I Sleep in Hitler’s Room – Tuvia Tenenbom


This book, subtitled An American Jew Visits Germany, was due to be published by Rowohlt in April 2011. Its non appearance was because of Alexander Fest, head of Rowohlt. Mr Fest wanted some changes to the manuscript – a manuscript that had been accepted and approved by the editor assigned to the task.

What kind of changes?

From the preface:

“I was presented with a version of the manuscript reflecting cuts and changes throughout, and only if I agreed with their “edited” version would they publish the book. Most of the edits had to do with German anti-Semitism, which this book uncovers. Accounts of it were fully cut from their edited version. Also cut were passages of certain interviews where respondents betrayed their anti-Semitism and were now transformed into philo-Semites by the stroke of a pen.

Other times Mr Fest showed a creative streak. In a few instances where this book had the word Jews in it, he demanded that it be changed to Israel. It’s not nice to show that there are Germans who hate Jews, but Israel is a different story; that’s political and the Israelis, after all, are known to be bad people.

What he did was not make the book “overcomplex” or “informed.” What he did was pure censorship, fit for an Iranian publisher under the ayatollahs. He steamed when I said this, but he didn’t change his mind.”

If your heart sinks after reading this, you are not alone. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read the book, but I persevered. I’m glad I did.

First, the book is about a sort of Bill Bryson journey across Germany by the Israeli journalist Tuvia Tenenbom. It’s important to stress that he did not set out with the express purpose of finding anti-Semitism. In fact, there are several episodes in the book that start off far, far away from that, but end up with the oldest hate in evidence courtesy of something the interviewees have said, unprompted. Bizarre. And troubling.

Second, though Tenenbom is a gifted an entertaining writer, this is not as laugh out loud funny as Catch the Jew! though it does its very best to make humor among the dark moments.

Dark moments? There is naked anti-Semitism on display here, right in the heart of contemporary Europe. It may not be politically correct to say so, but it is a certainty that the influx of immigrants caused by the breakup and civil war in Syria will make the situation worse. There will be more dark moments. There will probably be dark actions.

And my comment about the comparative state of the humor is not meant to be critical; it’s an observation. My guess is that the writing reflects Mr Tenenbom’s feelings about what was appropriate. Perhaps he felt no need to restrain his comic talents in Israel, where the Theater of the Absurd runs performances all day, every day, apparently.

Third, there are narratives that don’t involve Jews or anti-Semitism or Israel. Somehow, they do not have the same impact. This may be because I am not a fan of travel writing, and even the material by the superstar Bill Bryson doesn’t do it for me. Personally, I prefer Tenenbom’s perspective, his refusal to be shackled, and his willingness to tackle the hard stuff.

Fourth, the book gave me a bit of a surprise with the author’s report on the Jewish community of Germany, and the disconnect between its stated size and rebirth, and the actual numbers. I would liked to have known more, but that was outside the book’s scope. However, it may be a decent project for someone else to follow up.

It would be misleading to say I enjoyed this book. But I did get a lot out of it, and fairly squirmed as Tenenbom uncovered more and more of the hate. As you will gather, I like his idiosyncratic writing style, and can perhaps give that credit as well for getting me to the finishing line. I recommend it because it will give you a more honest appraisal of society and its attitudes than reading the mainstream media.

After reading the book, my feelings were conflicted. There are a number of Germans (gamers, of course) with whom I am on speaking terms. I have met many, and had many long, rambling, and often entertaining and enlightening discussions about life, the universe, and everything. There has never been the slightest whiff of anti-Semitism. (I cannot say the same of discussions had with gamers more close to my former home.) It may be wrong of me, but the book’s contents make me wonder if I was being naive, and those people were being devious, and hiding their true feelings.

In summary: Tenenbom is a talent, and this is an important, sharp, well written, brutally honest, and often entertaining and challenging look at an important part of modern day society that is all too readily ignored or excused.

I will finish with this significant observation by the author:

“The anti-Semitism I encountered in Germany is probably more subconscious than conscious. Perhaps it has to do more with the psychological history of the German[s] than with thought-out anti-Semitism. It is, maybe, in the line of: I have to blame the one I killed. It’s not the same anti-Semitism that I encountered, say, in Poland. Polish anti-Semitism, as far as I can tell, is grounded in religion. Germany’s is grounded in psychology and narcissism. Grandpa and grandma built entertainment centers, such as the zoo-plus-crematoriums, and I can’t live with it. For them it was double the pleasure for one ticket, but for their grandchildren it’s double the horror. The fastest and most childish way to ease the weight of such baggage is to blame “the Jews.” They are the real Nazis; not grandpa, never grandma.”

[For an earlier snippet about the book, see Why not to watch Al Jazeera.]

Five for Friday

The week started with Susan and family sitting shiva. They got up from shiva, and returned to the express train of life; I returned to work. Last Shabbat was an eerie island in the middle of shiva. This Shabbat, all being well, is the first Shabbat on the path back to a normal routine (ha!) and will be especially welcome. We all need the opportunity to rest, reflect, and recharge our batteries.

