German kids, activists destroy anti-Nazi exhibit

Official says pupils and left-wing activists were reacting to university's close ties to Israel.

german ani nazi vandals uni 248 (photo credit: Aller-Zeitung)
german ani nazi vandals uni 248
(photo credit: Aller-Zeitung)
Roughly 1,000 pupils and left-wing activists who unlawfully occupied Humboldt University (HU) and some of whom destroyed an anti-Nazi exhibition on Wednesday were reacting to the university's close ties to Israel, the university president has said. Christoph Markschies told The Jerusalem Post that one of the protesters in the lobby of the university said "Damn Israel" when asked by another student to "stop" vandalizing the exhibit "Betrayed and Sold," about the plundering of Jewish businesses under the Nazis. "Friendship with Israel is part of the HU's identity," said Markschies, adding that "no one can tell me that the exhibit was damaged because it was a mistake." Markschies had to barricade himself in his office to escape what he called "the mob." He said that "HU was directly targeted" because of its solid partnership with Israel. The university is repairing the damaged displays and plans to remount the exhibition. HU, which frequently mounts exhibits documenting the persecution of German Jewry in its lobby, has close ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and scholars from the Albert Einstein Center of the Hebrew University were at an HU-sponsored symposium in Berlin last week. Markschies charged the pupils and a group of hardcore leftists known as the "Black Block," a group that terms itself anti-fascist, with disguising their anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. Lee Hielscher, a spokesman for a pupil association that participated in the demonstration in Berlin, told the Post that he is currently investigating the eyewitness reports from the protest and was unable to confirm the statement "Damn Israel." He said the vandalism and alleged statement were not driven by anti-Semitism, but that the expression "Damn Israel" highlights the "problems of the State of Israel." Niklas Wuchenauer, a pupil in Berlin and spokesperson for the protest group "Tear down the educational barriers," told the Post that "we regret that the exhibit was damaged or destroyed." When asked about the "Damn Israel" statement, Wuchenauer said the statement is not anti-Semitic and simply means it "would it have been more meaningful if the UN had not created two states in 1947 and had integrated the Jews into one state." Wuchenauer stressed that the demonstrator was expressing the opinion that creating the State of Israel was a bad decision. Asked about the European Union (EU) "working definition" of anti-Semitism, which includes denying Israel's right to exist, Wuchenauer said he was not aware of this. He added that "anti-Semitism is not very common among school kids" and the seizure of the HU building and violence were orchestrated by the pupils, not the "anti-fascist" group. According to Wuchenauer, "Tear down the educational barriers" seeks to prevent neglect of socially disadvantaged students, and to achieve a reduction in class size. The ostensible aim of the protest - to increase funding for the educational system - turned into an orgy of political violence. Several days ago, Germany commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht. Directly across from HU is Bebel Square, the site of an infamous Nazi book-burning spectacle in 1933, when university students at the former Frederick William University, which was renamed Humboldt after World War II, burned the books of Jewish authors. Responding to the pupil violence, the HU president Markschies said "that is how it started in the Nazi period." Markschies said he had told the 12,000-member Berlin Jewish community, the largest in Germany, that he viewed the incident as an "attack on the Berlin [Jewish] community." Maya Zehden, the community's spokeswoman, said, "The Berlin Jewish Community is horrified by the destruction of the exhibit on dispossessed Jewish businessmen in the National Socialist period at Humboldt University. "Schoolchildren who express justified protest about problems involving the schools, but then begin for no reason to riot at a university and to destroy an exhibit because of 'Damn Israel,' as one HU staff member heard, show a deformed political awareness. We are, however, aware that they were only a portion of the students, who were otherwise demonstrating peacefully." She added: "In this regard, however, the question of where such statements and acts come from must be posed not only to them, but to their parents and teachers. We regret that so little of the events to commemorate November 9, 1938, carried out with such dedication, seems to have gotten across to some young people." Markschies charged the pupils with playing down the violence of the demonstration and invoking a cheap excuse to justify the destruction of the exhibit. Belinda Cooper, who taught at Humboldt University and is now a fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York, told the Post that, "I think they did a good job of proving their point. If schoolchildren can be so ignorant, they really do need a better educational system."