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Red Rag weekly column: Greetings from Berlin
With the Beckers at the Red Army memorial
By: Gideon Spiro
13 September 2014 (English translation 21 September 2014)

Report and greetings from Berlin

We have just returned, my partner, my daughter, her partner and my two
grandchildren, from a roots-journey to Berlin, the city of my birth. We passed
by the house where I was born, continued to the house where we lived (177
Ku’damm – the main street in West Berlin), and ended up at the building that
housed the office of my grandfather (Dr. Alfred Naumann, lawyer and notary. To
the best of my knowledge, the building was also his place of residence with my
grandmother Anna Naumann, may they both rest in peace). The next day we went
to the cemetery in Weissensee, to see if we could find the graves of my
grandfather and grandmother.

The Jewish cemetery in Weissensee (in German, Jüdischer Friedhof Berlin
Weißensee), in the Weissensee neighbourhood in Berlin, is the largest (or
second-largest) Jewish cemetery in Europe. The cemetery was established in
1880, and it spreads over an area of 42 hectares and contains about 115,500
graves. Many important scions of German Jewry are buried there, including the
painter Lesser Ury, Rabbi Leo Baeck, the philosopher Hermann Cohen, the writer
Stefan Heym and many others. (From Hebrew Wikipedia)

The cemetery is a tourist attraction in its own right. It is located in a
forested area and those who stroll through its paths at leisure will see a
variety of graves, from memorials that look like mausoleums, a reflection of
their occupants’ wealth in life, all the way down to simple headstones. The
passage of time has left its mark on some of the graves, and the inscriptions
are illegible. At the cemetery office we got a map on which my grandfather’s
and my grandmother’s graves were marked. Thanks to my daughter’s
resourcefulness we quickly found the graves. To our surprise and joy the
graves were excellently preserved. After we cleaned them they looked like new
and the inscriptions were legible. I knew that they died in the 1930s, but not
the exact year. From the inscriptions on the headstones I learned that my
grandmother Anna died in 1937 and my grandfather Alfred in 1938. They
experienced the racism of the Nazi regime, but they were spared the horrors of
the Holocaust. And that is a consolation.

The cemetery is still in use today and burial there is not cheap. The place
survived the Nazi regime. I have not yet heard a reasonable explanation for
why the Nazis did not touch it.

We have friends in Berlin, not all of whom we could meet. Time was short. This
time we settled for meeting with Jürgen and Yutta Becker, who have been
friends of ours for decades. Jürgen is a professor at the faculty of theology
of Göttingen University, an expert in the Jerusalem Talmud who speaks Hebrew
fluently. Yutta is a minister of religion who is active in inter-faith
dialogue in Berlin, which brings together representatives of all the religions
active in Berlin for the purpose of advancing their common ground on matters
of peace, democracy and human rights. She manages the room of silence at the
Brandenburg Gate, where visitors can escape for a while from the tumult of the
street through internal contemplation.

Yutta and Jürgen know Berlin very well, and every time we visit they take us
in their modest car (they always buy second- or third-hand) to a place we have
not seen before. This time we went to the Treptow quarter (East Berlin, which
was the capital of the “German Democratic Republic” – DDR), to the cenotaph
that the Soviets erected in memory of the soldiers of the Red Army who fell
during the battle for Berlin. It is a massive park surrounded by trees with
statues that are also massive, accompanied by quotations from Stalin in praise
of the victory over Nazi Germany and the liberation from fascism.

