Some time ago there was an article in the news where a journalist wrote about how a man told her that Jews should all go to the gas chambers. When she replied that she is Jewish and asked if in that case he wanted to kill her too, he answered yes – to her face, without any hesitation. It sparked some discussion about Jews in Germany and antisemitism.
I am very fortunate in that I have never experienced something on that level. Most of my time I spend among very highly educated people who are polite and cultured enough not to say anything like that. I have never been insulted or attacked on the street, also because I am not identifyably Jewish in some way, i pass as "normal". I feel safe. I’ve never even thought about antisemitism as something that I personally need to watch out for in my daily life.
There is a scene in the movie "Comedian harmonists" where Harry has to talk to someone from the Nazi agency for musicians because they won’t let the ensemble perform with the Jewish members. There is no violence, no threats other than not letting them perform, but there is an atmosphere of fear that feels very real. Maybe because it is such an ordinary scene. No concentration camps, no pogrom, no war, just something from everyday life. The clerk is even rather nice. But deep down, there is this disgust, this hatred. So casual, so accepted, so normal.
Deep down, there is something, still today, in your normal, friendly neighbour. And it manifests in small comments that people won’t even perceive as antisemitism. Some of them I have heard: "He seems nice, even though he is a Jew" – "These Jews always look out for one another" – "Well, they are smart" – "But criticizing Israel should be allowed" – and so on. And yes, it is antisemitism, even if I won’t loose any sleep about it.
One of the question a conversion candidate is asked is about antisemitism: "Why would you want to put yourself into danger, when you have the choice?" I never worried, I never felt in danger. But recently I realised that all the small comments that I have brushed off as nothing really amount to something. Something that is hidden, but that may very well come out one day. And that I am not only putting myself in danger, but also others. My husband, my (imaginary, future) children, maybe even parents or friends. And that does make me a bit afraid. Am I paranoid? Or is this worrying a normal side-effect of getting old?