AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
November 21, 2013
IN THIS EDITION
GERMAN POLITICS – A possible new wrinkle?
SPYING & GERMANY SENSITIVITY – The German psyche wounded?
THE SPOOKS CLUB – Can Germany join?
KRISTALLNACHT – More widely commemorated.
LOOTED ART – Who does it belong to?
STOLEN ART: LEGAL CLAIMS – Ownership & German law.
GERMAN NAZI HUNTERS – Cops on the case.
JEWISH THEOLOGY IN BERLIN – In a State university no less.
This is not a good time to be in the American-Jewish - German business. The two
parties that make up my major professional interest are at loggerheads over the NSA
spying issue. Good feeling has taken a holiday. Of course, it will get papered over and
healed to some degree but it will take time. However, it is rumored that Chancellor
Merkel has taken to writing out all her communications in secret ink. No more cell phone
There are various discussions going on regarding the issue and it is reported that Secy.
of State will visit Berlin as soon as the new German government is installed.
Considering the effort he is putting in with both the Iran and Israel- Palestinian
situations, a couple of days in Germany, no matter how much he is knocked around
over the spying matter, will seem like a vacation.
While everyone is waiting for the new government to be formed, the old government is
in a caretaker mode. Foreign Minister Westerwelle is still representing Germany
internationally even though he will not even be a member of the new Bundestag. Talk
about lame ducks. Quack! Quack!
Both the spying matter and the new government are covered in items below.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are almost upon us. Take it easy on the turkey, stuffing,
latkes and brisket. I can't afford to lose any readers.
Best Thanksgivukkah wishes to you all.
On to the news…
What’s happening with German politics? The answer is—presently, not much. The
Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian/ Social Democrat group (CDU/CSU) are
involved in seemingly endless negotiations over the new grand coalition that is to be
formed. When they finish, policies will be agreed upon and the new Ministers can take
office. A final agreement isn’t expected until mid-December
There seems to be little talk about what might happen if, in the final analysis, they
cannot agree. However, that seems unlikely but, for the first time there is some talk from
SPD members on the left wing of the party about another course of action.
The last time the SPD entered into a grand coalition eight years ago they were the
junior partner and their unequal status in the eyes of the electorate caused them to do a
lot worse in the election four years hence. It resulted with their being pushed out of the
government altogether. The CDU/CSU joined with the Free Democrats (FDP -a
business oriented party) and the SPD wound up in the opposition where they have
languishedwith the Greens and Die Linke since 2009. This year the FDP did not make
the 5% needed to have seats in the Bundestag so they are not a factor.
During the recent election the SPD did poorly again (actually even worse), however,
(this is the crux of the matter) if they could bring themselves to coalesce with the
Greens and the despised Die Linke (The Left Party) they could form a slim left-leaning
coalition. They have just enough Bundestag seats to do it.
However, Die Linke is despised because it is made up of the former communists and
the extreme left wing of the SPD itself. Of course, there are also personalities involved
and personal dislikes so the possibility of it happening this time around seems very slim.
However, in future elections such a left coalition might just come to pass.
To read more about the SPD and Die Linke click here.
Meanwhile, we wait for the grand coalition to be formed.
SPYING & GERMANY SENSITIVITY
By this time everyone knows that our NSA security spying agency tapped Chancellor
Merkel’s cellphone and upset everyone in Germany except their own spy people who
are doing a fair amount of spying themselves. In my last edition I opined that the matter
would blow over and that peace between Germany and the U.S. would reign again.
What I did not say, and should have, is that the episode surely had and will continue to
have a lasting effect on the German psyche.
Charles Lane writing in The Washington Post noted, ―Even a country without Germany‘s
past might be upset to learn the NSA was tapping the phone of its elected leader.
But understanding the furor in Germany requires digging deeper into history, including
the part when Germans were not victims but aggressors.
