Ralf Horlemann, the consul general of Germany, spoke yesterday at the Rockefeller Center about German-Jewish relations. The lecture, entitled “Remembrance and Hope — Past, Present and Future of German-Jewish Relations,” drew parallels between the historical treatment of Jews in Germany and the treatment of Syrian refugees in the ongoing crisis. Horlemann has worked in the German foreign service for over two decades and is an expert in transatlantic relations. Among the audience of about 30 was current Montgomery fellow Atifete Jahjaga, former president of the Republic of Kosovo.
Jewish studies professor Susannah Heschel said she organized the lecture because she thought Horlemann could help her students better understand how Germany has dealt with its contentious anti-Semitic past.
“One question I get over and over again from students is how Germany copes with its dark past,” she said.
She added that she thought Horlemann opened a valuable discussion regarding the treatment of Jews in Germany today.
In his talk, Horlemann emphasized the importance of keeping the memory of Germany’s horrific anti-Semitic past alive and pointed out that the country has several memorials and museums dedicated to the Holocaust and its victims. He added that by the end of World War II, Germany’s Jewish population, which was previously 500,000, had dwindled to around 15,000.
Many German Jews immigrated to Israel, but there is a growing trend among their descendants of applying for the restitution of their German citizenship, he said. He added that Israel’s safety as a nation is extremely important to Germany as a nation. Currently, there are around 200,000 Jews in Germany, including a group of Israeli immigrants.
Devina Kumar ’18 said that she found it interesting to see how much Germany has integrated the memory of the Holocaust into its culture.
“It’s obviously a legacy that’s persistent in Germans’ lives now,” she said.
Horlemann also acknowledged the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism in Germany.
“Many people are surprised when they go to Germany and they see that the synagogues and the Jewish schools are protected by police,” he said.
He attributed the need for police protection to the existence of neo-Nazi white supremacist groups.
Horlemann also discussed the resurgence of openly xenophobic, far-right political parties throughout Europe. He said that these groups come with a new found extremist nationalism and are staunchly against immigration and the admitting of Syrian refugees.
He noted that Germany has taken in about 1.5 million refugees in the past year, implementing measures such as converting a former airport in Berlin, Tempelhof, into a massive refugee center, in order to accommodate the large number of immigrants. The acceptance of refugees into Germany has not been entirely well received, both on the national and international levels, inciting fear that the immigrants will not integrate successfully, he said.
“It’s extremely important for Germany to do its upmost to integrate these immigrants in order to maintain stability,” Horlemann said.
He included that this integration includes teaching the immigrants German, as well as sending the children to public schools.
Horlemann emphasized the importance of maintaining Germany’s tolerance, which has been achieved in spite of its prejudiced past. He said that he has faith in Germany’s ability to accommodate these refugees as best as possible.
Kumar said that she enjoyed hearing about German immigration today in relation to the Holocaust.
“It’s not like they’re viewing their immigration policies as a way to make up for the Holocaust, but I definitely think the tolerance that exists there can be attributed to moving forward from their past,” Kumar said.
Heschel agreed with Kumar, noting the moral and legal obligation Germany has to the immigrants. She added that she believes it will be hard for Germany to integrate these immigrants, especially because of the country’s past of violence and exclusion.
“What does it mean to stand for Germany? How do you get people from that background to stand up for a country that has a history like that?” Heschel said.
Eliza Ezrapour ’18 said she found the lecture to be a great supplement to the material in “The History of the Jews in Germany,” a Jewish studies class taught by Heschel.
“I’ve definitely found this to be one of the better lectures I’ve gone to for the class,” Ezrapour said. “It was really cool to hear from such a direct source what’s actually going on there.”