As part of the return to normal life – also known as the Life goes on syndrome – here are the usual weekly selection of links:

We want a bonus!

OK, a bonus, a bonus, my kingdom for a bonus. Here you go, courtesy of the Elder of Ziyon, BDSers: “Do as I say…” poster:

bds hypocrisy

Shabbat Shalom!

Strictly kosher?


A plug in the Guardian:

Strictly kosher: Jewish slogan tees become a cult fashion fascination

A pair of designers have come up with a range of T-shirts that combine Yiddish expressions and Jewish culture with meme linguistics. Will they catch on?

Don’t they need to catch on first, before they become a cult fashion fascination?

Here’s some more:

It’s tough, when you’re a self-deprecating Jewish hipster of mid-level means, to find humourous Hanukkah presents (dreidel fillers?) for your like-minded friends. Or at least it was until the launch of Unkosher Market, a range of lolzy T-shirts that combine Yiddish expressions and Jewish culture with the meme-linguistics of the day. So there’s “Totes Koshe”, “Matzah Ballin” and an alternative to Taylor Swift’s advice on dealing with tsauris: “Schvitz It Out”. They’re not laugh-out-loud funny, but quite good shitck.

Lolzy? That’s a stretch. Regardless, you can read it all, here.

This way for Unkosher Market.  (Aren’t their prices outrageous?)

Why do I have this gut feeling that the Guardian’s publication of this piece is at least partly intended as a shield against certain criticism?

The moment has passed

Rita Reinhold - 1926-2015

Rita Reinhold – 1926-2015

One moment is all it takes, and the change is made; from living and breathing, to the big, final, full stop we call death. Oh, we have lots of euphemisms, but they do not truly mask the stark certainty of the end. Probably that’s a good thing, though for most of society it remains a taboo subject. After all, if we focused too much on that certainty, we might question the purpose of our existence, and come up short when seeking an answer. Blessed are those with faith that shields them from the doubt, and empowers them to not only keep going, but to make the most of their life. I want to be one of these people. I want to live in the now, recognizing each day is a gift. None of us are guaranteed to wake up tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. And so on. Therefore, I am truly grateful for the gift, and pray that I won’t take it for granted.

One memory is all it takes, and the mood is changed; from mourning to the celebration of a smile, a laugh, a joke. Some little episode through which the loved one continues to live, even if only in our recollection. We want to remember, because we also hope to be remembered. We look back at the generation that has passed, and those before it, and wonder what the generations after us will think about our generation. Good or bad? Happy or sad? Blessed or cursed? Just let us be remembered.

Rita will be remembered. May her memory be a blessing, and may the family be spared sorrow for many years to come.

Supply and demand, sidelined by monopolies

Globes online has a little peak at the effect lack of competition has in Israel in the field of food prices.

Food importers are pocketing millions of shekels at the expense of consumers and their own employees, says the Finance Ministry.

The major food importers have exploited the strong shekel in recent years to pocket millions of shekels at the expense of the consumers, who should have benefited from lower prices, Ministry of Finance chief economist Yoel Naveh writes in his weekly review of the Israeli economy. According to his analysis, the profit margins of the food and beverages importers began to surge in 2007-2008, when the shekel strengthened against foreign currencies. Profit margins dropped somewhat in 2011, following the social protest, but aggregate profit rose again in 2012.

One key takeaway:

Naveh says that the aggregate profit of the 10 largest food importers rose 230% in real terms in 2005-2013, while their salves [sales] volume grew only 31%.

That’s quite some profit growth.

And the lack of competition? Globes says:

The fact that the price differences did not reach the consumer, but was retained by the importers, can be explained by the lack of competition in the food import sector. For example, in 2008, when the shekel strengthened significantly against foreign currencies, instead of falling, imported food prices climbed 11.5%, far beyond the increase in the general index.

According to Naveh, the rise in profit margins was even steeper among the 10 largest food importers, adding, “The shekel exchange rate cannot by itself explain the change in the importers’ profit margins.”

So, these companies are making a killing.

What about the workers?

Naveh’s analysis also indicates that as of 2013, the number of workers employed by the food importers totaled 20,000. Their average gross monthly salary was NIS 9,200, following an average rise in real terms of only 6% in 2003-2013, less than the 7.6% average rise in wages in the economy as a whole during that period, while the profits of food importers as a whole doubled in real term.

That’s the reality of economics in Israel: a small market, lacking competition in many areas, allowing profits to rise without challenge, and wages to be artificially (but effectively) kept low, without an effective counter.

In times such as now when security is at the forefront of the news, it may be excusable to leave this thorny topic alone. But it is also a threat to our society, and a social and economic issue that must be addressed.

The Globes piece is here.

