Never again is now: How Germany's antisemitic past has shaped its present

More than 3 million Germans have protested against the rise of the far right in the country. Israel's war on Gaza has rehashed the residual trauma and shame over the Holocaust.

People raise lights and placards during a demonstration against racism, anti-Semitism and hate speech in Munich, southern Germany on February 11, 2024.
People raise lights and placards during a demonstration against racism, anti-Semitism and hate speech in Munich, southern Germany on February 11, 2024.

Never again is now: How Germany's antisemitic past has shaped its present

At the end of January 2024, a Lebanese-born Australian scholar by the name of Ghassan Hage was summarily sacked from his role at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology. The Institute is funded by the federal and state governments of Germany.

The reason given was the antisemitism he had exhibited in the following tweet where he commented on the way Israeli soldiers treated their captives in Gaza:

‘The Israelis like to say that what they are doing in Gaza is like what the allies did in Dresden. But this is not true. The Allies never tried to humiliate the people of Dresden.'

'Israeli violence resembles far more Nazi antisemitic violence in this regard in its destructive power and desire to humiliate. It also resembles Nazi violence by its vulgarity.’

Now, it is almost certainly the case that this tweet was in breach of the code drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which defines it as one kind of antisemitic speech: ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’

But that is not the only reference possible. The Jerusalem Declaration is an alternative set of definitions intended to improve on the IHRA’s code.

While there is nothing specific regarding comparisons with Nazis in the Declaration, it clearly states: ‘Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.’

It goes on to say (Section 11): ‘Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments.'

'Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between reasonable and unreasonable speech.’

Why, one wonders, was the Max Planck Institute quite so allergic to what was, at worst, an odious comparison?

A Wagner tune

There is a moment when the Jewish-American producer and comedic actor Larry David stands in the queue outside an opera house in an episode of his show 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'.

David whistles a tune from Wagner and is challenged by a fellow Jew standing behind him on an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

Bored, he begins whistling a tune from Wagner, at which point he is challenged by a fellow Jew standing behind him.

Recognising the tune, the stranger is enraged that Larry could think it appropriate, given that its composer was a notorious antisemite. An argument ensues and climaxes with the second man accusing the comedian of being a ‘self-loathing Jew.’

There are times when reading a conversation in Granta that one reimagines the indignant man in the queue as a censorious gentile — and a German one at that. It is as if well-meaning Germans have become the guardians of proper Jewishness.

The conversation took place between George Prochnik, Eyal Weizman and Emily Dische-Becker. As the latter says (quoting Jewish Studies scholar Hannah Tzuberi), ‘It is almost as if there’s a monogamous relationship between Jews and Germans, and everyone else is an interloper.’

Over and over again, this unique, at times jealous and oddly prescriptive relationship between Germany and Israel leads to the kind of absurdities that bend the mind.

British-Israeli professor Eyal Weizman characterises it as the duty felt by Germans to differentiate 'good' Jews from 'bad'. These 'bad Jews' resist the Israeli model of a national-ethnic state in favour of a diasporic one, which is non-nationalist and sometimes non- or anti-Zionist.

Weizman: 'Once again, Germany defines who is a Jew, right? The irony that the German state would actually classify who is a Jew, what’s a legitimate Jewish position, and how Jews should react is just beneath contempt.'

The irony that the German state would actually classify who is a Jew, what's a legitimate Jewish position, and how Jews should react is just beneath contempt.

Eyal Weizman, British-Israeli professor

The ultimate example of how this definition of Jews might work is clear from the following anecdote: 'In 2020, at the Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin, a group of Jewish, Israel-born students developed a reading group called the School for Unlearning Zionism.' 

'It was made up of people of various political persuasions or levels of politicisation, who'd come together to grapple with the national mythology they'd grown up with.'

'Various overeager functionaries who now consider it their duty to manufacture scandal around any kind of criticism of Israel as antisemitic raised a furore.'

'Funding for the students' graduation exhibition was withdrawn, and this event was subsequently included in the chronology of antisemitic incidents for that year published by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, one of Germany's leading anti-racist organisations.'

