Commentary Magazine


Hatred and Germany

To the Editor:

The anti-German bias of Elie Wiesel’s article [“An Appointment With Hate,” December, 1962] is easily justified and need not be repudiated. But as Elie Wiesel finds no shelter from his pure hate I, as a young German, know he cannot expect pure feelings of guilt from my generation. A young German who is silent about concentration camps is not necessarily uninformed and unconcerned. There are things to which talk does not lend itself easily. . . . What happened is beyond anger.

Were the lines clearly drawn, it would be easy to hate. But it just is not the case that all evil or crime is attributable to Germans. As a boy I myself experienced scenes similar to those Mr. Wiesel has witnessed, in which non-Germans were the offenders and the adults around me, all Germans naturally, often risked their lives to ward off evil. Many of my peers are still haunted by the traumatic experiences of their childhood supplied so generously by the deliberate bombings of civilians, for instance, or the march of the Red Army into Germany. Even the Americans, so proud of their long tradition of righteousness found it expedient to unleash a storm of fire over Japanese civilians on the mere chance of saving some of their soldiers’ lives. . . .

Since the elimination of the German menace the world certainly does not prosper in peace. Genocide, a word which so heavily burdens our consciences today, is being scientifically planned. Eichmann’s trains are no longer necessary. The means have been found to cremate people in their homes. Surely, the motivation is different but what more is there to say? Genocide is not a German invention either. Numbers 31 relates a ghastly instance. I realize that whatever I may say cannot alleviate the moral burden that the nation of which I am a citizen must bear. It is not intended to do so.

There is so much to be hated that hating needs to be qualified and conserved. Elie Wiesel has expressed this difficulty. But in the age of overkill it is equally difficult for my generation to feel guilty.

Joseph Meier
Boston, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

. . . It is not easy to retain a point of view which is extremely unpopular, as is that expressed by Elie Weisel. . . . It is difficult to be alone, and the burden of being a conscience in an unpopular cause is a trying task. . . . I feel stronger for having read Mr. Wiesel’s words.

The cause of “hate” is not considered good breeding, even among Jews. The businessmen travel by Lufthansa to Germany . . . the salesman improves his economic standing by buying and selling products “Made in West Germany” and it is unbelievable to hear the rationalizations which accompany the buying and displaying of a Volkswagen. . . . It is a far cry from the desperate state of mind of the Jewish community in the 1930′s. . . .

Rabbi Leo Baeck, the late scholar and teacher, returned to Germany for a visit after the war. He was asked: “Dr. Baeck, do you condone Germany?” And Dr. Baeck answered, “This is not the question. The point is: can Germany condone itself?” Elie Wiesel has given us an accurate answer to this question also. . . .

(Rabbi) Robert L. Lehman
New York City

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To the Editor:

What did Mr. Wiesel expect in Germany? Had he never read any of the many reports on Germany before he set out on his trip of “discovery”? He is of course entirely at liberty—and it may be excusable—to hate the “Germans” or to dislike them, but is it really necessary to indulge in the self-glorification that Jews do not hate? Even if it were true—and, alas, how many Jews have I met who hate—it does not show good taste to put it in the naive way in which this article puts it. After all, Mr. Wiesel ends by asking the Jews (“every Jew”) to hate (“virile” hate!) what the German (every German?) personifies.

Hans Kohn
University of Denver
Denver, Colorado

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To the Editor:

After the Jews were driven out of Spain in 1492, they never returned in any sizable numbers, and over the centuries only a small Jewish community has lived in that country. When the Jews were driven out of Germany, they went back in droves and contributed, inside and outside of Germany, to the “miracle” of Germany’s recovery. Elie Wiesel went back, too, and his “Appointment with Hate” was a dismal failure.

At the moment that Elie Wiesel went to the German Consulate for a visa, he had to forego all his principles and to abandon all his resentments and hates. One cannot do business with Germany (as he does), one cannot play to a German audience (as he does) and pretend to hate them. The question for a Jew is simply this: What is more important—to have principles or to run with the crowd?

. . . If I were a German, I would only laugh at those foolish Jews who indulge in brotherly love and consider 15 years of Nazi tyranny wiped out by a flimsy excuse. For many survivors of the holocaust, it is not a question of being a Jew. It is much more difficult to remain a Jew.

Arno Herzberg
Newark, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

Thank you for the superb article by Elie Wiesel. Except for one day in 1935, I have never been in Germany. I was very young then, but that one day in Berlin, and the next day on the train terrified me. . . . Now my young friends try to convince me that I am wrong to hate Germany. And I must say I’ve had moments when I thought they might be right. They are not.

That is why I feel that Mr. Wiesel’s article, beautifully written and so carefully thought out, is so important. I thank you for it. We must not forget.

Mary McClintock
Washingtonville, New York

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To the Editor:

I read with interest Mr. Elie Wiesel’s article . . . urging “every Jew” to “set apart a zone of hate—healthy, virile hate—for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the dead.”

This kind of feeling is neither single nor personal. It is widely felt. . . .

The spectacle of Jews so facing Germany a generation after Hitler’s advent provides an intriguing perspective on history by inviting a comparison with Jewish opinion as recently as the first World War when Germans were hailed as the avengers of Jewish suffering in Czarist Russia.

In 1914, the majority of Jews were pro-German, if only because anti-Russian. The people of the pogrom-ridden East actually “longed for the coming of the Germans as liberators,” as Dr. Weizmann relates in his memoirs. Zionist leaders earnestly believed in a German victory, not from any wishful thinking (Dr. Weizmann avers) but because of convictions which “flowed from very deep sources.” They “knew Germany, they spoke German, and they were vastly impressed by German achievement, German discipline, and German power.” Dr. Weizmann himself was a devotee of the German mind, and when in 1913, he addressed the 11th Zionist Congress on the Hebrew University, he cited in conclusion a passage from one of the great bellwethers of German nationalism, Johann Gottlieb Fichte. The story continues through World War I. . . .