Why was Germany kept out of the deal under which the United States, Britain, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand do not eavesdrop on one another and cooperate fully in
signals intelligence? Well, the origins of that decision lie in World War II, when
Washington and London agreed to share their secret codes and work together to break
the codes of enemy Germany. The NSA is the lineal descendant of the Anglo-American
signals intelligence organizations that helped defeat Hitler.
After the war, the NSA‘s target was the Soviet Union, as Germany lay prostrate and
occupied a divided non-factor in global politics.
Even after West Germany‘s economic recovery and its rise to NATO membership, the
United States and Britain excluded it from the ―SIGINT‖ inner circle. The potential
benefits of including the Bonn government were outweighed by the risks of Soviet and
East German infiltration. West German governments gave the NSA access to U.S.occupied German territory, anyway.
Now, after decades of close military and intelligence cooperation with the United States,
unified Germany still gets less access to NSA intelligence than do Denmark, France, the
Netherlands and Norway, the Guardian and the New York Timesreported Sunday, citing
leaked NSA documents from Edward Snowden
In short, Germany‘s exposure to the NSA‘s prying eyes is also a blunt reminder of its
past aggression, defeat and humiliation and the price Germans still pay for all that, long
after their country has cleaned up its national act.
As journalist Malte Lehming wrote in Der Tagesspiegel: ―The widespread feeling of
being humiliated by the Americans is understandable. Seldom before have the
Germans had their noses rubbed so severely in their own helplessness,
defenselessness, cluelessness and carelessness.‖
For all of Germany‘s ―soft power‖ — it is a humanely governed economic powerhouse
whose approval rating in global opinion surveys easily tops that of the United States —
the country remains a military and intelligence weakling. That rankles. Never mind that
Germans themselves swore off hard power — because of history.
And so German politicians and media play the victimization card. ―The promise ‗Never
do evil again‘ has evolved into a more comfortable promise: ‗Never endure evil again,‘ ‖
If this implies moral equivalence between spying by a democratic United States and a
Nazi Gestapo or Communist Stasi — well, so be it. Some of the NSA‘s harshest
German critics are members of the Left Party, successor to the Communist Party of
In short, Snowden‘s disclosures have tapped Germans‘ deep but usually
unacknowledged feelings about their rightful place in the world, which won‘t easily be
bottled up again.
One oft-suggested remedy — admitting Germany, at last, to the U.S.-led inner circle of
nations that don‘t eavesdrop on each other — might soothe feelings in German
officialdom. In 2009, German intelligence was ―a little grumpy‖ at getting less access to
NSA data than France, according to one of Snowden‘s documents.
But in terms of repairing the U.S. image in Germany, this gesture might be too little, too
late. From a U.S. perspective, the costs could outweigh the benefits, for the same
reason that it‘s always risky to let more people in on a secret.
Chancellor Angela Merkel must be seething. As if she didn‘t have enough trouble
negotiating a new coalition government and dealing with the euro.
It’s not clear what the U.S. can do to right the situation except apologize, swear not to
do it again, sign some sort of a no-spy agreement and continue to be the best ally it can
be. The first two of the four it has already done. Being a top-flight and trusted ally is
something it will have to continue to work on.
THE SPOOKS CLUB
As mentioned in the article above, ―One oft-suggested remedy — admitting Germany, at
last, to the U.S.-led inner circle of nations that don‘t eavesdrop on each other — might
soothe feelings in German officialdom. Germany is not letting any grass grow under its
feet in an attempt to be part of the American ―Spook‖ inner-circle.
DW reported, ―In August, two months after President Barack Obama's first official visit
and weeks before the country's federal election, when revelations and public anger over
alleged mass spying activities on Germany by the NSA refused to die down, Berlin
hatched a plan to mitigate the fallout.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff and point man for intelligence matters, Ronald
Pofalla, floated the idea on August 12. Germany would simply strike a no-spy deal with
the US, he told reporters, adding that American and British intelligence services had
assured him in writing that they had not violated German law. Summing it all up, Pofalla,
called the proposed no-spy agreement a unique opportunity to set common standards
for Western intelligence services and declared the NSA spying affair case over.
