Influential Central Council of Jews and World Jewish Congress both give backing to Berlin politician Sawsan Chebli’s proposal to tackle hateful attitudes among new arrivals to country
Alarmed by displays of anti-Semitism among new immigrants to Germany, a German politician has offered a novel idea that appears to be gaining traction: required visits to Nazi concentration camp memorials.
The idea, proposed by Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, received a significant boost on Wednesday when the leaders of Germany’s Central Council of Jews and the far larger World Jewish Congress agreed with her.
“People who have fled to us who have themselves had to escape or been expelled can develop empathy in such memorials,” the council’s President, Josef Schuster, told Deutschlandfunk radio.
The World Jewish Congress, a leading advocacy organisation that represents Jewish communities in 100 countries, also welcomed the idea.
“This proposal is an encouraging and effective method of educating people of all backgrounds about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population of Europe and the dangers such hatred can yield,” Ronald S. Lauder, the organisation’s President, said.
“Germany has faced up to the crimes of its past in an honest and straightforward way, and has made it clear at the highest levels of government that the memory of the Holocaust must never be forgotten or diminished,” he added.
The idea of requiring new arrivals to visit concentration camps was not universally endorsed. Some scholars of German history described it as a simplistic answer to a more complicated and insidious problem.
“You don’t stop someone from being a racist or xenophobe by taking them to a concentration camp,” said Sabine von Mering, director of the Center for German and European Studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. “I don’t think that making it a requirement is somehow going to magically solve this problem. It requires a lot more attention and education.”
It was not clear whether the German government would move to make such visits mandatory for immigrants, who are currently offered courses on German language, culture and history.
But the suggestion reflected a growing concern that Germany’s absorption in recent years of more than 1 million immigrants had inadvertently created potential incubators of anti-Semitism.
Sensitivities about the Nazi past are extremely strong in Germany. Student trips to former Nazi concentration camps are regular elements of German school curriculums.