UN incitement – Report: UN Officials Inciting Murder of Jews, Call to “Stab Zionist Dogs”

From UN Watch:

GENEVA, October 16, 2015 – UN staffers are using the imprimatur of their official positions to incite Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks against Israeli Jews, with one UN-identified employee calling on Facebook to “stab Zionist dogs,” according to a new report issued today by UN Watch, the Geneva-based non-governmental organization that is accredited by the United Nations with the mandate to monitor the world body’s compliance with its charter.

Embarrassing for the UN? Only if they cared.

You won’t see any coverage of this at the BBC. You won’t see any coverage of this at the Guardian. It does not suit their world view, it appears.

Read the UN Watch material here.

[First seen at Elder of Ziyon.]

Five for Friday

That was the week that was: a full week at work. Back to some sort of routine there, but somewhat difficult to completely focus on that in the continuing midst of the current terror campaign. However, as I have said before, we will not kowtow to terror, and will fight this the best way can: by living life as we wish to, and damn the consequences. For example, I am just back from a brunch with Susan at Biga in Kfar Saba. The place had been packed out, but luckily we arrived at an opportune quiet moment. And the brunch was very nice indeed. It was a good feeling to see normal life (so far as any life in Israel is normal!) continuing.

Now for this week’s selection of links. Here they are:

This week’s bonus

> Read this: Palestinian rioters set fire to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus

> Then this: Everything you need to know about the conflict, you can learn from Joseph’s Tomb

Highly informative. Well worth noting for future reference.

Shabbat Shalom!

The German who discovered the Volkswagen emissions scandal

From the BBC:

“I’m just a simple engineer from Michigan,” says John German, the man who helped discover the Volkswagen emissions scandal.”

There is a feature on Mr German, being an interesting look at how the situation was revealed. It tends to highlight the strange conceit somebody at VW – actually more than one person – had that the defeat devices would never be discovered.

Note this extract from the BBC piece:

“Mr German finished his report and turned over all his team’s data to the EPA in May 2014.

He says he also sent a courtesy copy to Volkswagen.”

So VW knew, or ought to have known, in 2014.

Compare and contrast with this from the VW CEO: (seen at the Register):

Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn has played the “rogue employee” card to explain how and why his cars’ engine software cheated in pollution tests.

While being grilled by the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday, Horn said he only learned of the existence of the so-called emissions-hoodwinking “defeat device” in September of this year, when regulators uncovered the nefarious software.

Horn, like the rest of VW’s upper crust, claims that management was entirely in the dark about the fact that more than half a million cars in the US had been rigged to suppress emissions while being tested, only to surpass the EPA-allowed levels of pollutants by more than 30 times when driven on the open road.

These two stories have, shall we say, the potential for conflict. What happened to German’s May 2014 report? Was it never seen by “management?” Seems unlikely. (It may depend on how you define “management” though. At the very least, it seems that in May 2014, somebody at VW knew there was a problem. And, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what the problem was.

But, as to VW’s knowledge,  there’s this, also from the Register:

Volkswagen was reportedly warned about rigging emissions tests on its vehicles years ago, not only by one of its suppliers but also the German car giant’s own engineers.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper, VW’s technicians flagged up concerns about the engine management software the company was using in its motors back in 2011.

It was also reported today [27 September 2015] that VW had been cautioned eight years ago not to rig the tests by its software supplier Bosch. According to Bild am Sonntag, Bosch had written to VW in 2007.

Questions for VW

So, what happened in 2007? And who knew then? And who did they tell?

And what happened in 2011? And who knew then? And who did they tell?

And what happened in 2014? And who knew then? And who did they tell?


VW will keep wriggling, but we probably have not heard the last of the ‘who was responsible’ story.

You can see the John German feature at the BBC, here.

Ross reveals his view of Israel and Obama

Dennis Ross is not an out and out Israel supporter. Therefore, when his newly published book – Doomed to Succeed: the US-Israel relationship from Truman to Obama – fingers the personalities in the White House who have been working so hard against Israel, I’m inclined to believe him. He describes the factions and their respective positions, with varying degrees of animosity towards Israel. Not, it should be said, against Israel’s existence. But very much animosity towards Israel’s actions.

The Times of Israel has some details here, from which I offer one extract:

From the outset, this factionalism on Israel characterized nearly every choice presented to the president. Ross pushed for a landmark speech to the Muslim world delivered from Cairo and then immediately followed by a trip to Israel, but was overruled by Obama aides Dennis McDonough and Ben Rhodes, who convinced the president to forgo an Israel stop on that trip, arguing that it would be “too traditional.”

So Obama went to Egypt, and left Israel out of the picture. From there on, it was largely downhill.

The book would appear to give us a better understanding of the source of Israel’s woes with the Obama administration. The question is whether its replacement can be persuaded to see things in a different way. I would like to think that logic will prevail, and an objective assessment of the US’s position in the world will clearly demonstrate that what has happened has been bad for the United States, and there needs to be a change for its sake. But, there are vested interests in play, and no guarantees. All we can do is hope and pray.