Three months later the NSA case is anything but closed. Instead it has finally reached
Chancellor Merkel herself. The planned no-spy agreement according to media reports is
also alive as well and expected to be finalized in early 2014.
While details of the proposed anti-espionage deal are unclear - top German intelligence
officials are currently in Washington to discuss them - after 9/11 it is unrealistic to
expect that US services will simply cease all surveillance activities in Germany. Instead
it is much more likely that Berlin and Washington will look at a decades-old no spy
agreement as a blueprint for a German-American anti-spy deal: the so called Five Eyes
From what is known publicly the Five Eyes members generally do not spy on each other
and when they do they act only with the consent or knowledge of the partners. From a
German government perspective this could be a workable option. Berlin could assuage
domestic public sentiment by claiming to have pressed the US to stop spying on
Germans or to only do so under special circumstances with German approval. If the
agreement applied only to German or EU citizens, nationals of other countries could still
But regardless of the specifics of the planned no-spy deal, if it is anything like the Five
Eyes agreement then it is at least as much about collective and shared spying than
about not spying at each other.
In fact, argue US-based analysts, joining Five Eyes - and not curbing America's spy
activities - is actually what Berlin is really after. "The public face is mostly a mirage to
appease the German domestic scene," John Schindler, professor of National Security
Affairs at the US Naval War College and a former NSA intelligence expert, told DW via
Chancellor Merkel is someone who recognizes the dangers of surveillance, but also
thinks that it would be good for states to have much of this information to work together,
says Henry Farrell, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at
George Washington University. "So I think Merkel's ideal coming from this would be a
deal in which Germany gets admitted to this Five Eyes club which would allow for much
greater degree of access by Germany to US and UK intelligence and it would also mean
that UK and US intelligence couldn't spy on her."
There’s more to story which you can read by clicking here
It looks as if the technical end of this disturbing matter is about to be settled. However,
the taste it has left in the mouths of many Germans is clearly another matter
A couple of weeks ago there were commemorations of Kristallnacht throughout the
world. If you are not clear as to what exactly Kristallnacht was, Wikipedia explains it as,
―Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night"), also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, or
Reichskristallnacht], Pogromnacht, and November pogrome, was a pogrom (a series of
coordinated attacks) against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–
10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians.
German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from
the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings,
and synagogues had their windows smashed.
At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated
in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the
attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were
burned (95 in Vienna alone) and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.
Martin Gilbert [a historian] writes that no event in the history of German Jews between
1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the
foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world.The Times
wrote at the time: "No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the
world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on
defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday."
One might think that Germany might not be inclined to have commemorations of this
dark event in its history. The exact opposite is the case.
My AJC colleague Rabbi Noam Marans, director of Interreligious and Intergroup, was
invited to Germany to speak at a Berlin church on the subject. In anticipation of it he
wrote, ―Only when I became a rabbi did I understand that it was not enough for the
Jewish people alone to speak about ―never again.‖ The lessons of the Holocaust
needed to be discussed with the rest of the world, particularly with Christians who
carried a special burden. It was Christianity‘s historic antagonism towards Judaism that
created an environment in which Hitler could perpetrate his crimes against humanity.
And though a significant number of Christians risked their lives to save Jews, far more
were partners in the crime and even more stood by silently.
Our commitment as Jews is not only to remember and prevent, but also to remember
and celebrate the righteous of the nations, thousands of whom have been honored by
Yad Vashem for their heroism in protecting or saving Jews. Also, in recent years I and
many others have come to understand that we need to acknowledge and participate in
the historic self-reflection that German society undergoes as it confronts the horrific
legacy of the Third Reich, even though nearly all Germans today are too young to have
been perpetrators and did not live through the silence of complicity.
For the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, I was invited to address the commemorative
service at the Friedrichstadtkirche church on Saturday evening. Despite the historical
baggage, I accepted, and our group of young U.S. Jews will be there, too, because we
believe that religion, in this case Christianity, is not a source for evil, but a potential
power for good. Just as we recall that the world failed to see that the Nuremberg Laws
would lead to Kristallnacht and ultimately the Holocaust, we are also mindful of what
could happen if the world fails to react to the racially, religiously and ethnically motivated
hatred and violence of the 21st century, including the resurgence of anti-Semitism in
Europe and beyond.
