By Tuvia Tenenbom
Three years ago I was contacted by an editor of Rowohlt, one of the biggest book publishers in Germany. She said she loved my articles in the Zeit, the prestigious German newspaper I’ve been writing for, and would like me to come to Germany for a few months, interview people and write about them “in the same style you write for the Zeit.”
It didn’t take long to convince me and soon enough I showed up in Germany.
Unbelievable landscapes, delicious food, shiny museums, celebrated intellectuals, tireless farmers, sleepless artists, blasphemous zealots, faithful atheists and a highly modern society welcomed me. All I had to do was to befriend everybody.
Germany, I sadly found out, was obsessed with Jews. Even those who claimed to like Jews had very strange thoughts about them. I interviewed people from all walks of life.
From the famous chain-smoking iconic Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, to the forlorn heroin addicts on the streets of Frankfurt; from the publisher of the largest European daily, Bild, to obscure bloggers; from the Prime Minister of Saxony, to bored museum guards; frail WWII veterans, to sporty high schoolers; radical leftists who want to overthrow the government, any government, to neo-Nazis who won’t settle for anything less than Adolf Hitler; top officials of Mercedes and Volkswagen, to street sellers of cheep necklaces; educated and illiterates; rich and poor; on the east and on the west, in the north and in the south.
We ate together, drank together, and they talked.
Hardly a day passed by without at least one interviewee talking to me about the “rich Jews,” the “shrewd Jews,” the Israelis who eat Palestinians for breakfast on a daily basis, the “manipulating Jew,” or anything else “Jew.”
Germany, I sadly found out, was obsessed with Jews. Even those who claimed to like Jews had very strange thoughts about them. Some told me that all Jews knew each other, others said that all Jews helped each other, and still others claimed that all Jews were “very good” with money.
The people thus talked and I wrote down what they said, word for word. I submitted the book, a testimonial to the rampant anti-Semitism in today’s Germany, to my editor.
We met a week later and she told me that she cried and laughed when reading the book and that it was even better than what she had expected it to be. But the head of the publishing company, who comes of Germany’s top families, went into a rage. He told me that I couldn’t write and that the book needed serious editing.
I asked him to show me what good writing was.
If there was a line in the book about people not liking “Jews,” he demanded that I change the word to “Israel.”
A chapter about a club that preached the killing of all living Jews had to be erased, he ordered. If somebody told me in an interview that the Jews were “the real Nazis,” their words had to be changed or cut. Only if I obeyed him, I was led to understand, would I become a “good writer.”
He didn’t stop there. He went really low, at one point calling me a “hysterical Jew.” And then he broke our contract.
No American publisher I approached agreed to give the book life. No matter what evidence at hand, mainstream American publishers were not willing to take on Germany. Taking on a Western ally, I guess, is not on the agenda of present-day publishers.
Fearing that the book’s findings would get forever lost, the Jewish Theater of New York decided to make the book available to Americans and published it under the title “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room.”
In December of 2012 one of the most prestigious of German publishers, Suhrkamp, made the book available in Germany, under the title “Allein unter Deutschen.”
Initially, German critics went ballistic, passionately denying the book’s findings that most Germans today hold anti-Semitic views.
One of them, in the highly regarded Liberal newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, didn’t shy away from going racist, shamelessly referring to me as “the Jew Tenenbom.”
Responding to the growing claims against me, I offered to face any intellectual willing to debate me in public.
Standing before the people who demanded honesty, it soon became very clear that my staunchest critics assailed the book without actually reading it.
Happily, other critics took a closer look at the book and published glorious reviews. Tens of thousands bought the book, sending it to the top 10 of Spiegel magazine’s best sellers list (equivalent to the New York Times best sellers list in the U.S.), and thousands of the book’s fans attended public readings across Germany.
At its conclusion, I ended my journey into Germany having many more friends than when I started it.
This makes me happy, as having new friends is always good, but this doesn’t mean that I’m not worried. I am, and much more than I ever was.
Germany is a wonderful, beautiful country, its society one of the more sophisticated of our time. Germany’s cultural institutions, such as museums, theater and journalism, are the most advanced in the Western world — which probably explains why its society’s stars are not movie actors but intellectuals.
To me, and as far as I could witness, most of those intellectuals are pseudo intellectuals: they are brainy beyond repair, full of themselves, have a very narrow view of the world, lack a healthy sense of reality and, worse yet, suffer from acute anti-Semitism. Again and again, history teaches us where this senseless hate will lead.
Before WWII, just as now, Germany was very advanced for its time, proudly holding one of the best human rights records. But then as now, the people had hate inside their hearts at the same time their mouths were uttering the loveliest words of freedom.
It was Adolf Hitler who knew to their deeper thoughts and he turned them into the most sadistic known to humanity.
If today Germany doesn’t wake up to its inner hate, a more sophisticated Adolf will appear and nobody will be powerful enough to stop him.
It is time to tell Germany, in the clearest of words: People who suffer from cancer can’t afford to ignore it. Germany must wake up to its cancer, before it will be fatally consumed by it.
Telling Germans the truth is not hate but the purest form of love. I deeply love them, and therefore I deeply care.
Tuvia Tenenbom is a Spiegel bestselling author and columnist for Die Zeit, Germany‘s prestigious weekly newspaper. He is the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany”which was published in Germany as “Allein Unter Deutschen.” In addition to his work for Die Zeit, his writings have been published in newspapers such as Corriere della Sera of Italy and Yedioth Ahronoth of Israel. He holds advanced degrees in both fine arts and science and is the founder and artistic director of The Jewish Theater of New York.
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