1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Cologne lit up by anti-Semitism

Kathleen Schuster
November 30, 2016

Germany's Jewish community still faces hate. One NGO, along with several political groups, shed light on the problem across five German cities. DW's Kathleen Schuster reports from Cologne, the final stop on the tour.

"Against all anti-Semitism!"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Dedert

It takes about 30 minutes to list off the recent anti-Semitic crimes committed in Germany. That is to say, it takes 30 minutes to highlight 126 of them slide by slide onto the side of a building - which is exactly what happened in Cologne on Wednesday evening.

The figure 126 represents just a fraction of what is expected to be at least 1,000 for this year, according to the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, an NGO which campaigns against right-wing extremism and discrimination. It has chronicled anti-Semitic crimes since 2002.

On Wednesday night, the Foundation projected slides detailing these incidents onto the back wall of one of Cologne's largest art museums, illuminating what would be a dark side street on any other winter evening.

"Two women on the street car refuse a seat to a college student after discovering the Star of David on her necklace. Berlin April 6, 2016," reads one of the slides.

The unexpected light on the wall distracts a cyclist. He glances up and continues to look over his shoulder at the projections as his bike propels forward. Passersby notice the small assembly, look up, gaze briefly and continue to walk. Very few of them stay until the end.

Deutschland Amadeu Antonio Stiftung Anti-Semitismus in Deutschland
"An employee of the Burger King on Alexanderplatz refuses to serve an Israeli coffee, saying 'I don't serve Jews.' Berlin October 10, 2016"Image: DW/K. Schuster

'Not a surprise'

Most of the participants have ties to the event, including Angelika Scherb from a local chapter of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The high number of crimes "doesn't surprise her." Between her own experiences of anti-Semitism as someone with Jewish heritage - she once received a threatening e-mail over her support for Israel, for example - as well as conversations over the years, she knows anti-Semitism has not left Germany.

"A lot of people think anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, it's over and now we're a tolerant society," she tells DW.

In 1925, the German Reich had roughly 560,000 Jewish citizens, most of whom were murdered under Adolf Hitler's dictatorship. Now only about 100,000 people comprise Germany's Jewish community - or roughly 0.001 percent of the population, according to the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Deutschland Amadeu Antonio Stiftung Anti-Semitismus in Deutschland
A bright beam of light shines past the onlookers who've stopped to watch the slideshowImage: DW/K. Schuster

Anti-Semitism in Germany

Miki Hermer, the project leader behind the installation in Cologne - the fifth and final city to host the event, attributes ignorance of and complacency toward modern anti-Semitism to the historical division of former East and West Germany, as well a misconception of the hate Jewish citizens continue to face in their daily lives.

"Anti-Semitism is mutating. It's looking for and finding new outlets," Hermer tells DW.

In 2015, German police recorded some 1,300 anti-Semitic crimes, including damage to property, harassment and physical attacks. The number from the previous year was actually 1,596, a change largely attributed to reactions to the Gaza conflict, which also reflected an ever more prominent facet of anti-Semitism, namely its link to anti-Israeli sentiment.

Local student Bastian Satthoff notes this growing trend in the left scene, which he says does not stop simply at criticizing the Israeli government, but seems to single out Israel in a harsher way, sometimes resorting to old anti-Semitic rhetoric - perhaps without even realizing it.

"Even in my circle there are people who fundamentally accuse Israel of killing children, which is something I would consider anti-Semitic because it is specifically the Israeli military that's being singled out in these accusations," Satthoff tells DW, noting a perceived lack of criticism for other militaries also engaged in similar combat.

Deutschland Amadeu Antonio Stiftung Anti-Semitismus in Deutschland
Hannelore Bartscherer of Cologne's Catholic Committee says she hopes the city will continue this installation in the coming years at many unexpected sites across the cityImage: DW/K. Schuster

Anti-Semitic sentiment across the EU

A recent survey in Germany by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation asked whether Jews "take advantage of the history of the Third Reich." One-quarter of those surveyed said yes. Some 40 percent also agreed that it was understandable "that people have something against Jews considering Israel's policies."

These figures correlate with a 2013 survey by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, which found that over one-third of those surveyed in Germany had experienced harassment within the previous five years. In Hungary it was 43 percent, and in Belgium 38 percent. Some 10 percent reported discrimination within the work place, while roughly 8 percent experienced prejudice in schools or training or said their children had.

Between 60 and 80 percent refrained from reporting the incident to the police or any organization depending on whether they had been harassed, threatened or physically attacked. Almost half (47 percent) of those surveyed said they worried about verbal insults, while just over one-third worried about physical attacks. Over 20 percent said they sometimes avoided visiting Jewish events or sites over safety concerns.

Deutschland Amadeu Antonio Stiftung Anti-Semitismus in Deutschland
Participants donned a mosaic button in symbolic support of Jews facing discriminationImage: DW/K. Schuster

Small crowd still a 'success'

Only about 12 people, most of them associated with the event, show up on Wednesday night. After the slideshow ends, they move from one historical Jewish site to the next, remembering the decimation of the majority of Germany's Jews under Hitler's regime.

They stop at the site of the old synagogue, which the Nazis burned to the ground on November 9, 1938. Each person receives a pin modeled after the mosaic from the building.

Pedestrians inadvertently walk through the group from time to time. One man rushes out of his front door only to discover the group laying a rose on the plaque that lies at the foot of his stoop, a daily reminder of the deaths of millions.

The group goes largely as unnoticed as the installation seemed to an hour before. But Angelika Scherb doesn't see the low turnout as a failure. Within an hour of its conclusion, her photos of the event on Facebook have been received positively.

"The event was a success because the message was delivered clearly. These types of events will certainly be repeated very soon."