In this memoir/polemic, a young German-born, Cambridge- and Harvard-schooled journalist finds that being a Jew in Germany still encapsulates searing attitudes the Germans hold about “the outsider.”
The product of a family originally from Poland, decimated then scattered during and after World War II, The Utopian founding editor Mounk grew up fatherless and an only child to his mother, Ala, who had settled in Germany for music school and work and ultimately stayed. Until age 18, the author attended schools around Germany, and he gleaned clues from his mother and others that being Jewish was somehow irregular and indeed aroused reactions (such as in class or among friends) of disbelief, fawning insincerity or hostility. As he traces his own growing defiance, Mounk looks at the changing attitudes toward Jews of the Germans from the end of war onward. The early denazification campaign by the Allied occupiers and exposure of Nazi war crimes against the Jews at Nuremberg gave way to a “reverberating silence” during the Cold War as many former Nazis were allowed to slip back into power and influence. Then there was the 1960s activism, which drew out young people to question and accuse their parents about their actions during the war, engendering open discussion, a challenge to school curricula and the showing of the miniseries Holocaust on German TV in 1979, prompting “shock” by viewers who did not realize the extent of Nazi crimes. The ensuing philo-Semitism also had its counterreaction, as Mounk has discovered, in today’s growing sense that the Germans have reached the “finish line” and are fed up with being cudgeled by guilt over the Holocaust. Moreover, Germany’s tough stance against the “profligate” nations in the Euro zone underscores its troubling attitudes toward immigration and the treatment of “guest workers.”
A solid combination of moving personal saga and thought-provoking research.