(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
BERLIN – Ralph Giordano, a German Jewish intellectual whose life spanned the Holocaust and the major political events of the Federal Republic, died on Wednesday in Cologne at the age of 91.
The author of Israel, for Heaven’s Sake, Israel (1991), which chronicled his four-month journey in the Jewish state, Giordano was perhaps best known for his writings about Germany’s lack of confrontation with (and eventual working through) its Nazi history.
“The liberation from the fear of a possible violent death at any time, because I had a Jewish mother, was and is and will remain the key experience of my existence,” he wrote.
Born in Hamburg in 1923 to a German Jewish piano teacher mother and a Sicilian father, Giordano survived the Holocaust by hiding with his family in a cellar.
Later, he worked for television and print outlets, gaining notoriety for his prolific writings on National Socialism and the post-war generation‘s struggle to come to terms with its history.
In 1958, he observed the trials of Nazis for the Central Council of Jews in Germany. In 1961, he published The Party is Always Right! about his break with communism and the crimes of Josef Stalin.
After the Freedom Party became part of the Austrian coalition government in 2000 under the leadership of Jörg Haider, a right-wing extremist who voiced pro-Nazi sentiments, Giordano said, “Someone like myself, who survived the Holocaust and stood across from Adolf Eichmann eye-toeye, is not afraid of a Jörg Haider.”
Giordano triggered controversy in 2007 because of his opposition to the construction of one of Europe’s largest mosques in Cologne. While many people failed to recognize the rising level of anti-Semitic, misogynistic and anti-democratic views being preached in German mosques, Giordano tackled the subjects.
His discussion of anti-women customs in Islam provoked fierce debates about his use, according to some, of extreme right-wing language. Muslim women “veiled from head to toe” resembled “human penguins,” he said. Secular Muslim intellectuals such as German feminist and social scientist Necla Kelek defended his critique of Islam and opposition to the construction of the Cologne mosque.
Giordano refused to shy away from controversies that German society tended to avoid.
While working on German television programs, he documented the Armenian Genocide and the horrors of German colonialism.
He criticized Germany’s decision to award one of its most prestigious prizes to German- Israeli attorney Felicia Langer in 2008. He wrote in a letter that Langer was “the shrillest anti-Israel fanfare in Germany. No one in the last 25 years – with a one-sidedness bordering on blindness – has done Israel more damage than Langer.” She did not shy away from supporting Hamas and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Giordano added.
Writing in Die Welt on Wednesday, Marko Martin, a friend of Giordano, described him as having “an unbroken curiosity about his fellow human beings.”
His curiosity led him to sensitive areas that many Germans avoid.