- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

REGENSBURG, Germany — Even in this storybook city on the Danube, where Oskar Schindler lived among Jews he saved and David Ben-Gurion shopped for Israel’s first air force, the old dread looms.

Few here imagine another fanatical fuhrer re-emerging anywhere in Europe. Yet even in Regensburg, in a Germany whose Nazi past has driven it to the most profound acts of atonement, Jews who have fit so well into post-World War II surroundings feel a growing unease.

Across much of Europe, Jews see old prejudices mixing with new threats from militants among the continent’s 17 million Muslims, spread rapidly by mosques, the Internet and Arab satellite TV.

In a clear reflection of Israeli-Palestinian tensions and the war in Iraq, many Jews also say they sense growing hostility among European intellectuals whom they see as demonizing Israel.

Surveys say anti-Jewish assaults and incidents in much of Europe are at their most frequent since Hitler’s defeat.

Germany is especially sensitive because, within living memory, Hitler put to death 6 million Jews. But violence is more prevalent in France, where slums are crowded with disaffected young Arabs.

“Of course, we’re afraid — we are terrified,” said Ima Buchinger, 18, a student at the Regensburg synagogue, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the nationwide Nazi pogrom of 1938.

Tall and blonde, she might pass for a Wagnerian opera diva. Still, she said, young Arabs, Turks and Germans taunt her and her Jewish friends, sometimes threatening physical violence.

As she spoke, German police in a Volkswagen van were at their usual spot outside, just as security forces watch over synagogues in Vienna, Paris or London.

An ugly climate extends to places where tension has been less acute. In Budapest, a Jewish-supported soccer team sometimes hears rival fans chant, “The train is leaving for Auschwitz.” In Athens, Mikis Theodorakis, composer of music to the film “Zorba the Greek,” last month called Jews “the root of all evil.”

This new mood taints even traditionally tolerant Britain, where the Conservative Party has just elected Michael Howard, son of a Romanian Jewish immigrant, as its leader.

“Why is the liberal left not sufficiently concerned about the growth of anti-Semitism?” the British Guardian newspaper asked in an editorial last month.

“A new anti-Semitism is on the march across the globe,” it said. “It is no wonder that the Jewish community in the United Kingdom feels unsettled, uncomfortable and fearful.”

Numbers are difficult to assess because many incidents go unreported, and police sometimes dismiss anti-Semitic acts as common crime.

Tel Aviv University, which keeps track worldwide, reported that 2002 and early 2003 “witnessed an alarmingly significant increase in the number of anti-Semitic acts.”

It counted 56 assaults involving weapons or explosives in 2002, compared with 50 in 2001, and 255 other violent incidents, also a 12 percent increase over 2001. Most incidents were in Western Europe.

The pace in most countries is quickening in 2003, the study said, and simple vandalism is giving way to physical assaults on Jews.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, testified in Congress that European Jews face “a level of unease not seen in the postwar years.”

In Geneva, he said, he saw demonstrators chant “Death to Jews” while police watched.

Rabbi Dannyel Morag advises calm but caution to his Regensburg community — 700 in a city of 160,000, many of them recent Russian immigrants with a weak grasp of either Hebrew or Torah.

“So far, we’re OK,” he said, “but in big cities it can be terrible. Some Jews can’t find non-Jewish business partners because so many Germans think there may be trouble again, and they’re afraid.”

In Germany’s 89 Jewish communities and in Europe beyond, anti-Semitism is seen from differing angles.

At 80, with an Auschwitz tattoo on his arm, Otto Schwerdt counsels against exaggeration. He came to Regensburg after the war when 3,500 surviving Jews jammed the city awaiting passage to Israel or America.

That was when Schindler came and lived for five years among some of the 1,200 Jews he had saved in Poland — a story that would one day be immortalized in the movie “Schindler’s List.”

Because fog confused British pilots, Regensburg escaped the bombing that leveled many old German cities. Its Messerschmitt plant still turned out aircraft, and founders of Israel came to deal.

Mr. Schwerdt chose not to settle in Israel. “If all the Jews had fled Germany afterward, Hitler would have won,” he said.

His book, “When God and the World Slept,” recounts the Nazi horror he survived. A few weeks ago, Regensburg’s elite jammed the old city hall to honor his interfaith efforts.

“All of my friends are young,” he said. “I don’t frequent people my age because I don’t know what they’ve done. Now is a new time.”

But Henryk Broder, a Berliner with Der Spiegel magazine who made waves across Germany with a 1986 book called “The Eternal Anti-Semite,” rails against denial.