In the agreement between the Soviet Union and West Germany on the eve of the
unification of Germany, the German government made a commitment to protect and
maintain the cenotaphs in commemoration of the fall of Nazi Germany, and the
German government has respected that commitment. The park is cared for by the
Berlin municipality. When I stand before monuments in memory of the Red Army,
I cannot avoid choking up, because I cannot forget that the Red Army saved
millions of Jews and others from destruction and enslavement. I never forget
that the Soviet Union paid the heaviest price on the hard road to victory, 26
million human beings. In moments like that – and only then – I thank in my
heart Stalin, his generals and all the soldiers of the Red Army, because
without them we would not be here today. In saying this I am not minimizing
the huge contribution made by the USA, the UK and others to the defeat of

From there we went to the memorial for the Sinti and Roma that was designed by
the Israeli artist Dani Karavan. I recalled the racism of the Jewish
establishment, supported by some German collaborators, which opposed the
creation of a joint memorial. Both peoples were victims of genocide, but the
brotherhood of Auschwitz was defeated by Jewish racism. The result: two
separate memorials. The memorial for the Jewish Holocaust is composed of a
large number (dozens? Hundreds? I didn’t count) of concrete pillars of various
sizes and heights, which with time has become a place where children play
hide-and-seek, and a sun-bathing area in the summer. To this day I do not
understand the connection between the Jewish memorial and the Holocaust, but I
attribute that to my own lack of understanding, for it is unlikely that the
architect who planned it and the public committee that chose his proposal are
as stupid as I am when it comes to art. Karavan’s memorial is more modest but
to me much more impressive. Upon entering the site the sound of a violin can
be faintly heard, and the place projects an atmosphere of holiness. No one
will play hide-and-seek there; there are playgrounds for that.

From there we proceeded to the memorial for the victims of euthanasia, which
has recently been inaugurated. Three hundred thousand Germans who did not meet
the criteria of Nazi race-theory, who had genetic disorders or incurable
diseases or mental illness were murdered in a programme code-named Aktion T4.
They were put to death by means that later would be applied to the Jews: gas,
poison injections and starvation. A programme like that cannot be put into
effect without the collaboration of doctors. The medical profession in Germany
underwent a process of Nazification. I wondered to myself whether medical
collaboration with the crimes of the regime is unique to Germany. The answer
is no. It is a danger that lurks at the door of every regime of oppression.
Jürgen and Yutta are the wet dream of the Israeli propaganda machines.
Possessed of a democratic and liberal consciousness, they support Israel and
participate in pro-Israel demonstrations. Then they see the demonstrations in
Israel where the slogans “Death to Arabs” and “Jewish women for Jews only” are
heard, and they ask themselves: Is this the Israel we support? While
Chancellor Angela Merkel participated in a demonstration against antisemitism,
not only does her Israeli counterpart Netanyahu not join demonstrations
against growing racism, he couldn’t even be bothered to expend the small
amount of energy required to issue a statement strongly attacking those who
bay for Arab blood, along with a request to the Attorney General to put them
on trial for incitement to genocide.

Time presses, soon we will have to go to the airport. We completed the tour at
the Einstein café, and with the good taste of the coffee and cake we return to
the boiling pot.

In praise of the 43

Forty-three reserve soldiers, male and female, from Intelligence Unit 8200
have published an open letter stating that they can no longer serve in the
unit, because to do so is to serve the Occupation and the oppression of the
Palestinian people. Unit 8200 is an empire of eavesdropping that encompasses
all the Palestinians’ telephone numbers. There is no Palestinian whose life is
not analyzed in detail. His problems, weaknesses and fondest desires are
known. That information is transmitted to the Israel Security Agency (Shin
Bet), which uses it to blackmail the person into becoming an informer.
(Example: we know that you are a homosexual. If you do not cooperate with us,
we will out you. Effective extortion, in view of what awaits him in a
conservative society like Palestine. Another example: if you want your
gravely-ill son to receive medical treatment in Israel which will save his
life, cooperate with us. Effective extortion.) These methods explain the
successful recruitment of thousands of informers. The unit also provides
information to the air force for bombing-targets and also to other units for
various other military operations.

8200 is a flagship with prestige in the army and outside of it. Hence the
harsh and abusive responses from the governmental, military and media
establishments. Soldiers who only yesterday were distinguishing themselves
have suddenly become traitors just because they strayed from the flock and
exhibited some independent and humane thought. A reserve colonel who formerly
headed the unit, whose name eludes me, was interviewed for Razi Barkai’s
programme on Galei Tzahal (IDF radio), and in the course of the conversation
he lost his grip, he yelled and shrieked that the refusers should be put on
trial. He said that they cannot assess the work of the unit because they do
not see the full picture. Here he failed. Of course in the army – in any army
– soldiers are prepared to carry out orders and not to philosophize about
matters beyond the missions assigned to them.

