Recently, on Jenny Brockieâ€™s Insight program on SBS, I was intrigued by the appearances of Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, Hitlerâ€™s governor in Poland, who was hanged in 1946, and West Australian MP Peter Abetz whose family came from blue chip Nazi stock.
Like Peter, I am also part of the post-war generation and like him, my dad also came from Stuttgart. His great-uncle was called Otto, just as my Opa was and like Peter, I too came to Australia, though not from Germany. But there our narratives diverge because Otto Abetz became Hitlerâ€™s ambassador to occupied France while Otto Jontof-Hutter, twice wounded in the First World War and awarded the Iron Cross, was arrested with thousands of other Jews during the Reichskristallnacht state-sponsored pogrom and taken to the Dachau Concentration Camp. On Peterâ€™s motherâ€™s side of the family, was Erwin Rommel, whom my dad fought against as part of Montgomeryâ€™s Eighth Army.
Niklas Frank Pic: SBS
Niklas Frank Pic: SBS
Peter never met his Otto, and neither did I meet my Otto. Peter has devoted his life to public service and also become a Christian Pastor, both means to make a difference to our wonderful country. In the program, Peter also expressed bewilderment as to how Germany, so advanced in science, culture and philosophy could embark on mass murder on an industrial scale that became known as the Holocaust or Shoah.
While Peter Abetz was puzzled about Germanyâ€™s descent to barbarism, Niklas Frank was sceptical that Germany had really changed its anti-Jewish culture. So how could the Holocaust happen and what is the culture Frank refers to?
One answer to this question is to study the antecedents of the age-old hatred of Jews and its development in Europe. While Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran churches, advocated the burning of Jewish books, buildings and expulsion of Jews from German lands (his wish was granted in the 1938 Reichskristallnacht pogrom), it was Augustine, arguably the most important founder of modern Christianity, who would play a dominant role in the development of Christian Europe, its philosophy, sociopolitical structures and art. Often regarded as the â€˜father of the Roman Catholic Churchâ€™, he also greatly inspired Reformation founders, Luther and Calvin.
Augustine cast Jews as pariahs and posited that Jews survived because they were destined to be dispersed to serve as â€˜ eternal witnessâ€™ due to their â€˜follyâ€™ of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah and to be a reminder of Christianityâ€™s triumph. This meant that Jews could â€˜existâ€™ in Europe but never be welcomed or settled. Instead they were to be wanderers, impoverished and regarded as outcasts, despite having lived in Europe almost a thousand years before Europeans embraced Christianity. The Jewish diaspora was a punishment and their mourned kingdom would continue until the end of days.
Peter Abetz Pic: SBS
This â€˜right to existâ€™ has become a catch phrase in post-Shoah Europe. It also applies to Israel.
While Augustine forced Jews to live under Church protection, the European Enlightenmentâ€” three hundred years after Lutherâ€” heralded some changes. New scientific discoveries advocated more personal freedoms. Following the French Revolution, Napoleon emancipated the Jews and accorded them civic rights. Other countries followed suitâ€”Austria in 1867, Germany 1871, Spain 1910, Romania 1923. By 1935 Germany reversed the emancipation of Jews and decided that Jews had no â€˜right to existâ€™. The Shoah ensued with the active or passive collaboration of Europe, the churches and the Roosevelt administration.
Despite conditional Jewish emancipation proposed by French revolutionary leaders such as Count Clermont-Tonnerre, European culture nevertheless retained its anti-Jewish animus. The Hep- Hep riots of 1819 that started in Bavaria, the Edgardo Mortara Affair of 1858, the Dreyfus Affair in 1894, and the Nazis of 1933, all occurred in post-Enlightenment Europe.
Augustineâ€™s â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ has never been truly discarded despite the Enlightenment. Some 50% of Jews in Austria and Germany, converted for acceptance and opportunities. Jews as â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ became entrenched in European culture with Wagner, T.S Eliot, Grimm , Agatha Christie, Degas and even Beatrix Potter. The Shoah was the culmination of theologically-based hatred of the Jews.
If Jews were to be condemned as â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ never to find a welcoming home, the emergence of the thriving, OECD member Jewish State of Israel has presented a fundamental problem, turning Augustineâ€™s dictum on its head. Israel therefore became the personification of the â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ status.
