′No present without a past′ | German-Jewish Cultural Heritage | DW | 29.11.2012
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German-Jewish Cultural Heritage

'No present without a past'

Research in ten different countries, striking protagonists, a panorama of German-Jewish culture around the world: Both the present and the past are documented in DW's new multimedia project.

Jewish life and Jewish culture belong to Germany once more. Since 1989, the Jewish community in Germany has grown more quickly than in any other European country and now includes more than 100 congregations and 100,000 practicing members. Yes, there is a Jewish normalcy in our country again. It is important for Germany - and yet not something to be taken for granted.

Starting in 1933, our country marginalized, abused, banished and destroyed Jewish culture and Jewish lives. Millions of people became victims of the National Socialist racial ideology. Around 400,000 Jews left Germany in order to escape the Nazi terror and its machinery of extermination.

At the hands of the National Socialists, German society lost authors, artists, directors, philosophers and leading researchers. The majority never returned. Both men and women were affected, including physics genius Albert Einstein, painter Max Beckmann, star authors like Kurt Tucholsky and Nobel Prize-winner Nelly Sachs, great thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno. The former American foreign minister Henry Alfred Kissinger also originally came from Germany. They took with them their experiences, traditional German habits, their customs and tastes. Some more than others.

Like the protagonists in our multimedia project "Traces of German-Jewish Heritage." DW reporters traveled to 10 different countries around the world in search of the stories of German-Jewish émigrés. When did they arrive? What did they bring? How did they influence the culture in their new home countries? And how does (their) Jewish life look today?

Eyewitness accounts

Now the eyewitnesses to persecution and exile can be seen and heard. Because of that, it was our journalistic concern to place these individuals in the foreground, to interview them and document their stories. They are not just refugees of the Holocaust, but also Jews whose families left Europe before that historical caesura: The political and racist persecution of Jews began long before 1933.

Among those we met are historians, museum experts, artists, a chef, rabbis, business people, poets, musicians and archivists traversing three generations. The result is a series of portraits profiling strong, engaging and striking personalities. A significant number of them enriched Jewish culture in their new home countries by founding Jewish cultural institutions.

We visited the city quarters in which German-Jews traditionally lived, visited museums, were guests at large family gatherings, at a literature festival, in living rooms, at a Yiddish class and in newspaper offices. We also went in search of former ghettos and memorials to the victims of Nazi crimes against humanity.

These life stories connect to form a colorful patchwork of German-Jewish culture around the world. Our voyages of discovery make it clear: Our modern-day German society cannot be understood without this past.

Responsibility of Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle Editor-in-Chief Ute Schaeffer

Editor-in-Chief Ute Schaeffer

The project reflects our mandate and the journalistic values of Deutsche Welle. We want to show Germany as a modern and open country, but also as a society which recognizes and knows the value of its cultural and historical roots. It is a society which at the same time recognizes its unique responsibility in relation to Judaism, a society in which the majority stands against assaults and hostilities which have at times occurred in the more recent past.

With the support of the Moses Mendelssohn Center and the Federal Foreign Office, DW has successfully documented this unique aspect through extensive research. It is a small cultural history with an array of engaging protagonists. I hope that your interest has been awakened. We welcome your thoughts and comments on the project at feedback.english@dw.de.

Ute Schaeffer is DW's editor-in-chief for regionalized content.