'So you have a reading group of Israeli students listed alongside incidents that include a Jewish prayer-goer being hit over the head outside a synagogue in Hamburg and Jewish graves being defaced with swastikas.'

I only have space here for a selection of similarly mind-boggling paradoxes to which this monogamy of two states can lead.

Germany's memory culture

The first of these is that, in contemporary Germany, the whole question of antisemitism is not really about Jews at all:

Weizman: 'An increasingly aggressive version of Israeli hasbara – that is, propaganda – takes its legitimacy from Germany's memory culture. To borrow a term from our friend, the philosopher Adi Ophir, the state of Israel has established a 'discursive Iron Dome' to shoot down critiques of Israel before they cause damage.'

'The question of antisemitism is part of an internal discussion within Germany about German identity. And that conversation marked the beginning of a trend of using antisemitism as a political football between Left and Right, which continues till today, with little regard to the Jewish community in Germany and elsewhere.'

There is an earnest quality to this discussion of antisemitism that goes beyond the level present in Britain. It is more introspective, carrying as it does the added dimension of expiating national guilt.

Members of the anti-Zionist Jews group Neturei Karta join pro-Palestinians people blocking a street close to the US Capitol in Washington DC on February 1, 2024.

Prochnik, a writer, said: 'One could say that Germany is engaged in a monolithic mythologisation of Jewish identity, and the end result of this process is German redemption on the new world stage. The redemption is achieved through a valorisation of the Jews that requires the exclusion of other traumas, in particular, the Palestinian trauma inflicted by Israel.'

He adds, 'Israel exists as a kind of memorial state to the Shoah perpetrated by Germany. There is the abyss of the Holocaust, and then Israel becomes the edifice mirroring that void…'

From a distance, the Holocaust and the state of Israel act as complements, both equally unquestionable. The Holocaust stands alone as a nadir, incomparable with any other atrocity. The Jewish state is the closest thing to its redemption.

Given this intertwining of historical fates, one can see just how heterodox the following deviation from orthodoxy might sound:

Weizman: 'Would it not be more productive to see the Palestinian Nakba as a continuation of the crime of the Holocaust, extending all the way to 1948 and 1949, and to understand that Europe and Germany bear some responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine?'

That is emphatically not the kind of mind-bending comparison a redemptive narrative can accommodate.  

Susan Neiman is a Jewish philosopher. In 2019, she wrote Learning from the Germans, which praised how the country had come to terms with its Nazi history.

It documented how, after the Second World War, (West) Germans had seen themselves as victims rather than accepting responsibility.

But from the 1980s, a new mindset took hold. Germany became "the first nation ever that put its crimes in the centre of its national narrative".

Shouldn't the Nakba be seen as a continuation of the Holocaust, and that Europe and Germany should bear some responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine?

Eyal Weizman, British-Israeli professor

Neiman contrasted its state-backed self-criticism with the US and UK's reluctance to confront their respective racist and colonial pasts.

Now, she says, she has changed her mind. 'German historical reckoning has gone haywire,' she wrote in October. 'This philosemitic fury has been used to attack Jews in Germany,' herself included.

Reclaiming Jewish universalism

Israel's war on Gaza has pushed the world to pick sides.

Neiman wants to reclaim Jewish universalism instead: "People have, differently in so many places across the world, become so tribalist. I hate the words pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian: they make it look as if we're talking about a football match. I'm pro-peace."

Neiman has the advantage of being able to invoke Albert Einstein in support of her universalism.

For 23 years, she has led the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, a research institute based at his one-time summer home.

"Einstein was a total universalist Jew. We care about his politics and biography because that's why he became a cultural icon."

"The second half of his life, he spent more time as a public intellectual than he did working on physics."

Einstein became convinced of the need for a Jewish national home but feared the cost if it came without peace.

"Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing from our 2,000 years of suffering and will deserve our fate," he warned in 1929.

In 1948, Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other leading Jewish figures wrote to the New York Times, criticising a future Israeli prime minister's party as "fascist".

By contrast, "calling the Israeli far right fascist today would not just bring accusations of antisemitism," says Neiman. "It would carry a professional death sentence."

To many Germans, criticism of Israel clashes with the paramount importance given to remembering the Holocaust.

