Götz Aly in Munich

Götz Aly liest bei Lehmkuhl
Götz Aly reads in the bookshop Lehmkuhl in Munich. Photo: Stephan Bleek

In the bookshop Lehmkuhl in Munich a reading with Götz Aly took place. The day before Götz Aly was awarded the Geschwister Scholl Prize. Götz Aly presents his book “Europe against the Jews”.

He begins with Jacques Chirac’s television speech on 16 July 1995. On the occasion of the celebration of the 53rd anniversary of the raid on Vel d’hiv on 16 July 1942, the French President first acknowledged the responsibility of the French state for the deportation and extermination of Jews during the Second World War. At that time, some 76,000 French Jews were deported in 74 trains to Auschwitz. Hardly any of the deportees survived. But there were about 320,000 Jews in France at that time. Some 250,000 French Jews were saved thanks to active help or simply thanks to the passive resistance of the French. In the countries occupied by the Germans, the degree of active participation of the local authorities decided the fate of the Jewish inhabitants.
Götz Aly cites Belgium as an example. In Brussels, the Catholic mayor of Brussels, Jules Coelst, categorically rejects the order of the German military administration to oblige Jews to wear the star of Judaism. The order “obviously violates the dignity of man, whoever it may be”. On its own, the German military administration, the Wehrmacht (!), succeeded in determining and deporting only half of the Belgian Jews. The behaviour of many members of the Catholic clergy in Poland, who were strongly anti-Semitic, stands in complete contrast to the behaviour of the Catholic Jules Coelst.

Thus, according to Götz Aly, anti-Semitism cannot be sufficiently explained by political attitudes, religious affiliations, national affiliation, social status or other characteristics. There were anti-Semitic Catholics or Protestants, workers or entrepreneurs, ordinary people or educated professors. On the contrary, there were those who protected and saved Jews. Aly sees a fundamental driving force for anti-Semitism in competition in modern society. Especially where social mobility was high, non-Jewish groups try to gain advantages for competing Jews through anti-Semitic regulations. Even if it is not gladly heard, the innumerable evidence that Götz Aly can cite for envy as a central driving force of anti-Semitic behavior is compelling. The deportations of Jews throughout Europe were accompanied by the plundering of their property, the sale of their flats, their furniture, and the takeover of their professional positions by local profiteers.

Europa gegen die Juden. Götz Aly.
Europe against the Jews. Götz Aly. Photo: Bleek

Aly also describes the fate of the Jews of Thessaloniki. Since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 and the associated resettlement, Jews have been discriminated against in many ways. The German occupation finds compliant Greek collaborators and almost nobody of the Jews from Thessaloniki survives. The events are described in detail in the book. In his reading Götz Aly describes the deportations of other ethnic groups, such as Muslims or Bulgarians after the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the arrival of tens of thousands of Greeks from Turkish territories. The population exchange “works” only with the Jews one did not know where. These descriptions have once again drastically reminded me of the inhuman process of the cleansing of national borders in Europe after the end of the First World War. For the people affected, these “exchange actions” were a terrible fate. And with the Jews “one did not know where to go”. Israel still had to be founded.

The evening with Götz Aly was fascinating, also because it gave so many suggestions. His profound knowledge and his lively description of the events captivated the audience. Götz Aly is not employed at a university. He finances his research exclusively from the proceeds of his books. I wish him many paying readers. He is one of the most important voices in German Holocaust research. His book “Europa gegen die Juden” earns many buyers.