German opinions on a new Holocaust and neo-Nazis

38% of Germans think it is possible that something like the Holocaust could happen in the future in other European countries.

A man wearing a Swastika [Illustrative] (photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
A man wearing a Swastika [Illustrative]
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
In the early 1990s, I interviewed in Frankfurt a board member of one of Germany’s leading banks. The conversation took place in the framework of my preparation for a book on the future economic and political potential of Italy, which I coauthored. I had come to discuss the changes in Germany after the 1990 reunification. My interviewer’s interest in our conversation greatly increased when he realized that I was an Israeli.
He opined that another Holocaust could happen, and said that far too little had changed in Germany. At the time, I thought it a bizarre remark. Yet the recent World Jewish Congress (WJC) survey on Germany showed that this opinion is widely shared in the country. The poll found that 25% of Germans believe another Holocaust could happen. That percentage translates into about 18 million citizens – as 71 million Germans are above 18 years, the age limit of the survey. Another 24% were not sure. That leaves only 51% who believe a Holocaust cannot happen again in Germany.
The major WJC survey, in which 81 questions were posed, has been mainly quoted for its data on antisemitism. Yet much more can be learned from it. The quantitative data combined with existing qualitative information enable one to draw more concrete conclusions than before.
Even more Germans, 38%, think it is possible that something like the Holocaust could happen in the future in other European countries. That is more than the 33% who consider it is not possible. Some 29% said they were not sure.
Close to six million Germans think that people should be allowed to use Nazi slogans and symbols in Germany today. Another eight million – or about 11% – are not sure. The other 54 million say this should not be allowed. Even more people, close to eight million – 11% – think that it is acceptable for an individual to hold Neo-Nazi views. Another eight million are not sure. One can conclude from this that the “unhindered free speech” radicals would make it possible for even more substantial anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli hate speech in a country with such a horrible past as Germany.
From time to time neo-Nazis march through German cities. These marches are often granted permits. In October 2019, such demonstrators marched every Monday in Dortmund. The higher administrative court in Münster decided that marchers are permitted to use the slogan “Never, never, never again Israel,” saying that this does not constitute incitement. The police had forbidden the slogan. The neo-Nazis then appealed to the court and won the case in both the first and second instances.
After the failed massacre on Yom Kippur this year at a synagogue in Halle, the German government ruled that going forward, all web and social media platforms must inform security agencies and police about hate content. Yet one wonders how the German government is going to control German websites in Arabic and Turkish.
The data cited also help us understand the electoral potential of the extreme ethnic wing of the right-populist AfD Party. This faction is believed to be smaller than the party’s more moderate main one. In the October elections in the German state of Thuringia, the AfD became the second largest party with 23.4% of the votes. Its leader there, Bjorn Höcke, is the best known person in the party’s ethnic wing. The largest party in the election was the extreme leftist Linke Party with 31%. Thus, the two extreme parties jointly have significantly more seats than all mainstream parties combined in the state’s parliament.
Only a few aspects of the major WJC survey can be mentioned this short article. In analyzing the survey, several problematic realities of contemporary Germany can be highlighted. There are indeed tens of millions of Germans in favor of a well-functioning democratic state. Yet there are also many millions who have not learned much, if anything, from the Holocaust.
The survey asked: “Where do you get most of your information about Jews?” Television was the dominant source with 32%, followed by the Internet with 16% and newspapers with 12%. There is no reason to assume that the figures concerning Israel are very different. A 2015 study from the Bertelsmann Foundation reported that 41% – close to 30 million people – think “Israel is acting toward the Palestinians like the Nazis acted toward the Jews.”
It is reasonable to assume that this opinion is primarily created by the mood of the country’s media. German television is mainly publicly owned. To fight the rampant anti-Israelism in the country, a profound study on German television programs concerning Israel should be undertaken. One can assume that many of its journalists are left-leaning liberals, a segment of society in which one finds many who demonize Israel.
There are several important reasons why Germany is in flux. A major cause is the economic recession. Another reason is the great decline of the two parties that have ruled the country since its first post-war elections: the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Socialists (SPD). Their combined percentage of support in recent polls is only around 40%. That decline is linked to the far too liberal immigration policies of the CDU-SPD governments since 2015.
In 2017, the BBC interviewed Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank who was governor-general of Poland from 1939 to 1945. The latter was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, and was executed in 1946. The son despises his father. He said about contemporary Germany on the BBC: “Do not trust us.” The findings of the WJC study seem to back up his assessment.
The writer is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.