Itʹs an old German obsession. In 1879 the historian Heinrich von Treitschke rejoiced at the "deep change of heart" that was taking place in the German population. A flood of anti-Semitic texts was "pouring onto the book market," as he wrote in his famous essay entitled "Our Prospects" for the Preussische Jahrbuecher. "Anti-Semitic societies" were convening, he wrote, and "the Jewish question" was being debated "in animated public meetings". The thinker from the upper echelons of the German empire did not see "the crudeness of the mob" at work here; this was "the instinct of the masses" recognising a "serious danger" to "German life".

It was not enough that the Jews had made themselves at home in Germany. An even greater danger came from without, from "the Polish cradle" as Treitschke wrote. Otto Bockel, who shared his views, even perceived a "great Vagina Judaeorum" to the east of the German empireʹs border.

Socially acceptable anti-Semitism

And so, at the end of the 19th century, Germany was faced with the "Jewish question". Jews were threatening to undermine the country, to corrode it, suck it dry, seize control over it. For a long time, no one was permitted to say anything against it. After all, the Jews controlled the press. But the Germansʹ survival instinct had been awoken and was taking up the fight.

Anti-Semitic German caricature from 1900 (source: History text book "Zeiten und Menschen 1")
Anti-Semitism, a word with positive connotations: the German bourgeoisie accumulated a store of "anti-Semitic knowledge", as the sociologist Jan Weyand puts it. Anti-Jewish sentiment ultimately became part of the good tone of bourgeois society. Anti-Semitism became a cultural code, part of oneʹs "education". It was more closely linked to German nationalism than Islam will ever be to Germany in the wildest of multicultural dreams

"Antisemitism" and "Antagonism against Jews" were terms used positively. These views enjoyed the blessing of objectivity and academic backing. Scholars meticulously derived the figure of the "eternal Jew" from the Talmud. In the end, the Jews would exploit their legal equality, their emancipation, to enslave the Germans and try to take control of the world, so people were warned thousands of times. The "Jewish question" was fed by the Germansʹ certainty that they would one day be overpowered and thus needed to defend themselves against this.

The German bourgeoisie accumulated a store of "anti-Semitic knowledge", as the sociologist Jan Weyand puts it. Anti-Jewish sentiment ultimately became part of the good tone of bourgeois society. Anti-Semitism became a cultural code, part of oneʹs "education". It was more closely linked to German nationalism than Islam will ever be to Germany in the wildest of multicultural dreams.

Researchers like Wolfgang Benz and Micha Brumlik have already drawn parallels between the German anti-Semitism of the 19th century and German criticism of Islam in the early 21st. There are structural similarities, they say. Many Germans are once again obsessed with the idea of being overpowered.

Where does this lead? The Orientalist Paul de Lagarde, whom Thomas Mann still considered one of the greatest Germans in 1918, was talking about the Jews when he wrote in 1887 that "one does not negotiate with trichinae and bacillae; nor does one breed them; they are annihilated as quickly and thoroughly as possible."

Where will criticism of Islam lead?

It is an undisputed fact that the Holocaust would not have been possible without many years of ideological preparation. Where will criticism of Islam lead?  The Muslim question undoubtedly needs solving somehow. We know that history doesnʹt repeat itself. Particularly as history prohibits any open call for "annihilation". But we also know that where the "struggle for existence" flares up, we are not far from very factual reasons and legitimations for mass murder. According to the creed that is now being spread, social cohesion cannot cope with any further Muslim immigration.

In recent weeks, an estimated 1000 people seeking refuge have drowned in the Mediterranean. A reconnaissance plane and several boats that together could have saved these people were prevented from carrying out their mission by European border forces. There has been no question of guilt. The overwhelming majority of European citizens is convinced that this action is necessary.

Stefan Buchen

© Qantara.de 2018

The author is a television journalist for ARDʹs Panorama programme.

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