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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Israel's purchase of German Volkswagens opens wounds

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JERUSALEM - Retired agronomist Shmuel Elhanan speaks German and talks fondly about his parents' house in Berlin.

But like many Israelis and German-born Jews in the United States and elsewhere, Elhanan, 77, has a love-hate relationship with his homeland.

He is a Holocaust survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. For decades after World War II ended, he refused to set foot in the country responsible for killing his family and millions of other Jews.

So Elhanan was angry when he learned recently that the Israeli government will begin buying Audi cars from Germany's Volkswagen. Skoda, a Czech automaker also owned by Volkswagen, will fill out the government's fleet of cars over the next four years.

VW's history includes using slave labor during World War II. Hitler himself was responsible for the prototype design of the VW Beetle and the company went on to build military vehicles for the Third Reich.

"It's a very hard thing to understand," Elhanan said. "Why would our leaders want to drive in German cars? Do they understand the impact ...?"

Germany, Israel now allies

For decades after Israel's founding in 1948, it was virtually unthinkable for anyone living in the Jewish state to buy German products, especially from companies that were part of the Nazi war effort. There are an estimated 240,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today.

But the anti-German phenomenon faded as time passed and wounds healed. Germany is now one of Israel's closest political and economic allies.

Volkswagen contributed to a $1.7 billion survivors' fund set up by 12 German companies in 1999 to acknowledge "remembrance, responsibility and the future." VW also established a separate fund for surviving workers and families of the wartime slave labor force.

Tens of thousands of Israelis visit Germany on holiday and educational trips each year. Israeli stores now stock all types of German-made goods: kitchen appliances, consumer products and clothing. Israel also relies on German-made weapons for its armed forces.

Yet both Israelis and their government have tended to shy away from German cars.

German imports represented only 8 percent of car sales in Israel last year, a small number that industry experts say is due to the lingering unease about the role modern-day manufacturers played in the Nazi era and the high cost for luxury cars.

Israeli officials have used Volvo cars for more than 20 years, so both business analysts and politicians reacted with surprise when the government announced this month that the Audi A6 and Skoda Superb models would become the new autos for the government.

A spokeswoman for the Finance Ministry said the government considered three major factors: price, safety and maintenance costs. She declined to provide details about the cost of the contracts with Audi and Skoda.

Mr Bagel: I considered buying an old Volkswagen Beetle a while back as a runabout, then I remembered who was responsible for its initial design. That was enough for me.

I'm not so sure I would feel comfortable owning a German car.

Much publicity is given to the gestures that Germany has made towards the sufferers of the Shoah. But there's one very hard to ignore fact.

Why are Jewish communities forced to fund raise to build synagogues which were destroyed by the Nazi's? Making well publicized gestures still does not account for the enormity of the damage the Nazi's caused to Jews.

Germany really can't undo the physical and emotional pain and suffering caused by the Nazi's, but it certainly could help with the rebuilding of Synagogues especially in Germany.

If Germany was really interested in forgiveness then they have a long way to go. Including replacing all the places of worship which were wiped out by the actions and hate of the Nazi's.

Making gestures of compensation to living individuals 60 years on, is simply an exercise in cynical cost effective accounting. Why weren't they made when the vast majority of Jews who suffered due to the Shoah were still alive?

What do you think? Would you/do you drive a German car. Are you comfortable with the Israeli government's plans to procure cars for their fleet from the German manufacturer?

1 comment:

Mr Bagel said...

Mr Bagel

I recently posted an article on the discovery of Ancient Jewish gravestones found in Germany from the twelve century in Mainz. The Mainz [Magendza] Jewish community is currently fund raising to build a synagogue in Mainz. There existed many synagogues in Mainz until the Shoah.

Mainz is rich with the history of Christian churches, yet it seems the long history of the Mainz Jewish community is poorly represented from a Architectural point of view as almost all Jewish Buildings were destroyed in the Shoah.

If you would like to donate to the Mainz Jewish communities Synagogue Project then click here: Donate to the rebuilding of a Synagogue in Mainz