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Young Germans are moving farther from the anti-Semitic tendencies of previous generations, according to a new study examining the relations between Germans and US and Israeli Jews released on Sunday.
Commissioned by the German Bertelsmann Foundation, a non-profit social policy advocacy organization based in G tersloh, Germany, the study polled some 1,000 Germans, 1,000 Israeli Jews and 500 American Jews and comes 15 years after a similar 1991 study of Germans and Israeli Jews, allowing for an analysis of trends over that period.
According to the study, 66% of Germans, across genders, ages or levels of education, said they were "ashamed that the Germans have committed so many crimes against the Jews," up from 60% in 1991.
At the same time, the elderly and uneducated make up most of some 40% of Germans who believe National Socialism (Nazism) had "good sides" in addition to the "bad sides." While the study's authors note that National Socialism "is seen in a more negative light than 15 years ago" - with only 1% of Germans believing it was a good phenomenon - only 21% of Germans (up from 17% in 1991) see National Socialism as purely negative.
At the same time, 12% of Germans felt strongly that the Jews bear some responsibility for the hatred and persecution directed at them, while 26% believed it to some extent. These figures are down from 14% and 34%, respectively, in 1991, and the number of Germans strongly disagreeing with Jewish responsibility for anti-Semitism rose from 49% to 58% in that time.
Similarly, though 33% of Germans agree that "Jews wield too much influence in the world," this figure is down from 36% in 1991, while those rejecting this idea rose from 32% to 56%.
Perhaps this growing rejection of historical justifications for Nazism is responsible for the study's findings showing a decline in support among young Germans for a "special responsibility" toward Jews. Asked to comment on the idea that, "even if today's Germans are not to blame for the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi period, the German people nevertheless bear a special responsibility toward the Jewish people," a majority of young Germans disagreed with the statement, while 49% of all Germans agreed. American Jewish figures were similar, with about 50% agreeing. Israelis, however, stood out in their overwhelming support for the statement, with 78% saying they agreed with it.
Among Israelis, the study found that 88% of Israelis favored reconciliation with today's Germans, up from 69% in 1991, though 46% believe this is only possible with "younger Germans." Only 9% of Israelis completely reject the idea of reconciliation, down from 22% in 1991.
These figures were accompanied by Israelis' growing confidence that extremist groups in Germany were not endangering German democracy. Though 46% of Israelis said German democracy was "threatened" by these groups, this figure had dropped precipitously from 79% in 1991, while Israelis expressing faith in the durability of German democracy rose from 15% to 45%.
Today's Germans were also found to underestimate the effect that Jewish historical experience in Germany has on the present-day relationship. While 78% of Israelis think their attitudes toward Germans are influenced "very strongly" by the Holocaust (up from 73% in 1991), only 52% of Germans believed the influence was strong, with 39% believing it "somewhat" or "not at all" influenced Israeli Jewish opinion of Germans. American Jews' responses closely matched those of the Germans.
The differences between the three groups of respondents were most visible on the question of the scope of German responsibility toward the Jews. Asked to distinguish between all Germans from the war period until today, Germans who were adults during the war, only those Germans who knew about the persecution of the Jews and those Germans directly involved in the persecution, the groups differed enormously.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most Germans (45%) blamed those actively involved in the Holocaust, with only 4% blaming Germans born after the war. Most Israeli Jews (33%) placed the blame on Germans who were adults during the war, with only 10% blaming today's Germans. American Jews focused on the Germans who knew about the persecution (32%), though a surprising 16% blamed modern Germans as well.
While 58% of Germans favored "putting the past behind us," only one-quarter of Israeli Jews (24%) and about one-fifth of American Jews (18%) agreed.
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