Yes, we are honored to participate in a Berlin church‘s unique commemoration of this
devastating moment in Jewish history, in German history. But we do so with
immeasurable ambivalence and complex feelings.
What more can one say? Noam has captured all the important points. ―Well done‖ say I.
Incidentally, Kristallnacht merits international recognition. Even the Pope mentioned it in
a speech. Read about it by clicking here. .http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/11/10/ukpope-jews-idUKBRE9A907O20131110
In Germany Deutsch Welle (DW) put together a brief video (1:46) which you can see by
A few weeks ago it was widely reported that a treasure trove of some 1400 paintings
were found in the Munich apartment of the son of an art dealer who had close ties to the
Nazis during WW II. DW reported, ―Many of the paintings recently found in Munich were
probably seized from Jews by the Nazis.
During the Nazi era, thousands of art works, including works by famous artists, were
labeled "degenerate" and were confiscated from Jewish owners or sold at prices that
were far too low. For many years now, the heirs of dispossessed Jews have been
approaching art galleries in order to find out where their works of art came from.
German museums have committed themselves to check their inventories for stolen
works. But stolen art is repeatedly being found outside large museums. The Munich art
trove, the discovery of which was made public on Monday (04.11.2013), could also
include works of art that used to be the private property of Jews.
To personalize the story, DW interviewed, ―Rafael Seligmann [who] is a political
scientist and writer. He was born in Tel Aviv, from which his family, which had fled Nazi
Germany in the 30s, returned to Germany in the 50s. Seligmann is the author of
numerous non-fiction books and novels on the situation of Jews in Germany. In 2010 he
published his autobiography, entitled "You will like Germany" [Ed. Note: I know Rafael
quite well and consider him a friend].
A selection of the things Rafael said during the interview are as follows:
―I have to admit that the scale surprised me. But not the fact itself. The fact that art was
requisitioned, expropriated and looted is well known, as is the fact that people today
continue to profit from it and that a large proportion has not been returned. But I am
repeatedly astounded by how unscrupulously the issue is dealt with, even today.
I wouldn't go so far as to talk about Germany as a whole. But there are parts of
Germany - museums, art collections, individuals, public institutions - that would like it if
art works that they or their predecessors acquired stayed in their possession, and if they
could be spared being checked.
Many Jewish individuals have been searching for works of art that used to belong to
their families for years - with the help of expensive lawyers. In your opinion, how is
Germany is supporting them?
The support is hesitant. Only what is definitely publically known is also admitted. I know
a number of people, including well-known descendants of Jewish families, who have
had an arduous struggle and have had to travel for years in order to prove that their
families had art stolen from them. After all, the pattern was usually the same: until the
so-called November pogrom in 1938, art wasn't simply stolen - it was bought at a price
that was much too low. So legally, everything was in order. But it was nothing short of
state-sanctioned fraud. And that's where the difficulty lies. If something was stolen, it
can be proven, but if a price was paid that was much too low, then the difficulty lies in
proving that the price was below market value.
It's never too late. But I scarcely think that there are any survivors left alive today whose
art was stolen. But that doesn't matter. Normal inheritance law exists. And I don't see
why a family whose art and other property was stolen shouldn't assert their rights. And if
their case is judged to be legitimate, then their art works and property should be
Germany shouldn't wait until cases of fraud, theft and extortion come to light, but should
instead actively seek their resolution. If it is known that objects were acquired through
blackmail or theft, then these should be returned to Jewish heirs, bought from them, or
exhibited - it's often been the case that the heirs have said, we consent to leaving the
work in the museum. But one should at least come to an agreement with the heirs.
