Now that the debate over Dirk Moses’s essay, “The German Catechism,” appears to have crested, it is possible to take stock of its results. In this short commentary, I do not directly address Moses’s specific arguments in detail; plenty of insightful observers have already done so. Like many of them, I support some of Moses’s assertions and reject others. Instead, I reflect on some of the claims that have been made about the debate’s significance for contemporary Holocaust memory. In so doing, I have identified four areas where, from my perspective, commentators have displayed interpretive blind spots. I hope to rectify them by 1) placing the “German Catechism” debate into a larger historical context; 2) flagging issues of terminological confusion; 3) pointing out the existence of overly sweeping conclusions; and 4) restoring a more balanced perspective about Germany’s mnemonic achievements.
Gavriel Rosenfeld is Professor of History at Fairfield University and an editor at The Journal of Holocaust Research.His full bio is available on his personal webpage: https://www.gavrielrosenfeld.com/
A recording of the virtual roundtable event held on April 29, 2021, with the authors of the Journal of Holocaust Research’s special issue, Confronting Hatred: Antisemitism, Neo-Nazism, and Holocaust Studies Today (35:2)
Michelle Kahn’s article The American Influence on German Neo-Nazism: An Entangled History of Hate, 1970s–1990s“takes a transatlantic approach to the history of the Far Right by examining the American influence on German neo-Nazism from the 1970s through the 1990s.” Kahn offers a literal trail of evidence for how neo-Nazism first gained a foothold in West Germany’s postwar years. Effectively casting doubt on the typical triumphalist heralding of the de-Nazification and democracy-building narrative of the Allied Occupation of West Germany, Kahn instead reveals it to be a tale of inadvertent re-Nazification.
The article’s main argument “reveals a disturbing yet hitherto unacknowledged reality, which has implications for the way we understand the global Far Right today: the strengthening of Germany’s neo-Nazi movements would have been unthinkable without US involvement.In the decades after Hitler, when East and West Germans struggled to suppress Nazism, American neo-Nazis exploited the US right to free speech and the increasing ease of global communications to circumvent restrictive German censorship laws and ship propaganda across the Atlantic Ocean. In so doing, they contributed to the expansion of a worldwide network of Holocaust deniers and galvanized a new, younger generation of neo-Nazis on both sides of the Berlin Wall who turned their hatred not only against Jews but also against the immigrants and asylum seekers who arrived in the context of postwar mass migration to Europe.“
Michelle Lynn Kahn is an Assistant Professor of Modern European History at the University of Richmond, specializing in post-1945 Germany. She has a particular interest in far-right extremism, racism, antisemitism, Holocaust memory, migration, gender, sexuality, and transnational connections. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the history of Turkish guest worker migration to Germany, as well as researching a new project on the transatlantic entanglements between U.S. and German neo-Nazis.
The Perils of Naming: On Donald Trump, Jews, and Antisemites, by Prof. David N. Meyers, discusses how the Trump presidency years were marked by a rapid rise of hate speech in public discourse and violence against minorities. Between 2016-2018, there was a “100% increase in reports of antisemitic incidents in the United States… That period coincides, and not by accident, with the presidency of Donald Trump.”
Noting that the Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 audit of antisemitic acts in the U.S. found “the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979,” Prof. Meyers examines how name-calling became a successful rhetorical strategy for Donald Trump before and during his presidency. The article “explores the naming of Jews not only in the context of Trump’s declarations, but also policy formulations such as his Executive Order on antisemitism and the IHRA definition.”
David N. Myers is a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he holds the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History.