Thursday, 15 October 2009

A conversation in Germany, 2009.

In Munich, as I lay in a dentist’s chair for some emergency work to a broken tooth, a friendly Moroccan dental nurse in her early thirties asked me why it was that everybody spoke badly about the Jews.

It all started with small talk. She was curious about my good German, considering that I was a visitor from London. I explained that I am a Jew and that my grandparents had left Germany in 1933; that at the time my parents were still children but that German was the language spoken in our house in my childhood. Thus, German was a sort of mother tongue.

She wanted to know why they had left and I mentioned Hitler. ‘Ah’, she said, she did not really know much about him but did he push the Jews out? I did not want to get into this conversation and just said that it was rather more than pushing the Jews out of Germany. Yes, she knew that Hitler had been a really bad guy; perhaps to make me feel better, she added that Hitler was no longer around.

But why, she wanted to know, why do so many people speak badly about the Jews. Especially, she said ‘our people’, that is the Muslims, don’t like the Jews.

How should I have responded?

Her personal experience had been good. In her own version of ‘some of my best friends are Jews’, she told me of the generosity of Jewish acquaintances and repeated the question. She really wanted to understand why it was that so many people hated the Jews.