What is definitely not acceptable is for individuals to stash private collections in archives
or in run-down apartments. If we claim to be a democratic, humane and honest society and we are one - then we can't live with stolen art.‖
Of course Rafael is right. It would be best if Germany saw to it that those pieces that
can be proven to have been stolen are returned quickly. However, I doubt that will be
the case. There are, of course, procedures to follow in order to prove ownership. That
will take a long time.
One thing is certain. The lawyers will do very well over the next few years.
STOLEN ART: LEGAL CLAIMS
One might think that getting the stolen (or, possibly, purchased at very low prices
because of political pressures and maybe death) would be easy. Find the original owner
and return the piece to him/her or their heirs. Not so fast! There are laws in Germany
that make this sort of thing very difficult.
Frank Jordans writing for AP wrote ‖…since news of the case broke last week, officials
have been scrambling to justify their secrecy and explain why Germany can't just hand
the pictures back to the heirs. At times German authorities have appeared to be working
at cross purposes as they try to balance judicial independence with public relations.
Ironically, it may be the strong protection of individual rights introduced after World War
II that could allow collector Cornelius Gurlitt to keep the works he inherited from his
father Hildebrand, an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis.
"His father did bad things during the Nazi period, but under our legal system you can't
punish the son for that," said Matthias Druba, a Berlin lawyer who has dealt with other
art restitution cases.
Authorities are investigating whether the paintings, prints and drawings were
"misappropriated." But under German law, the statute of limitations for criminal
prosecutions is 30 years. Only murder and genocide are exempt - a provision
introduced in the late 1960s to prevent those who participated in the Holocaust from
To get around this limit, prosecutors would have to prove that Cornelius Gurlitt tried to
undermine attempts to recover the works, Druba said.
"Just having the pictures on him isn't enough," Druba said. "He would have had to
It's clear that Gurlitt didn't hide all of his paintings. Two years ago he sold a work by
German expressionist painter Max Beckmann titled "The Lion Tamer" for 864,000 euros
($1.16 million), which he shared with the heirs of a Jewish collector who once owned
"It was all a matter of goodwill," said Karl-Sax Feddersen, a legal adviser for the
Cologne auction house Lempertz. "The heirs wouldn't have been able to get a German
court to help them."
Experts say this example may indicate that the government's best option could be to
appeal to Gurlitt's sense of ethics and negotiate resolutions instead of heading to court.
A spokesman for prosecutors in Augsburg, who are handling the case, acknowledged
that the 30-year statute of limitations is making legal claims difficult.
"But we need to examine who can make what claims," Matthias Nikolai told The
Associated Press. "To put it very carefully, there is a possibility in Germany's criminal
code to hand seized objects back to victims."
It looks to me that restoring ownership to rightful owners is a long way off. These are the
sort of legal problems that take years to litigate and bring to a conclusion. Even then,
there are the moral questions and these have a way of lasting even longer. It looks
likely that our children and grandchildren will be the ones reading about the final
disposition. Stay tuned – but only if you’re expecting long life.
GERMAN NAZI HUNTERS
If you ask most American Jews about the current hunt for still at-large Nazis (not neoNazis) and if they know or care about it, they’ll say it’s in the hands of the Simon
Wiesenthal Center. Ask whether the Germans themselves are doing anything about it
and, probably you’ll draw a blank look.
As it turns out there is activity in Germany – official police activity. DW recently reported,
―Andreas Willms and Stefan Brendel hunt Nazi criminals. Some 70 years after WWII,
the perpetrators are very old - it's a race for justice and against time.
When asked whether it's legitimate to take a 92-year old to court, Andreas Brendel's
answer is short: "There's no statute of limitations on murder." As a prosecutor it is his
duty to follow up on accusations. Brendel is used to such questions coming from
journalists; he has just finished an interview with a Russian TV reporter.
Of course there was the same question; it seems obvious when you have a man who
for the past ten years has brought one old Nazi after another into a German court.
Brendel heads the central office for dealing with Nazi crimes in Dortmund.
