But even as Berlin has delivered vital military assistance to Israel, civil society and others in German political life have done little to curtail the outbreak of anti-Jewish sentiment.
“There is a startling indifference in the German public to the current display of anti-Semitism,” said Samuel Salzborn, a leading expert on anti-Semitism at the University of Göttingen in Lower Saxony, in early August. Merkel’s rally on Sept. 14 produced a mere 5,000 people, according to police. The Jewish community, which organized the event, said 8,000 people came. Given that the Central Council of Jews chartered buses from communities across the country, the turnout was lackluster at best.
In comparison, after a firebombing of a synagogue in Düsseldorf in 2000, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for a nationwide protest against racism and anti-Semitism. Some 200,000 people marched in a procession through Berlin, and tens of thousands protested in other cities across Germany.
The apathy of today has many people wondering what’s gone wrong. In a commentary for Deutschlandfunk radio, Kirsten Serup-Bilfeldt, a journalist and author who writes about German-Christian relations, went as far as to argue that the “confrontation with Germany’s National Socialist past has failed.” In a country that takes pride in its ability to confront the Nazis’ crimes, Serup-Bilfeldt issued a death certificate to illusions that remembrance of the Holocaust will alone be enough to stop anti-Semitism. German Jewish leaders have mirrored Serup-Bilfeldt’s lament that Germany’s version of the average Joe, “Otto Normalverbraucher,” made no, or little, objection to the attacks on Jews.