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Why Is Anti-Semitism Returning to Germany?

Owing to a spate of anti-Semitic incidents and the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, many Germans have begun to look for parallels to the darkest period of their country's history. But to understand what is going on in Germany – and across the West – they should be looking to the future.

BERLIN – Though the British Labour Party’s anti-Semitism scandal has dominated headlines of late, there is a more profound debate with the same theme taking place in Germany. Most worryingly, the fundamental tenets of vergangenheitsbewältigung – the collective project of coming to terms with the country’s World War II past – are shifting.

This historical reckoning was hard won. During the early post-war era, Germany went through various stages of denial about the horrors committed during the Nazi regime. But in 1968, an intergenerational culture war exploded, as the children of Nazism faced up to the responsibilities of their parents – culminating in the violent excesses of the Red Army Faction. As historical scholarship documenting the crimes of the Nazi regime continued to pile up in the 1980s and 1990s, the German political establishment reached a consensus that the country’s historic guilt and responsibility must be a central part of its national story.

But since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her policy of Willkommenskultur (“welcoming culture”) and opened Germany’s doors to refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, unease about resurgent anti-Semitism has been growing in the German establishment, and particularly in the Jewish community.

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