The army will never give the soldiers the full picture. The military message
is: concentrate on your mission and leave politics to the grownups. It is
release from the army that opens new horizons, and people of conscience with
moral sensitivity discover, as I discovered, that the army never tells the
whole truth. The soldier who becomes a civilian undergoes a process of
disillusionment, because he sees the picture with all its components. I
believe that is what happened to the 43: they understood, even if they did not
participate actively in military actions, did not “dirty their hands” but sat
in air-conditioned rooms, that they were parties to the crimes of the
Occupation from their desks.

To the best of my recollection, the term “desk criminal” penetrated into the
Israeli consciousness during the Eichmann trial. Eichmann did not personally
kill a single Jew; he just ensured that the trains would leave on time. This
of course does not lead to the conclusion that the soldiers of the unit are
little Eichmanns; they are not. But the commanders of the unit need to know
that if they do not stop on time, then in a society in which demonstrators
yell “Death to Arabs” and the soldiers see, and hear the voices, and no one is
put on trial for incitement to genocide, the distance on the continuum at the
end of which stands Eichmann is not a long one. The 43 understood that trap,
and as people of conscience they carried out their moral act in the spirit of
Bertholt Brecht’s poem, “General, your tank”. This is what he wrote in the
last verse:

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think. [1]

And so they deserve appreciation, support and aid to resist the cynical
campaign of calumny by the government and the army. Far from harming the
security of the State, they are enhancing it. If they have shortened the
Occupation by one day, that is already a contribution to Israel’s security
that is worth more than its weight in fine gold.

The heights of hypocrisy

State Attorney Shai Nitzan asked the directorate of government vehicles to
replace the Volkswagen that had been assigned to him with a non-German
vehicle. You know – the Holocaust, etc. So they gave him a Japanese Toyota

Shai Nitzan was promoted not long ago to his new position after having served
for years as an attorney for the State on security matters. He defended nearly
every villainous act of the Occupation: administrative detentions, the
demolition of families’ homes, restrictions on freedom of movement,
environmental punishment, the theft of Palestinian lands, extra-judicial
executions (in the language of the Occupation, “targeted preventions” – Heb.
sikulim memuqadim), settlements, torture, expulsions and other such
satanic inventions of the twisted and feverish brain of the Occupation regime,
all for the purpose of adding to the burden on the occupied population.
Attorneys like Shai Nitzan are the wet dream of dictatorships that strike
terror into their populations.

Nearly 70 years have passed since the end of the Second World War. There is
not a single Nazi in the mechanisms of the state and the army, the rate of
antisemitism in Germany is the lowest in Europe, the Jewish community in
Germany already numbers 100 thousand people, the Israeli community in Berlin
numbers twenty thousand and Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany (in Israel,
on the other hand, Nakba denial is a mitzvah). The rejection of a German car
under those circumstances, and what’s more, by an attorney who is a serial
defender of human-rights violations, wins Nitzan advancement to the final
round in the Mr. Hypocrisy tournament.

This is a good juncture at which to remind Nitzan, lest he has forgotten, or
maybe never knew, that during World War II Japan was no member of the
Righteous among the Nations either. So Japanese cars are out. A Spanish car is
out because of the expulsion from Spain. French is certainly out because of
the Vichy regime, American is out because of our enemy Obama. Yalla, Nitzan –
return the Toyota and ask for a Sussita. [2]