At the same time, to many Jews today, universalism itself feels hollow when parts of the left have shown little compassion for Jews' own suffering.

"I'm scared about rising antisemitism," says Neiman. "But I don't think the way to solve the problem is to become more anti-Muslim. That is one direction that people are going in, particularly in Germany."

She notes that figures on the far right — the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Steve Bannon in the US — often strongly embrace Israel because it works as a cover: "As long as we support the state of Israel, we can't be Nazis, but we can be as racist as we want to anybody else."

This was illustrated in Potsdam on 25 November 2023 in a meeting that 'teetered between the ridiculous and the demonic.'

It took place in a historic countryside lodge and was attended by right-wing politicians, conservative moneymen, lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs.

Even a board member of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache – a club for people who complain about too many Anglicisms in the German language – was present.

The foremost theme among them was "re-migration." This designates nothing less than the deportation of "foreigners" and of Germans with "foreign" roots.

Should we be unable to find a way to honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing from our 2,000 years of suffering and will deserve our fate.

Albert Einstein, Jewish-American Scientist

An Austrian neo-Nazi, Martin Sellner, the event's keynote speaker, presented plans for a "model state" in northern Africa where expelled populations (about two million people) could be moved. There were proposals for contesting future election results in case the "wrong" kinds of citizens had voted. 

Record-sized protests

The reaction to news of the Potsdam meeting was explosive. Protests have swept the country. So far, around three million Germans have participated in them.

Some marches, especially those in large cities such as Hamburg and Berlin, have been enormous – several had to be cancelled for fear of overcrowding. But even in small and medium-sized towns, the crowds have been record-breaking in size.

In some of these areas, such as Bautzen in eastern Saxony, where the hard-right AfD plays a significant role in local politics and where neo-Nazis intimidate all who oppose them, this takes considerable courage.

Whatever comes of the protests or the efforts to curb the AfD by legal means, the feeling across the country is that forces committed to the German constitutional order and a multicultural society are reclaiming ground that was, perhaps hastily, ceded to the far right.

Susan Neiman gave one of her twin daughters a Hebrew name and the other an Arabic one. Today, in their early thirties, both twins are being confronted about the war — by opposing sides.

"This sense of hope that one could still have in the early nineties is now so much in doubt," their mother says.

She herself lives in Berlin, near a neighbourhood with a large Muslim population. Friends have warned her not to go out at night or even at all. "I don't know whether to be afraid or not. But I'm also worried about my Muslim neighbours and colleagues."

Moreover, she worries about how the German right "is using what's going on in the Middle East to raise new demands that we shouldn't allow immigration," even though official data shows 80% of antisemitic incidents in Germany are committed by right-wingers.

As Adrian Daub points out, a striking number of the artists, influencers, politicians and activists that have been called out, disinvited or even fired for their positions on Palestine are either Jewish (Masha Gessen, Candice Breitz) or people of colour (the writer Sharon Dodua Otoo).

Neiman has written about how the Green Party's Böll Foundation, which organises the Hannah Arendt Prize, pulled its support from Masha Gessen.

Masha Gessen speaks onstage at the 2022 CPJ International Press Freedom Awards at Glasshouses on November 17, 2022, in New York City.

The reason? Gessen's statements about the Middle East conflict – particularly the claim that conditions in Gaza were comparable to those in Nazi-constructed ghettos in Eastern Europe. Again, the 'odious' comparison was what triggered the German impulse to cancel.

It is clear that Hannah Arendt herself would be outraged by the thought that Gessen's statements on Israel/Palestine would discredit her own name.

Like those of many Jews, Arendt's views on Israel were complicated. Rising antisemitism in the 1930s led her to support the need for a Jewish homeland, although not a Jewish state.

Like Einstein, she was part of the Brit Shalom movement that hoped for a binational state that would give full rights to Jews and Arabs. 

Yet, as the state of Israel was emerging, she was quick to condemn tendencies within it she described as 'fascist.' In the open letter she wrote to the New York Times in 1948, she repeatedly called Menachem Begin's party 'terrorist.'

Neiman has commented that Germany prefers to remember Jews as victims rather than 'as the bold and brave champions of universal human rights we have sometimes been.'