Many Jews refuse to face reality, to avoid having to confront the unthinkable, he said.

Mr. Broder believes the phenomenon of new anti-Semitism is real and growing. He sees a generalized antipathy toward Jews, whatever individuals may feel about the Jewish state or its prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

“This is the globalization of anti-Semitism,” he said. “What used to be directed at ‘the Jew’ is now directed at ‘Israel.’” He sees this new mood creating a backlash among more militant Jews. “Two thousand years of being a whipping boy is more than enough.”

Mr. Broder concluded: “People call me paranoid, but I have a feeling that many Europeans secretly hope that the Arabs might finish the business that Germany started with the Jews in 1938.”

Deirdre Berger, the American Jewish Committee director in Berlin, worries that young Arabs are inciting the far more numerous Turks, who seldom opposed Jews before.

Also, she said, many Germans now blame Jews for economic ills. Germany has changed, she said, “but just because the Nazis were defeated doesn’t mean anti-Semitism is over.”

In a book subtitled “Reflections on the Coming Anti-Semitism,” French author Alain Finkielkraut writes: “Jews have a heavy heart and, for the first time since the war, they are afraid.”

Several European leaders have responded vigorously. The Greek government registered its objection to Mr. Theodorakis’ “root of all evil” comment. In October, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, hosting Mr. Sharon, promised to fight the anti-Semitic revival.

French President Jacques Chirac recently called a special Cabinet session to confront what he called a growing wave of anti-Semitism. “Any blow against Jews injures France,” he said.

Governments reacted with alarm in October to a poll of 7,500 Europeans that found 59 percent consider Israel the greatest threat to world peace, followed by Iran, North Korea and the United States.

In France — with two-thirds of Europe’s estimated 900,000 Jews and nearly a third of its Muslims — Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center sees radical Islam gaining strength in the slums.

“To climb up in status, how do you prove yourself? You go attack a synagogue,” he said.

France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, has advised young Jews to wear baseball caps instead of yarmulkes in public.

Bullets and razor blades have been mailed to the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, a French organization, with warnings such as one that read: “The next one won’t come via the post office.”

In Germany, leaders conscious of the past take a tough stance against anti-Semitism, but they face a growing problem.

Parliament is preparing a declaration against all forms of anti-Semitism, acknowledging that it is noticeable throughout society, not just on the fringes. The text calls on individuals to make it their duty to combat anti-Semitism.

German Interior Ministry figures show 1,594 incidents nationwide in 2002, up by 150 from 2001.

The conservative opposition Christian Democrats expelled Martin Hohmann from their parliamentary caucus after he publicly equated Jews with Nazis. But he remains a lawmaker.

Brig. Gen. Reinhard Guenzel, Germany’s special forces commander, was fired for writing a letter to Hohmann praising his “courage.”

German President Johannes Rau helped dedicate a new synagogue in Munich on Nov. 9. Earlier, police caught four neo-Nazis with 31 pounds of explosives whom they suspected of plotting to blow it up. Afterward, vandals defaced the site.

In Regensburg, 250 miles south of Berlin, Jews have never numbered more than 1,000, yet in the Middle Ages they made up a significant percentage of a smaller population.

Their painful history is stamped into the stolid yet colorful heart of town. The first Crusaders came through in 1096 and, finding no Muslims, slaughtered Jews. A 1519 pogrom razed the Jewish quarter. After tumultuous ups and downs, a new synagogue opened in 1912. Nazis destroyed it 26 years later.

Rainer Ehm, who runs a museum, went to this year’s Kristallnacht services wearing a black beret. He is not Jewish, but his best friends are. For 20 years, he has led tours of the old quarter.

At the towering cathedral, he points out weathered stone in the facade depicting a pig suckling three Jews. It was meant to humiliate people exiting the narrow gate of their adjoining ghetto.

He shows Jewish gravestones built into old townhouse walls, now preserved by Jews and non-Jews alike so new generations do not forget these desecrations.

At a square that was once the heart of the ghetto, Mr. Ehm takes visitors underground to a striking memorial — called simply the Document — that the city built to recall its past.

It is literally a slice of history. Ancient Roman stones support the foundation of a synagogue, upon which was built a Catholic church.

“People still get along well in Regensburg today, but this new anti-Semitism is extremely dangerous,” Mr. Ehm said. “All it takes is some clever speaker to focus it and whip it to a fury.”

He paused. “You know, people here act polite to Jews because that is the politically correct thing to do. But I don’t think very many people like them.”

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