Turski: Do mosques in Germany need similar protection to synagogues?
Grinfeld: Personally, I only know a few mosques that get such protection at the moment. Whether they need such protection you´d have to ask persons within that community. However, the situation is different in the case of refugee accommodation with many Moslem inhabitants. The reason for this violence is the same; many people think that the refugees are not part of our society.
Looking back on the history of the last century, you could sometimes think that certain circumstances are repeating themselves. Do you think the people do not learn anything from history?
Turski: Sometimes, people learn from history, sometimes they don’t. Looking back at the Weimar Republic, I can understand why it was possible for a populist movement to achieve success. At that time, Germany was suffering severely from the consequences of World War I. This is not the case today. Germany is successful. However, how can we be sure that the generation now growing up really understands how such a regime could arise? Do we teach them enough about the steps that led to this situation?
Grinfeld: The Holocaust is generally dealt with in detail in German schools. However, the question is whether people really learn any lessons from this. I think that the generation now growing up does not have a full understanding of what we should learn from the Holocaust and the Shoa. I think that that is a lack of individual understanding. Everyone in Germany should integrate the lessons to be learnt from the Holocaust in their own lives. One of the main problems was highlighted by last year’s “Global 100” study. One of the statements used in the survey was: “Jews in Germany talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”. In Germany, 42 percent of respondents agreed with this statement. Almost half of the people interviewed evidently did not understand what the Holocaust meant for their own lives, for freedom, for democracy, for all minorities or even for their friends and neighbors. That also applies to people in Germany who do not have German roots. Even if you do not have German ancestors, there are many lessons for your own lives to be learnt from the Holocaust.
Turski: We talk about antisemitism and the Holocaust as Jewish problems. The Holocaust is always seen as a tragedy for the Jews, but it was also a tragedy for Europe as a whole. The crimes of the Nazis clearly show what damage dictatorships can do – they ignore human rights. Nowadays, it is not sufficient to take young people through former concentration camps like Auschwitz. You need to speak to them. They must understand what happened in Germany at that time, how something like that could happen and how the Holocaust came about.
No, it really is a European problem. When will Europeans realize how dangerous discrimination can be for them themselves? Not only for Jews, Muslims or other minorities. Discrimination is a danger – it paves the way for dictatorships.
In many cases, antisemitism is manifested online nowadays. What is the significance of the Internet in this context?
Grinfeld: For example, I am horrified by the gaming scene of which the attacker of Halle also formed part. The perpetrator was part of an online community of right-wing extremists who all had no problem with violence – violence against Jews, women, LGBTIQ people or people of color. These online extremists are globally networked, reinforce each other’s views, and even exchange information on planned attacks or the production of bombs. There is also a rise in the frequency of conspiracy myths on the Internet. QAnon is a good example; there are online channels with 150,000 followers. QAnon is full of hatred for Jews, Muslims, immigrants and other minorities, indeed everything that is in any way seen as alien. If it is so easy to disseminate hatred, we can and must do something about it. We must combat this hatred.
Mr. Turski, in an open letter last year, you warned Mark Zuckerberg about the excessive hatred on his network. What do you think about the role of the social media?
Turski: Perhaps the impact of the Internet is similar to the invention of printing by Gutenberg. People back then simply could not imagine how effective this invention would be, how it would change their culture, their mentality and the way they learnt. I use the Internet myself, because it helps me. But I am not part of it, although my children are. To be honest, I feel a bit too old for social media and do not want to waste any time with Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. But friends, as well as my daughter and my grandchildren, have told me about the problem. In my open letter, I appealed, for the sake of democracy, for Holocaust deniers to be given no space on Facebook.
Grinfeld: The major technology companies have a special responsibility because their platforms have become part of our everyday lives. I think it is important for these companies to understand their responsibility. On the other hand, government has a responsibility to introduce appropriate regulations. In mid-2020, the ADL launched its campaign “Stop Hate for Profit”. Together with other NGOs, the ADL issued a call for no further advertising to be placed on Facebook until the platform had proceeded actively against hatred, fanaticism, racism, antisemitism and disinformation. As a result of this appeal, Holocaust denial and racism are now banned from Facebook. However, the progress being made is very slow. Facebook and the other platforms simply need to recognize their responsibility and have to change things as soon as possible. Nevertheless, these developments do show that companies and organizations can make a difference with their attitude and their approach against hate.
Volkswagen is a company with a special history which was closely connected with National Socialism in the early stages. Does it have a special responsibility against this background?
Grinfeld: Volkswagen acknowledges its history, which was certainly a long and painful path. There are many other companies in Germany that have not yet taken these steps. I wish that they would take responsibility. Nevertheless, I still see some challenges at Volkswagen. The company is a global brand and significance also entails responsibility. I think that VW needs to continually review its own position. What are our values? How do we see ourselves as a global player that has made considerable efforts to come to terms with its past? How can that be compatible with business relationships in regions where there is a lack of democracy and respect for human rights? People at Volkswagen must always be aware that they must send out a message which is combined with considerable responsibility, irrespective of what they say in public and how they act.
Mr. Turski, via the International Auschwitz Committee, you have been familiar with Volkswagen’s memorial site work for many years. What do you expect for the future of this cooperation?
Turski: I keep a very close eye on what Volkswagen is doing in the area of the culture of remembrance. I like what Volkswagen is doing. I expect Volkswagen to continue to sensitize young people to a humane approach and to support their commitment in this area. The young people from Volkswagen that I have met in Auschwitz have been very dedicated to their work. This makes me happy. I want these young people to speak out. They are multipliers for the work they are doing.
There is one thing I would like to recommend: please carry out a sociological study within your company to find out whether these committed apprentices are only a minority or whether they share their experiences, whether people listen to them and whether they pass on their important message to their colleagues. I would find the results most interesting and would be very happy if your answer was “yes”.