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The Dartmouth
May 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Jewish identity analyzed

Visiting professor and German-Israeli scholar Michael Wolffsohn gave his historical interpretation of the Holocaust and German and Jewish identities last night to a standing room only audience in 3 Rockefeller.

His speech, entitled "The Holocaust, Germany and Jewish Identity" was the College's third annual Walter Picard Lecture.

Wolffsohn, born in Tel Aviv, grew up in Germany with dual Israeli and German citizenship. His theory tied the contemporary identities of Germans and Jews, and Wolffsohn discussed the growing secularization of Judaism.

Guilt, he said, is not hereditary, but "moral debts are inherited." For "better or worse, Germans must deal" with the moral responsibility of the Holocaust. He said German identity is linked to Jews and the Holocaust.

Contemporary Germans, however, are not to be held criminally responsible for the actions of the Nazi state, Wolffsohn said. Germans focus on the present and the future, and not on the past, he said.

Jewish identity and the "entirety of sufferings of [their] long and sorrowful history," is now summarized and symbolized by the Holocaust, Wolffsohn said. Jewish perspective is directed toward the past, he said.

This new direction focuses Jewish attention away from Judaism, he said. Wolffsohn proposed that the Jewish world has and continues to grow increasingly secular and similar to any other population whose identity is based upon a unique history and not upon a religion.

The Jewish identity has shifted from Judaism to Jewish history and the Jewish state, he said. This contradicts traditional Jewish consciousness, he said.

Since the Holocaust, Jews "concern themselves more with the survival of Jews than with the survival of Judaism," Wolffsohn said.

One reason for criticism of the Israeli state, he said, is that a good middle ground has yet to be found between fundamental orthodoxy and secularism. Israelis "can't be accused of having made it easy for themselves," he said.

Germans are stigmatized by the Holocaust and want to "break out of unavoidable links" to the past, he said. Jews, whose identity relies upon recognition and remembrance of the Holocaust, "can't let them without threatening their own identity," Wolffsohn explained.

Wolffsohn said that the "disynchronism," or phenomenon in which two communities live in the contemporary world but think in different time frames, scares him. It is dangerous, he said, for future relations between Jews and Germans and Germans and the rest of the world.

Wolffsohn also explained what he calls "political mechanics," or the passing on of historical memories, and "political biology," the classification of people according to their national and religious backgrounds, rather than their current personalities and characteristics.

Wolffsohn said that when people judge based on political mechanics and political biology, they risk placing contemporary Germans and Jews in antagonistic positions.

Wolffsohn said anti-Semitism traditionally emanates from the claim that Jews crucified Christ. Anti-German sentiment, he said, is similar to anti-Semitism becasuse it results from the fact that Nazis massacred Jews.

He cautioned that the use of political mechanics and political biology risks stigmatizing Germany for another 2,000 years, as the Jews were stigmatized after the crucifixion. He explained that the Nazi past is a "political instrument wielded when deemed necessary ... the nature of the instrument is divorced from the people and the country now."