Merkel ‘shamed’ by growing anti-Semitism in Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday spoke of her "shame" over rising anti-Semitism in Germany as the Jewish community warned the coronavirus was acting as a "catalyst" stirring up anti-Jewish hatred.

Merkel 'shamed' by growing anti-Semitism in Germany
Merkel warned of increasing anti-Semitism in recent times. Photo: DPA

“It is true that racism and anti-Semitism never disappeared. But for some time now they have been more visible and uninhibited,” Merkel said during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Council President Josef Schuster both spoke at the ceremony, which was limited to 130 guests due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It is a disgrace and a source of deep shame for me to see the expressions of racism and anti-Semitism in our country in these times,” Merkel said, calling on German citizens to “never remain silent” over the phenomenon.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, on Tuesday said the pandemic was acting as a “catalyst” for anti-Semitic hate.

Schuster denounced some protesters for co-opting a symbol of the Holocaust — yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis — to represent their claimed oppression by virus restrictions.

“I know some elderly people who had to wear those stars,” he said. “People
who had to hide for years. People who only just survived.”

In her speech, Chancellor Merkel said that “anti-Semitism is an attack on people, on mankind and on our very existence, but it is above all an attack on the worth of the individual.”

After praising the achievements of the Council, she spoke of the importance of the “willingness and ability to encourage a dialogue” surrounding discrimination. 

Merkel also highlighted the “new and comprehensive measures to fight right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism” introduced by the government after the attack in a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle in October last year.

In 2007, Chancellor Merkel was awarded the Leo-Baeck Prize by the Council for her “sustained and sincere engagement” with the Jewish community. 

An unexpected success

The Council was founded in 1950 in Frankfurt am Main to represent the interests of the Jewish community in Germany. 

There were only around 15,000 Jews remaining in Germany after the end of the Second World War, the majority of which were survivors of the Holocaust and displaced persons from Eastern Europe. 

At the time, the Council was intended to be a temporary measure to aid Jews in Germany in emigrating to other countries. 

Capacity at the ceremony was limited due to coronavirus restrictions. Photo: DPA

Few could imagine a future for Jewish life in Germany after the systematic persecution and execution of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. 

Nowadays, however, the Council has grown to around 100,000 members and plays a key role in representing the Jewish community on political and societal issues. 

READ ALSO: Germany warns of spike in anti-Semitism linked to coronavirus

After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Council relocated from Bonn to the Leo-Baeck Haus in Berlin, where their headquarters can be found today. 

“What started as a provisional arrangement after the Shoah has now become an integral part of German society,” said Council President Schuster. 

He stressed that the Council will continue to speak out if the rights of Jewish or other minority communities, as well as basic democratic rights, are endangered.

New challenges

Concerns about growing anti-Semitism in Germany have returned to the spotlight in recent years. 

The Council recently warned against the increasing prevalence of conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic undertones at anti-coronavirus protests throughout Germany, along with sightings of right-wing flags and costumes appropriating the victims of the Holocaust. 

READ ALSO: Man on trial for Halle synagogue attack that shocked Germany

In July, the trial began of a suspect accused of killing two people in an attack on a synagogue in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt last October.

“We know how quickly words can become actions, as the attack on the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur last year alone showed in a particularly terrible way,” Merkel said at the ceremony.

Some six million European Jews were murdered by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime during World War II.

Germany is now home to the third-largest Jewish population in western Europe, largely due to an influx of around 200,000 Jews following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The ceremony was streamed live and can be found online here.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.