Attitudes to Germans

Ron Resnick (
Sat, 13 Sep 1997 01:12:04 +0300

Just some idle thoughts on our return from Rhodes.

Rhodes is an island at the extreme eastern edge of the Aegean, about as
far from mainland Greece as you can get and still be in Greece. It's a stone's
throw (about 20km) from the Turkish coast.

It's been settled since prehistoric times by Phoenecians, Athenians, and other
sorts, then more recently by Crusaders, Ottoman Turks for about 400 years
until WWI, Italians for about 30 years until 1943, then German Occupation
for 2 years 43-45, British Mandate rule 45-47, then unification with mother
till the present day.

Historical industries used to be what you'd expect for a Greek island;
olive groves,
fishing, a ceramics industry, a bit of a winery. But in the last 30 years, the
only industry that matters is tourism. 90%+ of the population depends
directly or indirectly on tourism. The olives and ceramics etc. are pretty
much just kept around as tourist attractions. Isn't anything real anymore?
Virtual 'real authentic olive groves' maintained for the disposable-camera

Most tourists, not surprisingly, are Europeans looking for sun, and cheap
food/booze. Very cheap actually - full course steak dinner for about $10US.
Lots of English, Scandinavians, and especially Germans. More Germans
than anyone else. Also lots of Israelis like us on charter groups.

Some impressions gathered on attitudes to German tourists in Rhodes.

1. A travel brochure picked up in the hotel lobby 'Welcome to Sunny Rhodes',
or something like that, is written in 4 or 5 standard languages: Greek,
English, German, French, Swedish, I think. Maybe Italian. I read the English
'history of Rhodes' section - it basically was a chronology much like
the para. I wrote above. Then I glanced at the French - seemed to
replicate the English. Then Deutsch: I don't speak German, but
I've seen enough to follow a flow. Besides, you can't miss numbers.
The numbers 43-45, present in English/Francais, are not there in Deutsch.
It goes from the Italian era right to freedom and modern Greece. Hmm.

2. A native Greek/Rhodian tour guide takes us on a bus tour of the island.
Check out the ersatz olive groves, right there on the left! The 'authenic'
ceramics factory is great fun, with the little 'Made in China' logos on the
bottom of the vases. On the bus, she goes
through the island history, and lends some personal flourishes to her story.
Of course, she knows she's talking to a busfull of Israelis. When describing
the Italians, she's full of invective. The Italians deceitfully took
after the Ottoman WWI defeat with a promise to preserve Rhodes freedom,
but a secret plan to convert the island to an Italian territory, she recites.
Village names are changed to Italian, the Orthodox church is 'Catholicized',
etc. The message: Italians are snakes. No fan of Rome, this lady.
Then the German era. "The Germans occupation was difficult",
she tells us, "as I'm
sure you know. Resistance leaders shot, villages destroyed to set
examples". Very matter of fact. No bitterness. Not even close to the
anti-Italian invective of moments before.
After all, the Krauts only murdered folks; they never tried to Germanicize
this little paradise.

3. Our Israeli group leader is giving us yet another perspective on the
island history. This one in Hebrew, in a sort of conspiratorial "here's the
real scoop on what makes people tick in this place" way. "What the
Rhodians think but won't tell outsiders". The real goods. He tells us
that it's a simple matter of knowing which side your bread is buttered on.
Locals remember very well the German occupation. But that was 50 years
ago, and life moves on, and today the island economy would collapse
entirely if it wasn't for Herr & Frau Schumpeter from Bavaria taking a bit
of sun and having a few steins and souvlakis amid the Crusader ruins
of Rhodes. You don't go pissing off your customers, it's as simple as that.
Whatever the natives really think of the Master Race, they keep to themselves.
This, our fearless leader, notes, is oh-so-different than the Israeli
of immediately escorting every foreign visitor, and especially German ones,
straight off the plane and right to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial
in Jerusalem. Where Rhodians are the tread-lightly type, Israelis are the

So I was really thinking about all this. Who's right? Dunno. 'Right' doesn't
really have anything to do with it. Who's attitude am I more comfortable with?
Dunno. Both, I guess. Neither. Of course, Israel likes to think of itself
as the moral
response to the horrors of the Holocaust, and in no small sense defines
its very essence as Jewish survival & defiance. Holocaust remembrance
here is a very large, and sombre, part of regular national life.

Modern Israel, like modern Rhodes, happily accepts German Deutschmarks
in its hotels and tourist attractions. German visitors are no small part of
the tourism industry in Israel either. Both places, presumably, recognize
that the
modern Deutschland and Volk are not their grandparents, and cannot
be held responsible for their grandparent's deeds. How do you condemn
24 year old Frederik for what his grandfather Hans may have done 50 odd
years ago?

What relevance to attach to a slogan like 'Never Again!"? Never Again should
Germans form a fascist state, and engage in mass execution of Jews,
Gypsies, homosexuals? Never Again should they build extermination
camps, and feed them with precision- scheduled railways full of victims?
Or Never Again should any organized grouping of humans be permitted
to gang up and brutalize any other organized grouping of humans, with
no meaningful international censure? If it's this broader lesson we're trying
to learn, clearly the world proves again and again that it could care less
about the lessons of the past.

What is the statute of limitations, not the legal one,
but the personal one we 2nd and 3rd
generation children of the actual survivor's generation, must use to get on
with life in the modern world?

Are we 'forgetting' history if we act like Rhodians? Or are we perpetuating
a massive victimized psychosis if we act like Israelis?

These are not idle questions.
I see myself as already tormented and haunted between 'let it go' and 'never
forget <isomorphic to> never forgive'. It's too late for me.
But there's future generations to think
of. What about my kids? What do I want to tell them about their history?
I don't want ghetto kids. But I also know that the majority of German
and Western European Jewry who made their way east to death during
the war, were the same liberated, intellectual, freethinking intelligencia
type I fancy myself to be. It doesn't matter if *you* don't think you're
a stereotyped Jew; it's what the antisemite thinks that matters.

How to tell my kids that Dad is a liberal who believes that all people should
treat all other people with respect and compassion, but that ultimately
I harbor fears that this kind of naive attitude gets a lot of people killed
if it isn't tempered with something a lot stronger. And that I still
consciously avoid things German wherever possible. I prefer not
to buy German, or visit Germany. One night, travelling in Europe
10 years ago, I had to take a train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam.
Those 3 hours crossing northern Germany, stopping in Hamburg, will
stay with me forever. A plague on them. Who needs their Deutschmarks.
Aw, hell. I guess I don't care if the Rhodians take them. I just don't want
any for myself.