On imagery from the animal and plant kingdoms and medical science

Rogel Alpher’s article in Haaretz, 31 August 2014, in which he
expressed his desire to leave Israel because he despairs of the chances for
change in a humanistic direction, raised echoes from an unexpected quarter –
from the Left in all its tendencies: Zionist, a-Zionist and anti-Zionist. Each
one in its way rebuked Rogel and told him: I’m staying here. Holocaust scholar
and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Yehuda Bauer surpassed them all, when in a
short letter to the editor (Haaretz 2 September 2014) he likened the
desire to leave Israel to rats abandoning a ship that is not sinking. Bauer
knows a thing or two about the role played by rats in Nazi propaganda against
Jews. Rogel took offence at being compared to a rat and asked Bauer – “et tu,

The invocation of animals, plants, gastronomy and medicine to characterize
human behavior or conditions is known in every nation and in every language
including Hebrew. MK Miri Regev likened asylum-seekers to cancer, and the Left
for its part invoked that disease to emphasize the danger presented by the
spread of racism. Babies are usually “bombonieres”, and an attractive woman is
a “flower” or a “peach”. In Israel it is not just flowers that get plucked;
also fallen IDF soldiers were “plucked in the prime of their lives.” The old-
timers among us surely recall the “Sabra generation” born in this country,
that were like the fruit of the prickly-pear cactus (“sabra” or “tzabar”),
which is thorny on the outside and sweet on the inside.

The invocation of animal life has spread to many domains. The expression “the
dogs bark and the caravan passes” is well known. The late Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin called Yossi Beilin “Peres’ poodle”. Dogs also serve as a
metaphor for loyalty and/or blind obedience like a domesticated dog. A man who
changes his opinions to suit the ruling authority of the moment is likened to
a chameleon, and a sinister schemer is called a snake. A person with a grating
voice is said to have a voice like a crow. A person who has good knowledge of
a subject is said to be swimming like a fish in water. A person who is afraid
to do something is said to be a rabbit. A person whose gait is ponderous is
said to walk like a bear, and those who are known for moving fast are said to
be as light-footed as gazelles. Male chauvinism has left its mark here as
well. A woman who is sexually open is said to be a “bunny”, and a man who has
a reputation for sexual conquests is a “real lion”. A person who is not
particularly attractive may be said to be as “ugly as a monkey”. Those who
behave with great cruelty are likened to a beast of prey. And in scripture it
is written: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”
(Proverbs 6:6) A partial list.

Back to the rat. The rat is different in that it has served Nazi propaganda to
represent the Jews as sub-humans who spread disease. How ironic that Prof.
Bauer, a man of the Zionist Left, a former member of Kibbutz Shoval, was pre-
empted in his use of that image by Elyakim Haetzni, a settler and a man of the
extreme Right. In an article Haetzni published in the fondly-remembered
newspaper Hadashot, he compared Arabs to rats gnawing at a ship and
proposed a return to deploying “traps and poison” (23 May 1984). Yossi Sarid
replied in an article in which he wrote that “Elyakim’s concepts and images
are directly derived from Nazi literature”. (Hadashot 25 May 1984)
Sensitivity in Israel over the subject found expression in a Supreme Court
decision to revoke the 1997 Israel Prize for journalism from Shmuel Schnitzer,
former editor of Maariv, for his article “Import of death”, in which he
accused Jewish immigrants (“olim” in official language) from Ethiopia of
spreading diseases.

Rogel Alpher has good reasons to be offended and I anticipate, based on my
knowledge of Prof. Bauer from back when he was less known, that he will find a
way to backtrack or at least to explain the intentions behind his poetic

The crux of the matter is that I believe, like Alpher, that Israel is moving
away from its chances to change, that is, to become a liberal democratic state
that lives in peace with its neighbours. Those who do not want their children
to become cannon-fodder for the wars that Netanyahu and his friends are
imposing on us would do well to depart for a safer place. A matter of
hatzalat nefashot. [3]

Translator’s notes

quote: Bertholt Brecht, mivħar shirim [A Selection of Poems],
translated by Mordechai Avi Shaul, Sifriat HaPoalim 1971)

2. The Sussita was a car manufactured in Israel from 1960 to 1975.

3. Literally, “saving souls”. I.e. saving human life, as it is referred to in
Jewish religious sources and discourse.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

Gideon Spiro at the Roma and Sinti memorial in Berlin
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