Author, activist and daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Esther Dischereit, came to UConn Monday to discuss the current situation of Jews in Germany and how it mirrors that of many other minority groups. The event was primarily sponsored by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.
Dischereit began her speech with a number of examples of violence within the past 30 years in Germany, stretching from the violent, xenophobic pogroms of 1992 to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s leader in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, calling Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “memorial of shame” in 2017. Although the Holocaust is now 74 years into our past, which is, in any case, too recent for comfort, its effects on German society and politics are still prevalent today, as are some of the beliefs that perpetuated it. Another leader of the AfD, Alexander Gauland, downplayed the absence of humanity and millions of victims of the Holocaust as “straw bird droppings in the millennial history of Germany.” Dischereit explained that Germany is dealing with a right-wing coalition movement which promotes anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
Dischereit’s largest example of this movement was the series of murders and crimes by the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) spanning from 1998 to 2011, on which she had based her book “Flowers for Otello.” Although much of Dischereit’s previous writing has been on her and others’ experiences of being German Jews and on post-Holocaust Germany, the NSU actually targeted representatives of Turkish and Islamic groups. From her book, she read an entry which listed the crimes of the NSU in chronological order, from arson and robbery to the murders themselves. She did this to show the scope of what the group did, before explaining that many of their crimes went unpunished. Despite promises from the police to hold a full investigation into the group, the victims’ families have yet to learn the truth. These crimes against so-called “foreigners” in Germany show that the xenophobia of the early 20th century hasn’t changed, even if its targets have.
“It was quite interesting,” Propromos Eyrros, an attendee from Greece, said. “It helped teach myself things I didn’t know. I know this organization [NSU] and how it evolved and how many crimes are still under investigation. It was enlightening, in general.”
Dischereit then related the crimes of the NSU to similar acts of xenophobia in Donald Trump’s America. In Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” She pointed out that this chant implies that Jews are “non-whites.” This return to tying Judaism to race is eerily reminiscent of the ideas propagated by the Nazi Party. In addition to this, refugees who try and come into the U.S. at the Mexican border are being forced to wait in terrible, undignified conditions, when they have a right to try and seek asylum. Similarly back in Germany, the houses of refugees continue to be targets of arson. Dischereit explained that all three of these situations show that the self-evident right of all people to exist is being ignored.
“I guess the best part of the speech was that there is plenty of evidence that we are still stuck with issues that we were struggling with at the beginning of the twentieth century and thought they went away,” Noeno Agolli, a graduate student studying philosophy, said. “But they haven’t, obviously.”
The issues of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism facing the world right now are an attack on democracy, according to Dischereit. It isn’t just a Jewish problem, it’s a problem for every minority and faith. Dischereit said no one should be allowed to question who walks on the sidewalks or who lives in both Germany and the US.
“The sidewalk belongs to us all,” Dischereit said.
Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.