It's a standpoint that not only reveals an ignorance of Arendt; it shows how little the country still knows about Jews.

The white ethnic German majority take great delight in making judgements and deciding about others: who belongs, who doesn't; who gets to stay, who doesn't; who counts, who doesn't.  

Now, the governing coalition is using the massacre of the 7th of October to push a hard line on immigration. On the 21st of October, the Chancellor was on the cover of Der Spiegel.

The title quote was, "We finally have to deport people at a large scale." The subheading explained: "Olaf Scholz's new toughness on refugee policy."

Here was the Chancellor in the country's largest and most influential news-weekly title, adopting the framing of the hard right: "We" must deport people; the number of refugees is a problem, and lowering it is a good thing – and in some obscure way this needed to be done for the sake of "Germany's Jews". 

As Nieman points out, the irony is that the group that ends up with all the power, a literal power over life and death, are "we" – the very people who claim to be working through their past.

Germany prefers to remember Jews as victims rather than 'as the bold and brave champions of universal human rights we have sometimes been.'

Susan Neiman, Jewish philosopher

Idealising Israel

It is not just in Germany that voices opposed to the Israeli government have been muzzled. For instance, a lecture entitled 'The Shoah after Gaza' has recently been cancelled in Britain.

The lecture was due to be given by Pankaj Mishra at the Barbican Centre in connection with the London Review of Books (LRB). The lecture will go ahead anyway but in a relatively obscure venue in Clerkenwell. It has already sold out.

After the cancellation, Mishra commented: "It's become clear that war crimes have been committed on a daily basis, and powerful people who have supported the Israeli regime are doubling down on their untenable position. That breeds a pervasive sense of fear and panic that infects even cultural institutions."

His account of Germany's relationship with Israel, entitled 'Memory Failure', was published in LRB back in January. It gives us a good sense of what the cancelled lecture's tenor might be.

Mishra traces the story of the relationship between the two states back to its origin after the war and the policy of Konrad Adenauer, who, by the time he met Ben-Gurion in 1960:

'…was presiding over a systematic reversal of the de-Nazification process decreed by the country's Western occupiers in 1945, and aiding the suppression of the unprecedented horror of the Judaeocide.'

'The German people, according to Adenauer, were also victims of Hitler. What's more, he went on, most Germans under Nazi rule had "joyfully helped fellow Jewish citizens whenever they could.' 

Mishra explains that Adenauer was no fan of Arab nationalism and that he was enthused by the Anglo-French-Israeli assault on Egypt in 1956.

As the Cold War intensified, Germany had to achieve a greater role in Western economic and security alliances. Its 'long road West' lay through Israel.

'Adenauer himself explained after his retirement that giving money and weapons to Israel was essential to restoring Germany's "international standing," adding that "the power of the Jews even today, especially in America, should not be underestimated."'

The nimble pirouette any contemporary German politician must perfect is accusing anti-Zionists of antisemitism, Jewish ones included. 

Primo Levi, the Italian survivor of Auschwitz, referred to the strategy as 'unprincipled political gamesmanship'. Others also expressed their distaste.

The novelist Manès Sperber complained that such philosemitism depressed and degraded him 'like a compliment that is based on an absurd misunderstanding ... You overestimate us Jews in a dangerous fashion and insist on loving our entire people. I don't request this; I do not wish for us – or any other people – to be loved in this way.'

New Aryans?

In Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding (2020), Daniel Marwecki describes the way that visions of Israel as a new embodiment of Jewish power awakened dormant German fantasies.

It is as if Jews became, by way of over-compensation, the new Aryans. The image of them is also reminiscent of the idealised Hebrew once fantasised by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Thus, the rehabilitated Germans could find common ground with the Revisionist Zionists.

A report by the West German delegation to the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 marvels at 'the novel and very advantageous type of the Israeli youth', who are 'of great height, often blond and blue-eyed, free and self-determined in their movements with well-defined faces.' They exhibit 'almost none of the features one was used to view as Jewish.'

That 'one was used to view' could only have come from an individual who had experienced – and maybe been complicit in – the racial stereotypes of the Nazi regime. Plucky little Israel has become a second chance for the master race, this time in Zionist form.