All of this now seems ancient history and much of it probably well nigh beyond belief. It is related not to extenuate the unutterable crimes which will stain the German name forever, but rather as one of those lessons which show that history is apt to play the least likely tricks. . . . How soon men will curse what once they blessed, and vice versa. Egypt was not always the land of the Ten Plagues and may well be ruled once more by the Pharaoh of Joseph. . . . The memory of the not very distant past should perhaps encourage a chastened sense of proportion and help to mitigate the torn and tattered passions which infest and too often vitiate the Jewish debate on Germany.

C. C. Aronsfeld
Harrow, Middlesex, England

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To the Editor:

. . . My mother and brother perished in Auschwitz. I spent over two years in a number of German labor and concentration camps. The same holds for my wife and her mother. My father-in-law perished in a German labor camp in Estonia.

Mr. Wiesel, there are two ways of betraying the dead. One is to forget; the other is to elevate monolithic hatred to the level of a moral principle. The devil triumphed his mightiest triumph over human dignity at Auschwitz. The devil triumphs a horrid little triumph when he makes Mr. Wiesel ashamed of his inability to hate a woman simply because she is German, and when he gets him to urge us to hate “what the German personifies” and “what persists in the German.” Replace “German” with “Jew” and you may realize what you are guilty of.

“The Torah bids us remember Amalek, not to hate it.” A marvelous principle, indeed. I interpret it to mean that we had better stop nursing our impotent and utterly useless hate and think of how best to prevent another eruption of man’s most monstrous propensity: self-elevation achieved by degradation of another.

Abe Shcnitzer
Adelphi College
Garden City, New York

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To the Editor:

It was an extraordinary experience to read Elie Wiesel’s measured recounting of his “Appointment with Hate.” It brings to light a simple but ironic fact: that most intelligent people tend to place the responsibility for remembering the German 20th century terror upon the Germans. To my knowledge, almost no one, except Mr. Wiesel, has underscored the essential naiveté of this position. The extra jab of pain one feels when reading of present-day German insensitivity . . . is perhaps due to our own wounded innocence.

The Germans, past and present, represent the full flowering of atavistic barbarism in our time. Our past relations with them are already painfully marked by a dangerous naiveté. Let us not dishonor the past or make the future even more uncertain by turning over the job of bearing witness to past horrors to those who have most to gain by forgetting. . . .

Daniel Stern
New York City

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To the Editor:

As a German Jew I am outraged by the . . . exhibition of venom, hatred, and malice in Elie Wiesel’s article. Mr. Wiesel, by his own admission, spent but a few hours in the Federal Republic. Within the past seven years, I have spent four in Germany, and declare Wiesel’s statements to be . . . unworthy even of civil discussion.

Wiesel advocates that every Jew should set apart a zone of hate for what the “German personifies.” German Jews, regardless of their present citizenship, are by definition Germans does Wiesel also suggest setting apart a “healthy, virile” hate for German Jews? . . .

The German people without exception, including former members and leaders of the Nazi party, are today bitterly ashamed and remorseful at the bestial manner in which Jews . . . were treated under Hitler. Jewish life is once again apparent in the Federal Republic of Germany; certainly the German government has done its utmost to further it. About 30,000 persons of Jewish religion presently reside in Germany, and many of them regard Germany as their homeland and fatherland.

While the American Jewish Committee and other defense organizations are engaged in combating anti-Jewish hatred and bigotry. . . COMMENTARY feels called upon to disseminate the poison pen mentality evident in the Wiesel article. It stands to reason, that no German will gladly suffer this kind of collective condemnation. . . .

The late and sainted Rabbi Leo Baeck, who spent the war years in the hell of Nazi concentration camps, constantly warned against the un-Jewish attitude of hatred against Germany. I think it high time that Rabbi Baeck’s admonition for reconciliation with German gentiles be taken seriously.

Klaus J. Hermann
Port Arthur, Ontario

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To the Editor:

In COMMENTARY of December 1962, page 472, I found a notice that I had said: “Hitler was only the scourge of God to chastise His people.” This is a complete misrepresentation of my opinion and a distortion of my expressions. I never said anything like this. My whole behavior in the “Nazi” time and afterwards proves exactly the contrary. I ask you for a correction soon. . . .

Heinrich Gruber
Dean, Evangelical Church
West Berlin

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Mr. Wiesel writes:

In an article that appeared in the issue of Christianity and Crisis for April 30, 1962, the author, Rabbi Richard Rubenstein of Pittsburgh, describes an interview he had with Bishop Gruber on the theological meaning of the destruction of European Jewry. In the course of their talk, Bishop Gruber insisted repeatedly and at length upon an analogy between Hitler and Nebuchadnezzar, both seen as unwitting agents of God’s purpose to chastise the Jews. I extend apologies to Bishop Gruber for having ascribed to him the literal citation from Isaiah II, which I cannot document. But the sense of the analogy, it would seem, is unmistakable. The Bishop did state: “At different times God uses different people as His whip against His own people, the Jews, but those whom He uses will be punished far worse than the people of the Lord. . . .”

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Correction

The interviews with prominent Frenchmen referred to in Hans J. Morgenthau’s article (March, p. 186) were mistakenly ascribed to President de Gaulle. These interviews were in fact held by Mr. Morgenthau.

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