Seasoned Israeli journalist and author, Eldad Beck, delivered a fascinating and in-depth presentation last Sunday at the Jewish Holocaust Centre before an audience of about 130 people. The address was co-hosted by the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Zionism Victoria and the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia.
Beck, who has been the Berlin-based correspondent of the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot since 2002, addressed the topic off ‘Germany at Odds: from the Shoah to the Present’ and provided fascinating insights into contemporary Germany against the background of the country’s history over the last seven decades and earlier.
A grandson of Holocaust survivors, Beck emphasised that, despite the passage of time, the current era in Germany “is a very delicate period”. He noted that second and third generation survivors have the difficult task of keeping memory alive, more so because “there are many [people] working against [preserving] memory, even among us.”
While examining modern-day Germany’s somewhat complex but important relations with Israel, Beck added that it is imperative that the relationship should be predicated on events of the not-so-distant past.
“To have a better future relationship”, he said, “both countries need to acknowledge and confront the past.” While there is strong support for Israel in Germany, Beck questioned many assumptions about “the new Germany” and examined whether Germany had indeed confronted its past.
Noting that the country is not monolithic, he recounted the growth of extreme right-wing nationalism in Germany, alluding to the fact that the neo-Nazi party has a deputy in the European Parliament and the neo- Nazis in Germany tread a thin line between legality and what is illegal.
And while there are those who are confronting Germany’s past – he alluded to sincere attempts by young Germans to do so – anti-Israel and anti-Semitic manifestations are not uncommon. Beck referred to a 2014 demonstration against Israel where there were cries of “Jews Jews to the gas”, and to the resurgence of publicly displayed anti-Semitic caricatures, reminiscent of the Nazi era.
The distinction between Israel and Jews, said Beck, is blurred. This is clear, too, in Germany’s liberal Left press.
Beck dispelled the idea, which many hold, that the majority of Germans are in favour of Holocaust commemoration. Despite the proliferation of memorials in various forms, it is only a “small group of Germans” who, against the wishes of the majority, seek to memorialise the Holocaust. There are increasing attempts, he said, to present the Germans as the victims of the Nazis, placing the blame for the tragedies of the Second World War on the Nazis and deeming the German population blameless victims while focussing at the same time on the Germans’ suffering at the hands of the Russians.
By claiming to be the victims, argued Beck, Germans can absolve themselves of the responsibility for the Holocaust and conflate what the Nazis and their collaborators did to the Jews with what they suffered at the hands of the Russians, a radical distortion of history.
Beck’s visit to Australia was sponsored by the Canberra-based Israel Embassy. His recent book, Germany, at Odds, is his account as an Israeli journalist living and working in Germany at the beginning of the 21st century.