This anomaly has resulted in resentment and envy by the European countries. Europe has been cold towards Israel. It seldom votes with Israel in the UN. This was the case before the Six Day War, and exacerbated since then. Europe would never quite relinquish Augustineâ€™s â€˜eternal witnessâ€™. In 1964, Pope Paul Vl, visited then-divided Jerusalem, but refused to shake the hand of Israeli President Shazar, or even greet him. This was consistent with his predecessor, Pius lX in 1904, who invoked the â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ concept bluntly telling Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism, that the Jewish people could never have a home due to their rejection of Christ. In 1967, Israel found itself abandoned by post-Shoah Europe, as the Arab countries prepared for their war of annihilation against Israel. In 1970, German chancellor Willy Brandt knelt at the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. The same Willy Brandt in 1973 refused landing rights to US planes bringing essential supplies to an embattled Israel fighting for its very existence in the Yom Kippur War. Jews as individuals and the Jewish State of Israel to this day continue to be differentiated in the minds of most Europeans. In this manner, Europeans have resolved the cognitive dissonance of the wandering Jew and the State of Israel. It has little to do with â€˜occupied territoriesâ€™ per se as the Pope in 1964 made clear. While the Vatican finally established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994â€”one hundred years after Dreyfus, and forty-six years after Israelâ€™s foundingâ€”Israel is often referred to as â€˜ the holy landâ€™ rather than by its name that implies sovereignty. In addition, European countries and church organizations such as the Lutheran â€˜Brot fuer die Weltâ€™ and the Catholic â€˜Misereorâ€™ fund anti-Israel NGOs that undermine Israelâ€™s existence as a Jewish state. They are major donors to hostile NGOs such as Bâ€™Tselem, Adalah and Zochrot whose aim is to undermine or overthrow the Jewish State in some way. NGO Monitor has exposed this in detail.
Some European leaders such as well-meaning German chancellor Dr Merkel maintain that Israel has â€˜a right to exist.â€™ This basic form of acknowledgement differs from â€˜sovereignty.â€™ It would be bizarre for her to reassure France or Poland that they have â€˜a right to existâ€™! This phrase does not apply to any other country. Nor does the term â€˜Jewish homelandâ€™ as some leaders refer to Israel, reflect sovereignty. When President Obama (and French President Hollandeâ€”later retracted) refused to address the Knesset, it was a rejection of the very symbol of Jewish sovereignty. Their reassurances of â€˜security guaranteesâ€™ in exchange for Israeli reckless suicidal policies are reminiscent of early Church guarantees of â€˜protectionâ€™ of Jews. Given their history and current inability/motivation to protect Jewish citizens in European countries, such guarantees ring hollow. Other pressures such as the BDS, demonising or delegitimising Israel, are examples of Augustineâ€™s legacy.
A variant of the â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ epithet, is UNRWA. The United Nations has two refugee agencies: UNHCR for all the worldâ€™s refugees, except Palestinians, and UNRWA, founded after Israelâ€™s independence which has its own definition of a refugee. UNRWA has developed into an organization that vilifies the State of Israel. Moreover, UNRWA has become a bloated industry that perpetuates the Israel-Arab problem rather than solving it. Ironically, the almost million Jewish refugees from Arab countries fell under the UNHCR. Palestinian refugees, originally numbering less than the Jewish refugees, are growing in number, since with UNRWA, refugee status is inherited.
The â€˜nakbaâ€™ or â€˜catastropheâ€™ as Israelâ€™s existence is called by Palestinians, is central to the UNRWA narrative and raison dâ€™etre. While the UNHCR has some 8000 employees for the whole world, UNRWA has over 30,000 for the Palestinians. UNRWAâ€™s donors are mostly the USA, European Commission and European countries. There are no other â€˜nakbaâ€™ countries, nor has any other country been vilified by the UNHCR as a pariah, i e â€˜eternal witnessâ€™ state.
It is clear that Europe and the established churches still harbour a Jewish problem which Merkel and scholars acknowledge. The Kairos Palestine Document signed by major churches reflects this as does the Longerich Report on anti-Semitism presented to the Bundestag. Apart from Israelâ€™s sovereignty, Jewish customs such as circumcision and shechita (not to be confused with Muslim halal customs) are ongoing controversial issues. Some European countries have banned kosher slaughter. This is the same Europe that supports bull fighting as â€˜culturalâ€™.
With increasing anti-Semitic incidents, it would seem that inter-faith activities after 1945, have had limited success. The customary klezmer music (reminiscent of the wandering Jew ) and kosher suppers have often been feelgood events, rather than resolving fundamentals. While there has been some progress since Vatican ll, more needs to be done. Established churches and leaders such as Bishop Tutu continue to promote boycotts of Israelâ€”only Israel. It is time to go beyond â€˜more police protectionâ€™ at synagogues as â€˜solutionsâ€™. The root causes should be examined and Peter would surely discover clues to his puzzlement.
A point of departure could be a conference entitled â€œEnlightenment 2â€, attended by leading clergy, politicians and academics. Formally repudiating Augustineâ€™s â€˜eternal witnessâ€™, reassessing education, historical revisionism and resolving the unfinished business of the European Enlightenment would be a first step that sees cultural change as the goal, rather than its management. Anti-Semitism is theologically based. It needs to be theologically resolved.
Without serious commitment to such changes, Europeanâ€™s future and purported symbiotic relationship with its Jews and the Jewish State is in doubt. The church would be a good place to start.
Watch the SBS program
Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer based in Melbourne and Berlin. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released satire â€œThe Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynistâ€ on anti-Semistism and misogyny.