Germany’s antisemitism commissioner, Felix Klein, warned in an interview with The Guardian that the country’s recent increase in anti-Jewish violence risks transporting the country back to its “most horrific times”.
Klein, who became Germany’s first federal commissioner tasked with battling antisemitism in 2018, said many in the country were worried that the situation would continue to deteriorate.
“People are shocked to hear news of houses where Jews live being marked with a Star of David,” he said. “Because that, of course, rings a bell and brings us back to the most horrific times we had in this country.”
The comments come amid a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in Germany in the wake of the Hamas-Israel war.
German police have responded to a rise in antisemitism by pre-emptively banning most rallies expressing solidarity with the Palestinian Arab people. Last week education authorities in Berlin went further, telling schools that they could ban students from wearing PLO flags, kufiya scarves and “free Palestine” stickers.
Klein said he was among those who were concerned that the freedoms of peaceful protesters were being curtailed.
“It is worrying me too,” he said, “because of course demonstrating is a basic right.”
The debate, added Klein, was “very, very heated up, very emotional”. “And of course, here [in Germany], unlike in other countries, we have this historical situation.”
Earlier this week, Germany’s chancellor and president strongly denounced the rise in antisemitism in Germany in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made the comments at a rally in Berlin, where thousands gathered at a demonstration called to show opposition to antisemitism and support for Israel. People carried Israeli flags or posters with photos of some of the people reported to be missing or held by Hamas as hostages.
“It is unbearable that Jews are living in fear again today — in our country of all places,” said Steinmeier, adding, “Every single attack on Jews, on Jewish institutions is a disgrace for Germany. And every single attack fills me with shame and anger.”
Earlier, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was outraged by the antisemitic agitation spreading as the Gaza war rages, and warned at the inauguration of a new synagogue that the vow of “never again” must be unbreakable.
“I am deeply outraged by the way in which antisemitic hatred and inhuman agitation have been breaking out since that fateful October 7, on the internet, in social media around the world, and shamefully also here in Germany,” Scholz said. “Here in Germany, of all places.”
“That is why our ‘never again’ must be unbreakable,” Scholz said as he gathered with Jewish leaders at the Weill Synagogue, noting that the community has recently grown as it welcomed people from Ukraine.
Scholz is one of several world leaders who have visited Israel in a show of solidarity following the Hamas attack on October 7.