Elster's World

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing (At This Point)?

In a fast German car, I'm amazed that I survived - Radiohead.

I was brought up in a home where we hated everything German. The perpetrators of the Holocaust were never to be forgiven and the best way to honor that was to never buy German products. Germans were all Nazis and every German product was taboo city. My dad shook his head when my wife and I purchased our first set of JA Henckle knives (though let the record reflect that a few years later, he did the same thing!).

But the creme de la creme of German hating was the disdain for their automobiles. Mercedes. BMW. Audi. These were akin to curse words. Who cares if the Germans make some of the finest cars. Other cars would simply have to do. There was, to put it bluntly, no excuse for ever buying a German car.

I don't think my dad was unique in his thinking on this subject. I'm pretty sure his generation mostly felt this way.

But it seems there's a new generation now. And a new way of thinking. I leave shul in the morning and I always see a few minyan-goers pulling away from the curb in their Beemers or Audis. My around the corner neighbor has a Mercedes SUV and my friend swears by his Volkswagon.

My guy reaction has always been that these German auto owners are just wrong. That it's a slap in the face to Jewish survivors to drive around in these cars. This is the way i was brought up. That buying German products is, in a sense, a statement of forgiveness for the Holocaust.

I guess the question is, is that fair? Does that logic still work? If they could, would the Germans still ethnically cleanse the Jews? Is that really the national desire, though obviously well hidden, or was that the expression of one insane man in a very insane time which somehow spun out of control?

And while, of course, we can never forget - the question is, are we correctly remembering by boycotting German products? Is that really the way to keep the legacy of the Holocaust?

As usual, when I have questions, I don't have answers.


  • My own view is that we should recognize that the current generation of Germans are not the same Germans that murdered millions of Jews, while also recognizing that the enormity of the Holocaust makes things like vacationing in Germany or buying a German car taboo.

    The issue is less one of boycott than us not forgetting. For that reason, using German knives is different from driving a German car. People are often identified by the types of cars they drive.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 11:56 AM  

  • I agree. That's why the CAR was always the REALLY BIG DEAL.

    The newer generations of Germans seem to be sincerely remorseful for what occured in WWII (which isn't to say there is no anti-semitism in Germany today).

    I also think I agree with the fact that the way we can practically remember is to not buy the products.

    Good comment Joe.

    By Blogger Elster, at 12:37 PM  

  • Tom Hummel from Norway comments:

    Give me any nation and blame and harrass a particular ethnic group over and over again until it becomes a truth and the nation will behave like the Germans, but in a less orderly manner. (Ordnung muss sein..)
    One of the best ways to influence people is by trading with them. This was the ingenious idea the americans made real after the second world war. Many norwegians were participating in blaming the jews and made no effort in preventing them beeing arrested and sent to Germany during the war. Make no mistake: You and I can be extremly inhumane in certain situations although we are absolutely certain that we will and simply can not...

    By the way:
    Jon Elster is also a well known norwegian philosopher. Be proud and interested in your name!

    (I'm not a blogger or know how to be, so excuse me for beeing anonymous)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:54 AM  

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