events of our time, the argument that Germany’s own enlightened self-interest makes an influx of Jews desirable. Of the various utterances of prominent Germans on this point, the clincher was no doubt the statement, “I hope Jews will again take responsible places in German life, as they did after the emancipation,” confided to Mr. Muhlen in August 1961 by the co-author of the Nuremberg Racial Code, Dr. Hans Globke (The Survivors, etc., p. 211).

Dr. Grossmann calls for no extended reply. I am pleased that he agrees with and extends my main thesis. As far as the quote from the Hamburg survivor is concerned, I have made my position clear in my answer to Mr. Muhlen. Concerning the record of the German courts: I feel it is better than the length of the sentences indicates, since the trials often take place in an atmosphere not entirely conducive to detached judgment (I am afraid I am catching Muhlen’s style). Moreover, a number of recent verdicts have imposed longer sentences, possibly as a result of the memorandum referred to by Dr. Grossmann.

One final word: I should like to caution American readers against confusing Mr. Muhlen’s vicarious obtuseness with what responsible Germans think and say. Certainly, German intellectuals, writers, artists, government officials and parliamentarians like Böll, Köppen, Hochhuth, Piscator, Professors Eschenburg and Schmid, Dr. Gerstenmeier and Professor Böhm and many more in all walks of life present an image of German self-awareness that is radically different from the picture projected by Mr. Muhlen.

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