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Sticks and stones...

An article by Sara Lipton in the New York Times, reflecting on how significant such simple things as language can be to how actual human beings are treated in the world. Hate speech causes real harm. This also includes labeling of people - simply being categorized as a "Mischling" immediately had consequences for my godmother's ability to live her life as she wished, even before such labels carried worse fates, up to death... Changing the words we use about people, and generalizing about large groups, leads to de-humanizing. Seeing an entire group of people as "other" softens the barriers against violence, with awful results. Read “The Words That Killed Medieval Jews," published December 13, 2015.

"The experience of Jews in medieval Europe offers a sobering example. Official Christian theology and policy toward Jews remained largely unchanged in the Middle Ages. Over roughly 1,000 years, Christianity condemned the major tenets of Judaism and held “the Jews” responsible for the death of Jesus. But the terms in which these ideas were expressed changed radically.

Before about 1100, Christian devotions focused on Christ’s divine nature and triumph over death. Images of the crucifixion showed Jesus alive and healthy on the cross. For this reason, his killers were not major focuses in Christian thought. ... Though there are scattered records of anti-Jewish episodes like forced conversions, we find no consistent pattern of anti-Jewish violence.

In the decades around 1100, a shift in the focus of Christian veneration brought Jews to the fore. In an effort to spur compassion among Christian worshipers, preachers and artists began to dwell in vivid detail on Christ’s pain. ... A parallel tactic, designed to foster a sense of Christian unity, was to emphasize the cruelty of his supposed tormentors, the Jews.

Partly out of identification with this newly vulnerable Christ, partly in response to recent Turkish military successes, and partly because an internal reform movement was questioning fundamentals of faith, Christian began to see themselves as threatened, too.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews were massacred in towns where they had resided for generations. At no point did Christian authorities promote or consent to the violence. Christian theology, which applied the Psalm verse “Slay them not” to Jews, and insisted that Jews were not to be killed for their religion, had not changed. Clerics were at a loss to explain the attacks."

Germans and Jews

I wanted to share an article in the Jewish Standard about a new film, “Germans & Jews,” (trailer above!) by Janina Quint and Tal Recant. It focuses on the stories of people who went back to Germany after the war. I completely relate to the misgivings they talk about. For me, it is still difficult to think of a modern Germany separate from the one my father escaped. On the other hand, I also see parallels to the historical situations of people in my project, like Heinrich Heine. For Heine, his love of German culture trumped the anti-Semitism that brought constant rejection from the institutions he hoped to join. I think there might be a similar situation with Jews who return to Germany. It is still their country, and the country of their ancestors, despite all the horrific things that were done to them and their families.

(The article's title picture of Fritz Stern, from the movie, is taken in the same chair that he sat in, when I visited with him!)

"As far as cinema goes, my understanding of Germans and Jews changed after seeing “Nowhere in Africa,” the 2001 Academy-Award-winning German film about an upper-middle-class family’s time in exile in Africa during the Holocaust. The film concludes at the war’s end, with the family returning to Germany. How could a Jew possibly go back to Germany after losing parents and siblings in the Shoah? The next shock came when I learned that a Jewish classmate, who had received a graduate Jewish studies degree, married a non-Jewish German. Her parents were German Jews. What was she thinking? What drew her and her husband together? Then, in screening the film “The Flat,” I learned that an Israeli couple who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s returned each year after the war for a visit to Germany. They came back so they could vacation with good friends, one of whom had held a high position in the SS hierarchy. Arnon Goldfinger tells that story about his grandparents in his 2011 film, a documentary where he examines that strange relationship.''

Read more: Germans and Jews | The Jewish Standard 

The movie's official site:

Anti-Semitism and Mendelssohn's legacy

During the 19th century, Mendelssohn was considered on the same exalted level as Beethoven and Mozart. Composer Robert Schumann called him the Mozart of the 19th century.