Commenting on Israel's successes in the 1967 war, Die Welt regretted German 'infamies' about the Jewish people: the belief that they were 'without national sentiment; never ready for battle, but always keen to profit from somebody else's war effort'.

On the contrary, the Jews were, in fact, a 'small, brave, heroic, genius people'. Meanwhile, it was Egyptian President Abdel Nasser who carried the soubriquet 'Hitler of the Nile.'

According to Mishra, it is now the Muslims in Germany to whom the old style of antisemitism is attributed. Immigrants are doing all the Jew-baiting: 'The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently urged all those in Germany with 'Arab roots' to disavow hatred of Jews and denounce Hamas.'

'The vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, followed with a more explicit warning to Muslims: they would be tolerated in Germany only if they rejected antisemitism.'

Hubert Aiwanger, leader of the Free Voters' party and a politician with a youthful 'weakness for Nazi salutes, has joined the chorus blaming antisemitism in Germany on unchecked immigration.'

This is the nimble pirouette any contemporary German politician must perfect. It involves accusing anti-Zionists of antisemitism, Jewish ones included. 

Die Zeit, for good measure, has pointed out that 'Greta Thunberg openly sympathises with the Palestinians.' 

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on February 11, 2024.

Anti-German philosemitism

Before the reunification of the two Germanies, fear of a Fourth Reich led to the formation of a movement known as Anti-Germany.

For anti-Germans, the country's brutal past was a continuing danger. Given more recent events in Germany, they may have been ahead of their time.

They emphasised the process of memory, or working on the past, for which they coined a very cumbersome expression: Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

This implied philosemitism and focused on the Jewish state as a means to national atonement. The Anti-Germans expressed their opposition to nationalism in the phrase 'Nie wieder Deutschland' ('Germany, never again').

There were demonstrations against the idea of reunification, one attracting some 10,000 protesters. Although the movement withered soon after reunification became a reality, its principles – including the unwavering support for Israel – have persisted.

In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, anti-Germans praised the bombers on the grounds that so many of the city's civilians had supported Nazism. This was part of a shift towards support for the United States that became more pronounced after 9/11. 

Similar demonstrations are held each year, and slogans like "Bomber Harris, do it again!" and "Deutsche Täter sind keine Opfer!" ("German perpetrators are no victims!") have become common.

Collective self-punishment of this masochistic kind is taking one's guilt very seriously. Commentators have even detected the genesis of a new national self as the "Weltmeister der Vergangenheitsbewältigung" – roughly translated, the world champion in dealing with and mastering one's own past evil deeds.

As Weizman points out, 'Germany is very invested in the idea of being the best at being the worst. Being an antisemitic perpetrator is thus projected as a form of moral expertise to be shared with the world.'


During a state visit to Israel on the 18th of March 2008, Angela Merkel told the Knesset: "This historic responsibility of Germany is part of my country's raison d'être. This means that Israel's security is never negotiable for me as German Chancellor." 

She reiterated this on 10 October 2021 during her farewell visit to Israel: "Israel's security is part of our raison d'être, and we must act accordingly, even if we disagree on various individual issues."

This historic responsibility of Germany is part of my country's raison d'être. This means that Israel's security is never negotiable for me.

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

After Hamas's terrorist attack on Israel, Olaf Scholz echoed his predecessor's statement by saying – without Merkel's restriction to a 'part' – "Israel's security is Germany's raison d'être."

Since the 1950s, there has been German-Israeli armaments cooperation, but this does not imply any obligation to provide military assistance. 

Shortly before the Hamas offensive, Israel had secured, with America's blessing, its largest-ever arms deal with Germany.

The Financial Times reported in early November that German sales to Israel had surged since the 7th of October. The overall figure for 2023 was almost ten times as high as the previous year.

Then, as he arrived in Tel Aviv, the commander of the Luftwaffe, Ingo Gerhartz, hailed the accuracy of the Israeli pilots. 

He went on to donate blood to the Israeli soldiers. Following the events of the 7th of October, the German deployment contingent in Cyprus was increased.

One might be forgiven for thinking this is a case of their country, right or wrong. Yet it is highly unusual for one state to make the security of another state its sacred responsibility.

