Holocaust dialogue: up in Germany, lags elsewhere
Almost 40 years after the Holocaust the Jewish-Christian dialogue flourishes in West Germany and is picking up in East Germany, the successors to Hitler's anti-Semitic Nazi order.
Paradoxically, the dialogue languishes in France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, themselves once victims of Hitler's expansionism.
On the eve of the yearly world wide commemoration of ''Holocaust Day''(this year April 20) in honor of some 6,000,000 Jews exterminated by the Nazis, this was the assessment of the director of the Jewish half of the continental European dialogue, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich of B'nai B'rith.
In non-Germanic Eastern Europe there is no Jewish-Christian dialogue of the sort that is now finally growing in East Germany. The Marxist-Leninist hostility toward any religion is too strong (with the exception of Yugoslavia). And the political element of Soviet-bloc hostility to Israel subjects Eastern European Jews to additional disfavor.
One reason for West German interest is the shadow still cast from the Nazi German extermination of 6 million Jews. Another is the stricken conscience of the West German Lutheran Church over the church's failure to resist the mass killings.
The result: a new Lutheran effort to interpret the Christian sense of ''mission'' in a way that regards Jews as mature, equal partners (and not just as potential Christian converts). This involves a rejection of the anti-Semitic part of the writings of the founder of the church, Martin Luther, as well as some later Lutheran practices.
The most scholarly exploration of Luther's writings on the subject was a book published late last year in German by a Dutch author. Its title: ''Roots of Anti-Semitism.''
The move also involves a conscious effort to counter any new signs of anti-Semitism in West Germany, and to increase contact with the 30,000 Jews still there. (Before World War II there were half a million Jews in all of Germany.)
Until recently a comparable motivation of conscience from the Hitler legacy seemed to be absent in East Germany, with the exception of a few individual Lutheran pastors. Now interest is picking up, particularly in Dresden and Leipzig.
In East Germany the dialogue still remains at a fairly elementary level. The 550 registered Jews who are left (an estimated 2,000 more dropped Jewish identification during the 1960s drive to get Jewish communists to abandon their Jewishness) are mostly old and passive on such issues. Dr. Ehrlich was therefore especially pleased to see so many young people in the audience at the first meeting of the Dresden Christian-Jewish group.
In Scandinavia, France, and Holland Ehrlich attributes the lack of Jewish-Christian dialogue to different causes. In Scandinavia the secularization of the whole society saps interest in any kind of religious discussions.
In France Ehrlich sees still at work some of the old anti-Semitic mentality associated with the 1894 treason trial of of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew. This is especially true in cults, as distinct from the established Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. There is also anti-Semitism of the kind left over from the World War II Vichy government, as well as expressions from elements of the new left, new right, and lower-middle-class varieties of anti-semetism, he says. A lack of coherent community on the Jewish side, one of the largest such groupings on the continent (numbering 700,000, with more than half from North Africa) also plays a role, he suggests.
The weakness of Jewish-Christian dialogue in Holland is more complex. There, Ehrlich says, the Christian churches would like to have contact with the Jewish community, and a start has recently been made. The Jewish community was so decimated and disoriented by the Holocaust, however, that it has been reluctant to respond.
The special shock of the Dutch Jews arose from the fact that the Jews had been totally integrated in Holland. The first European country to grant full citizens' rights to Jews who left the Middle East was Holland. Unlike some other countries, in Holland this decision was not later challenged.
Dutch gentiles were caught off guard and lulled by confidence that the Nazis would not violate Dutch neutrality beyond occupying the country. They finally rallied to save Jews after 1943, but it was too late to save the 104,000 out of Holland's 140,000 Jews who were deported to extermination camps after 1941. Since the war, Jewish-Christian trust has never been fully restored.
The Swiss have been conducting a Christian-Jewish similar to that in West Germany. The book, ''The Boat is Full,'' has revived controversy over the morality of the Swiss in turning back from the border Hitler-era Jewish refugees from Germany.