German c'tee: 'Shoah survivors lack objectivity'

Holocaust survivors lac

Arno Lustiger 248.88 (photo credit: Arno Lustiger)
Arno Lustiger 248.88
(photo credit: Arno Lustiger)
A newly formed blue-ribbon government committee to combat anti-Semitism is embroiled in a dispute over a discussion of whether to avoid working with survivors of the Holocaust because they are not "objective" and "too emotional" The Jerusalem Post has learned from sources who have access to committee meetings. That revelation last week, along with statements from Dr. Juliane Wetzel, an academic and member of the government commission, who allegedly said in the meeting that she will not allow herself to be "blackmailed by lobby-groups," caused turbulence among the committee members. A person who participated in the commission meeting is suspected of leaking the proceedings to the media and was denied access to an internal commission e-mail list. The Bundestag passed a resolution in 2008 to form a committee to report on anti-Semitic crimes, support the growth of Jewish life in Germany and broaden public school education covering those areas. The committee was established on the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom. The pogrom resulted in a wave of state-sponsored violence against German Jews on November 9, 1938. Elke Gryglewski, from the House of the Wannsee Conference and one of 10 members on the commission, said in a meeting in early November, that Holocaust survivors are "not objective and too emotional," according to sources. Asked about the statement, Gryglewski told the Post, "One cannot expect that survivors are objective. We are all not objective...the commission will, of course, continue to work with the Jewish community." Professor Arno Lustiger, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and a leading historian in Germany, rejected Gryglewski's understanding of Holocaust survivors as lacking objectivity. He told the Post last Friday that "I have heard that all my life. That is well known of German historians." Asked about Gryglewski's statement that the House of the Wannsee Conference works with him concerning prevention of anti-Semitism, Lustiger said that is "exaggerated" and "nonsense." The House of the Wannsee Conference is an opulent villa outside of Berlin where the Nazis planned the extermination of European Jewry in 1942. The House now serves as a memorial and educational center. While the House offers seminars dealing with anti-Semitism, Gryglewski told the Post that the educational facility of the House conducts no workshops devoted exclusively to hatred of Israel, the most common form of modern anti-Semitism in Germany, according to experts. Gryglewski said the "'lobby' term is very charged" and denied using the expression. There had been a discussion about the "autonomy of the group," said Gryglewski. Wetzel declined to respond to multiple requests for comment. It remains unclear if Wetzel's purported use of "lobby-groups" refers to non-Jewish and Jewish non-governmental organizations. However, Wetzel wrote in several e-mails to the commission that she is "appalled" about the disclosures and urged the members to confirm that she did not use the controversial term "lobby-groups." The term "lobby" is considered to have a pejorative meaning in Germany. Dr. Charles Small, the head of the Yale University Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism and former Israeli professor, told the Post, "The reported comment pertaining to 'the lobby' is at best insensitive. One of the most pernicious stereotypes of the Jewish community - particularly in Germany - is the nefarious conspiratorial power of the Jewish people or so-called 'lobby.'" Wetzel is also reported to have engaged in sharp attacks against Jewish critics such as Der Spiegel journalist Henryk M. Broder, who has questioned the veracity of Wetzel's scholarship and satirized the anti-Semitism commission's work. Wetzel refused to answer Broder's e-mail query about her attacks on him and her alleged reference to lobby-groups engaging in blackmail. Dr. Peter Longerich, a historian at Royal Holloway (University of London) and a commission co-coordinator, told the Post that Wetzel's "email refers to a concrete event" and is "confidential." After Wetzel's "appalled" emails were exposed, a commission member was barred from accessing the internal government panel email list. Wetzel declined to say if she had gotten the member removed. A co-coordinator of the commission to combat anti-Semitism, Dr. Martin Salm, told the Post that he "could not remember if lobby groups" were discussed. He also serves as the chairman of the non-profit "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future," an organization, according to its Web site, that has a "commitment to the victims of National Socialism, works for human rights and engages in a critical examination of history." Salm denied that the commission had discussed Jewish Holocaust survivors being tainted by bias and not capable of objectivity in their accounts about persecution. He said he considers survivors to be "essential" and the "strongest message" concerning the fight against anti-Semitism. He stressed that there is "no trace of anti-Semitism in a commission working to combat anti-Semitism." Critics charge the the commission with a lack of transparency. Gert Weisskirchen, who helped to establish the committee in the Bundestag, told the Post that the Canadian parliament invited him to testify on rising anti-Semitism this past November, but his own government fails to seek his expertise, and he has not been informed about the policy direction of the committee. Weisskirchen is a former Social Democratic MP and was chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on combating anti-Semitism between 2004 and 2008. He is slated to speak in mid-December, along with Yale's Small, at the Global Forum for Combating anti-Semitism in Jerusalem.