An alternative translation of the concept of Staatsräson, after all, would be 'national interest.' According to Machiavelli, it depended on the trinity of will, necessity and utility.

The official version of German solidarity sounds as far as one could get from Machiavellian: a country that unleashed such suffering on its Jewish victims, atoning for its crimes in perpetuity.

But the form this atonement has taken suggests a trace element of realpolitik. Germany's postwar journey towards the West was never exclusively a guilt trip. Like other countries in the West, it has found the tensions in the Middle East lucrative.      

Even when policy is intended to benefit Palestinians – in the form of financial and humanitarian support with regard to water, economic development, public security, good governance and education – this is framed as contributing to Israel's security.

The German government has so far refused to support recognition of Palestine under international law. It mostly, though not always, joins Israel's vote in the UN.

This is surely the ultimate manifestation of legacy statecraft. In a changing and deteriorating context, it starts to look hopelessly outmoded.

Inertia afflicts all established states. Though it is difficult to cure the habits of a nation's lifetime, Germans would do well to ask themselves a question, and with a sense of urgency: Just who exactly are we backing?

Germany has so far refused to support recognition of Palestine. This manifestation of legacy statecraft is looking hopelessly outmoded.

The Arabs will move!

Israel's war on Gaza has taught the world a lot more than it probably wanted to about the composition of Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet. Unless you are a settler with a ruthless disposition, it is not a pretty sight.

Even a matter of days after South Africa brought its case to the Hague and condemned genocidal talk from members of the government, they were at it again.

The central evidence of incitement is a conference organised by the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit in Jerusalem.

There, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, articulated a twin-track approach to Gaza, encouraging the exodus of its inhabitants while encouraging the influx of Israeli settlers. He argued it was "a correct, just, moral and humane solution."

At the same event, the chair of the major settler organisation Nahala, Daniella Weiss, was more explicit. Asked what would happen to the two million Palestinians in Gaza, she said: "The Arabs will move."


Daniella Weiss, a settler leader and former mayor of the Kedumim settlement in the occupied West Bank, said that "no Arab will remain in Gaza" after the war and that those "who want to have a quiet life" should migrate to other countries. She made the comments during an interview with Israeli media channel Relevant on Thursday. Weiss has made numerous controversial statements in the past and said that she "wants to close the option for a Palestinian state" by encouraging settlements in occupied Palestine.

original sound - Middle East Eye

Just as Israel didn't give them food in order to pressure Hamas to release the hostages, so too should Israel "not give them anything, so they will have to move", she said.

One of the videos shown at the conference was a clip of soldiers waiting to join the ground invasion chanting: "There are no innocents in Gaza." The conference was attended by 11 cabinet ministers and 15 coalition members.

The US described Ben-Gvir's remarks as inflammatory, but Netanyahu, who depends on his support to remain in office, has been silent.

Similarly, little has been done to stop the stream of Israeli army messages glorifying victory over the Palestinian people rather than over Hamas.

All eyes on Rafah

Since then, anxieties have been growing, even among German observers. The foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said on X that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a "humanitarian catastrophe in the making". 

"The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air," she added.

Read more: An Israeli assault on Rafah could send the region spiralling. A deal might save it.

When Paul Celan wrote Todesfuge or Death Fugue, the war in Europe had not long been over. He wrote the poem in order to contradict Theodor Adorno's view that after Auschwitz, poetry was a form of barbarism.

The words are bleak, spare and repetitive.

They present a camp guard:

He calls out play death more sweetly,

Death is a master from Deutschland.

He calls scrape those fiddles more darkly

Then as smoke you'll rise in the air,

Then you'll have a grave in the clouds

There you'll lie at ease.

Of course, Annalena Baerbock was not consciously recalling the crematoria chimneys of what the Germans called their 'destruction camps' when she spoke about the inhabitants of Gaza disappearing into thin air.

I am making my own odious comparison. But perhaps it is time the longstanding monogamous relationship between Germany and Israel was reviewed.

Time, even, for a few odious comparisons to be made between the horrors of the most notorious genocide in history and the events unfolding right now in an overcrowded town called Rafah. 

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