Mass Muslim migration has made it nearly as dangerous to reveal that you are Jewish as it was in the late 1930’s in Germany. For one Jewish teacher in Berlin, it became unbearable. For several Jewish students, it forced them to change schools.
CNN Rachel, whose name has been changed because of safety concerns, went to her headmaster, and then to the police, but she said neither took her complaint seriously and would not intervene.
She said things got worse. The students saw Israel as a menace, an oppressor of the Palestinian people and viewed her as a stand-in for the Jewish state, she said. They took out their frustration by screaming anti-Semitic slurs at her.
Unsure of how to deal with anti-Semitism in the classroom, Jewish teachers very often keep incidents to themselves to avoid tipping off their own religious identity, according to Marina Chernivsky, the head of the Berlin-based organization Kompetenz Zentrum für Pravention und Empowerment (or Competence Center for Prevention and Empowerment), which provides counseling to individual and institutions after anti-Semitic and discriminatory incidents.
She recently held a workshop to help Jewish teachers deal with anti-Semitism in their classrooms. Around 20 Jewish teachers attended the session; Chernivsky said it was the first time many of them opened up about the problem. “It’s not normal to be Jewish in Germany so anti-Semitism is not normal to talk about,” Chernivsky said. “It’s very taboo.”
Teacher Michal Schwartze, who works in Frankfurt, says it took her years to reveal she was Jewish. It took history and politics teacher Michal Schwartze years to reveal her religion to her students. The Frankfurt based 42-year-old said she didn’t feel comfortable teaching about the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or anti-Semitism in Europe without being transparent with her students.
A few years ago, Schwartze penned an article in her school’s newspaper encouraging students to stop using the word “Jew” as a slur. She said she took a risk writing the piece, but it raised awareness around anti-Semitism at her school.
“Fortunately, I have colleagues who are sensitive and a headmaster who has an interest in preventing anti-Semitism,” says Schwartze. She cautioned that Jewish teachers who don’t have similar support need to “hide their identity.”
Berlin’s Department of Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS) said serious incidents affecting Jewish students and teachers in Berlin’s schools doubled in 2017 and the rate is on a similar pace this year. RIAS said most episodes still go unreported.
Michalski said his son began attending Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule in December 2016. Its motto: “A School Without Racism”. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor, Michalski’s son told his new classmates he was Jewish.
“He said it was like you could a hear a pin drop,” said Michalski. “His cover was blown. His new friends said you can’t hang out with us anymore because you’re Jewish and the attacks quickly became worse and worse.”
Michalski says his son, who was 14 at the time, was smacked on the head and kicked to the point where he developed bruises. Three months into his stint at the school, a fellow student shot him with an air gun while taunting him with anti-Semitic slurs.
Michalski said school administrators tried to play it off as “boys will be boys,” and were unwilling to do anything about the incident. He ended up pulling his son out of the school three months after he enrolled.
The story of a 14-year-old who had to change schools to escape anti-Semitism made headlines in Germany. The boy’s tormentors were of Arab and Turkish Muslim descent – making the news even more explosive.
Five years ago, Germany’s Jews would have never considered moving away from the country. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Germany was in the midst of a Jewish revival — the population had grown to over 200,000, and rabbis were ordained in Berlin for the first time since the Holocaust.
Now, Rubin said, the question of leaving is being discussed again. Only this time, it isn’t the neo-Nazis who are the threat, it’s the immigrant population, most of whom are Muslims.
Florian Mätzschker was one of two Jews at a 1,200-student high school in Berlin’s Wedding district. Last December, he was sitting alone in the school cafeteria when a group of Muslim classmates came up to him and started giving him a hard time about US President Donald Trump moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He tried to defend Israel’s claim to the city.
“That’s when they started saying over and over again, ‘We will destroy you’, and then one girl said to me ‘Adolf Hitler was a good guy because he killed the Jews,'” Mätzschker said. “She just kept saying it over and over again. I was in shock.” That’s when the group of students started swarming him, screaming “Israel is the murderer.”
“I was really, really scared,” Mätzschker said. “I couldn’t get out, they had me surrounded on all sides. It was like suffocating. I finally broke away, but even the teachers were scared to step in.”
For the rest of the year he spent breaks sequestered from his fellow students and covered his yarmulke under a baseball cap.”I got through because I kept saying to myself, ‘One day soon, I will be in Israel and this will all be over.'”
But as Muslims are fond of saying: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” German Christian children are being taunted by Muslim immigrant children in the classroom, as well.
Career diplomat Felix Klein, 50, was appointed in April to a newly created cabinet-level position: Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner. He said although anti-Semitic attitudes have long bubbled below the surface in Germany, those views are now exploding into the open.
“The word Jew as an insult was not common when I went to school,” said Klein. “Now it is, and it’s even an insult at schools where there are no Jewish students. That’s a problem.”
The German government is taking steps to address anti-Semitism in schools. It has dispatched 170 anti-bullying experts to selected schools across the country. Klein said his office is creating a nationwide registry where teachers, administrators, and the general public, can report anti-Semitic incidents. Right now, no such system exists, making it difficult for authorities to understand the scope of the problem.
Many teachers and principals have a huge lack of knowledge when it comes to dealing with anti-Semitism,” Gomis said. “They’re not quite sure how to detect it, and when they do, they’re too busy or stressed to deal with it.”
The general attitude among Muslims is that they are superior to non-Muslims. And it gets even worse when Muslim immigrants become the majority of the student population. Even the teachers are intimidated, Jewish or not.
Not surprisingly, Germany’s left-leaning Jews (the majority) just don’t get it when it comes to Muslims:
They say, “When we talk about Muslim-originated anti-Semitism, I think we can only win that battle with the help of the moderate Muslims,” Klein said. “Without them, this won’t be a successful fight.”
Some of that work is already underway. Named after a heavily Muslim neighborhood in Berlin, the Kreuzberg Initiative against anti-Semitism (KIgA) sends teaching guides into more than 40 schools across Germany to help counsel young Muslims at risk of radicalization. One of the goals: encourage dialogue among Muslim students and their Jewish peers.
KIgA’s chairman Dervis Hizarci cautions against painting all Muslims as anti-Semitic (Their entire religion is antisemitic). Doing so, he said, further alienates young Muslims who may also be facing discrimination in German society.
“We have to make Muslims feel addressed,” Hizarci said. “Fighting anti-Semitism among Muslims can only succeed if we do that together with Muslims. If we talk to Muslims instead of talking about them.”
German high school students learn about the Holocaust in the ninth grade, around the age of 14 or 15. They’re taught about the state-sponsored murder of millions of Jews and they take field trips to nearby concentration camps. A generation ago, teachers lingered on the events of the Third Reich, making sure to present it to students as part of their country’s heritage.
Now, as survivors dwindle and the immigrant population grows, that part of history is being cleaved from the German experience. “There’s been an ever-growing tendency on the part of some in German education to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust.”
A CNN poll found that 40% of young German adults know little to nothing about the Holocaust.
German Jews with rose-colored glasses seem to think teaching Muslims about the Holocaust will reduce their hatred of Jews. We, at BNI, know better.