Brendel always answers with two points: Firstly, they have to be brought to trial for
simple legal reasons. But, he adds, "We still have the victims and the relatives of the
victims. For them it's very important that there's a German trial determining the guilt of
the perpetrators. Independently of whether the sentence will eventually be implemented:
it is important that the fate of those people will be heard by German prosecutors."
Stefan Willms is an officer with the police in Düsseldorf in charge of tracing Nazi crimes.
It's the only department in Germany that exclusively deals with Nazi criminals. So
Willms is a close colleague of Brendel in fighting crimes that date back 70 years or
Every step [they take] is coordinated. "There's no week where we don't speak on the
phone," Willms explains. "At least twice a month we meet." They support each other in
many ways. Often they have to deal for weeks with the details of brutal murders.
"It's not something you can put aside just like that," Willms says. And then there are the
letters they get from people who write in angrily complaining about why they are
prosecuting such old men. "I just stick those in a file," he explains. Sometimes though
there are threats, to them or even their families.
"We've had colleagues here who couldn't handle that and went to others department,"
Willms says. But for him and Brendel, there's no question that they'll continue. "Probably
until the last Nazi criminal is dead," Brendel says. "Time is pressing;If we do find a
perpetrator then we give this priority." Only recently, thirty people who've worked in
Auschwitz, have been added to the list they're looking for.
To read about some of the cases Brendel and Wilms are working on click here
I have the feeling that these two law enforcement officers are not very popular in
Germany. My guess is that most Germans born after the war think it’s probably best for
them to move on to more pressing crimes and criminals. After all, all the old Nazis are
now in their late 80’s or 90’s and are not hurting anybody. While I understand that frame
of mind, I’m not at all sympathetic to it. I, like the cops in Germany, do not believe there
is a statute of limitations on murder. Period!
JEWISH THEOLOGY IN BERLIN
Anyone familiar with Jewish activity in the Berlin area knows that there is much. At last
count there were 12 synagogues, a kosher restaurant or two (maybe even more),
Jewish community centers, etc. There are even a couple of rabbinical training schools.
Now there is something new – a Jewish university based theology program. According
Silke Bartlik, writing in DW, ―It’s the start of a new era. For the first time in Europe, a
state university is offering a course of study in Jewish theology. Students from around
the world have enrolled in the program at the University of Potsdam.
The interdisciplinary Jewish Studies program was founded at the University of Potsdam
in 1994 and has grown steadily over the years. Rabbis are trained at the affiliated
Abraham Geiger College, which also houses a cantor seminar. Hartmut Bomhoff, public
relations officer at Abraham Geiger College, said the addition of the Jewish theology
program presents a unique opportunity in Europe to teach Judaism from a religious
The School of Jewish Theology is currently home to six professorships to teach the
more than 3,000-year spectrum of Jewish history. Topics span religious philosophy in
antiquity, Middle Ages and modern times, to liturgy and biblical interpretations, to
Jewish music history. The entire breadth of issues will be addressed here locally, said
Hartmut Bomhoff. "We have faculty from North America and Israel, so we are on the
cutting edge of research and self-reflection."
This one-of-a-kind program in Europe appears to be engaging young people from
around the world. Germans, as well as Eastern Europeans, Israelis and Americans
have registered for the new course of study at Potsdam. Currently, 36 have registered,
though 40 are expected to participate.
According to Hartmut Bomhoff, younger generations seem to show a growing interest in
researching their own Jewish roots, and they want to talk more about their heritage. For
these students in particular, said Bomhoff, the program in Potsdam is especially of
interest. "It combines academic study with a search for identity and the research
involving one's own family history and heritage."
The School of Jewish Theology is just another building block in the development (or,
really re-development) of Jewish life in Germany. By the way, before the geography
purists attack me, the School is, technically in Potsdam and not in Berlin proper.
However, since Potsdam is reachable by the Berlin subway system it is hard for me to
consider it other than a Berlin suburb. I apologize to the Potsdamers for diminishing
their city. I happen to love Potsdam and its unique institutions. Maybe I should have
used the term ―Greater Berlin‖. Next time!
See you again in December.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at
Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com