In my own write: Visceral response

Extra-sensitized, perhaps, by the proximity of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I asked myself, uneasily, “We’re buying a German oven?”

Train to Auschwitz 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Train to Auschwitz 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Should African Americans not purchase anything made in America since America enslaved their ancestors? At what point do we not hold the sins of the fathers against the children? – Posted on the Yeshiva World News website
My husband and I are moving, leaving the small apartment where I have spent the past 30 years and he the past two. At our new home, renovations are galloping along, making our heads spin. It’s an exhilarating period, and last week we set out to buy appliances for the kitchen.
With the invaluable guidance of our builder and designer, who is both mentor and friend, we chose a number of gleaming items, including an AEG oven, which had more generous internal space and seemed superior to the other makes on display.
We were on the point of closing the purchase, when it struck me.
Extra-sensitized, perhaps, by the proximity of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I asked myself, uneasily, “We’re buying a German oven?” The prospect didn’t sit well, even while I was aware that many Israelis, including Holocaust survivors, own German-made ovens and other appliances and opt to drive German cars because of their quality. I myself bought a German-made vacuum cleaner a few years back – so why was I hesitating now? I had to look more deeply into the matter, and into myself. But one thing was clear: We wouldn’t be buying an oven that day.
AT HOME, I looked up the World War II record of Allgemeine Elektricitäts- Gesellschaft (General Electricity Company) on Wikipedia. What I found was dismaying.
“AEG donated 60,000 Reichsmarks to the Nazi party after the Secret Meeting of 20 February 1933 at which the twin goals of complete power and national rearmament were explained by Hitler. During World War II, an AEG factory near Riga used female slave labor.
“AEG used slave labor from Camp No. 36 at the new subcamp of Auschwitz III called Arbeitslager Blechhammer. Most of these [slaves] would die in 1945 during the death marches, and finally in Buchenwald.”
Lastly, “AEG were also contracted for the production of electrical equipment at Auschwitz concentration camp.”
I also learned that the AEG company was founded in 1883 by a Jew, Emil Rathenau.
It is a matter of record that some of my close relatives were among the one million Jews who met their unspeakable end at Auschwitz incinerated in German-made crematoria – ovens – part of whose electrics, it seems, were ordered from AEG. It’s that stark association which jolted me when faced with buying a German oven.
IT’S UNDENIABLE that today’s AEG is not the AEG of the 1930s and ‘40s – in fact, following various mergers and acquisitions, by 1997 the AEG company no longer existed. Electrolux acquired AEG’s household division in 1994, and then in 2005 bought the rights to the AEG brand name, which it now uses on some of its products. Also as of 2009, the AEG name is licensed to various companies.
“You don’t really know who you’re buying from these days, especially in the European Union,” a friend who lives in London told me. “Look at the Mini – you couldn’t get more quintessentially British than that small car. The Mini is now owned by BMW.”
It transpired during our conversation that this friend, who also has a Holocaust background, recently bought a German-made oven when his old one packed up. He explained that it became virtually necessary seeing that EU safety regulations now mandate an oven’s automatic turn-off after 12 hours. This would make it impossible to keep most EU-manufactured ovens turned on, even low, during Shabbat, and especially during the two-day Jewish festivals observed in the Diaspora, when Orthodox Jews do not switch electricity on or off.
“Bosch was virtually the only oven we could find that stayed on as long as we needed,” he said.
But this friend admitted that he would not buy a German car.
“When I drive a car,” he said, “I’m seen by everyone, I’m making some sort of public statement. By comparison, hardly anyone looks at my oven.”
He recognized that the issue of buying or not buying German products was a complex one, and that there were inconsistencies in his attitude.
“Look,” he summed up after a few minutes, “unlike some other countries, Germany has acknowledged its guilt for the Holocaust, and pays restitution to its victims. That is a mitigating factor. Today’s Germany, moreover, is one of Israel’s best friends in Europe. It is also one of a handful of countries where Holocaust denial is a crime.”
True enough. Yet the enormity, the abomination of what was perpetrated just 60-some years ago doesn’t easily fold away into the pages of “history.” For many Jews, it seeps out of those pages to touch Germans who were not active, or even alive, during the Nazi period.
A MEMBER of the Yeshiva World website posted this comment: “I do not look to buy from Germany, but I wouldn’t refrain from doing so if I found something I wanted.
They do make a better product in many cases. If you don’t buy German, neither should you buy ANY product that is international (except Danish, maybe), because there is hardly a country anywhere that has not actively sought to destroy the Jewish people, including Italy (Rome), France, England, Spain... you get the idea.
“No one loves the Jews. That does not mean I cannot enjoy their products. I only will not buy from... anyone who I fear is funding terrorism. If Germany was part of that today, I wouldn’t buy from them. But I wouldn’t punish a generation that did not even exist until after the Holocaust by not doing business with them.
“Only Hashem [God] should decide to punish subsequent generations for the sins of the fathers, and He only does so if those generations follow in their forebears’ footsteps.”
Another Shoah-background friend has a Bosch oven, and is fine about it.
“If this were five or eight years after the war,” she said, “it would be different. The people sitting on the boards of these companies today are not those who sat on them more than half a century ago.”
Her neighbor, who fled Eastern Europe as a child and was thus saved from Hitler, has no problem with her ownership of a German-made Constructa oven.
In explaining her view, she introduced a thought-provoking comment from the world of kashrut: “Because hard cheese generally contains rennet – a substance which comes from the lining of a cow’s stomach and is used to solidify the cheese – most Orthodox Jews will only eat yellow cheese that has a kosher certification.
“Yet there are Orthodox Jewish figures who maintain that it does not matter where the rennet came from – whether the animal was halachically slaughtered or not; the cheese is still kosher because the rennet enzymes have gone through so much chemical processing that their substance is no longer what it was before.”
The same is true of German products, this neighbor continued.
“Those companies have changed their composition to such an extent as to render their products ‘kosher.’” SO WHAT make of oven are we planning to buy? Truthfully, I don’t yet know. We will continue to look for one that is spacious inside and seems well-made and adequate for our purposes. I would actually prefer one that has knobs and is not digital – which AEG’s oven is – because I feel more in control and have been warned that digital ovens sometimes have ideas of their own, irrespective of their owners’.
As to the question of whether it is right or wrong to shun German products, my answer is: There is no right or wrong. The issue is a personal one, based on an individual’s history, philosophy and emotional makeup. For many, the undisputed quality of German manufacture tips the balance.
One thing seems certain: As the Second Generation gives way to succeeding generations, the issue will fade away.