Subcontractors of Guilt
Holocaust Memory and Muslim Belonging in Postwar Germany
Esra Özyürek


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: German Holocaust Memory and the Redemptive Path toward Democracy
chapter abstract

Racialized groups, such as Middle Eastern/Muslim-background Germans who helped to build up postwar Germany, have long been considered both external and irrelevant to the postwar public German narrative of democratization, including with regard to the white Christian-background German reckoning with the racist crimes of the Nazis. The perceived irrelevance of non-ethnic Germans to Holocaust memory underwent a radical and unexpected change beginning in the 2000s. Since then, Turkish- and Arab-background Germans have been central to the public narrative, although primarily as obstacles to German national reconciliation with its Nazi past and its embrace of democracy now and into the future.

1 Rebelling against the Father, Democratizing the Family
chapter abstract

The chapter follows Holocaust education and antisemitism prevention programs organized for Muslims. By acknowledging their responsibility in the oppression of Jews, leaving behind aspects of what they define as their "honor culture," and rebelling against their fathers in order to set themselves free, they are in effect declaring themselves ready to integrate into German society. Central to this stigma removal work is an all-important offer by Middle Eastern/Muslim-background Germans to position themselves at the starting point of the path ethnic Germans have walked since the end of World War II; that is, by shouldering the burden of German history in a way that in fact does not belong to them, they hope to enter into the German social contract and be included in the German "us."

2 Export-Import Theory of Muslim Antisemitism in Germany
chapter abstract

Despite police reports showing that the overwhelming majority of antisemitic hate crimes are committed by right-leaning white Germans, Muslims have been singled out during the past two decades as the main carriers of antisemitism in Germany and throughout Europe by a discourse that works to define antisemitism as unique and wholly separate from anti-Muslim racism. As drivers of this discourse, German government-issued reports on antisemitism and education depict Muslims and their antisemitic attitudes as external to German society. In this depiction, the new struggle against antisemitism imagines a new Europe, and in particular a new Germany, that has liberated itself from antidemocratic tendencies that had survived from its antisemitic Nazi past. It locates antisemitism outside of Europe, obscuring the connections between antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism, both active forces throughout German society.

3 Wrong Emotions / Wrong Empathy for the Holocaust
chapter abstract

That Muslim-minority Germans, specifically Turkish and Arab Germans, failed to engage with the Holocaust in the correct way became a concern for Holocaust educators since the 1990s. The most common complaints were that immigrants (1) feared that something like the Holocaust could happen to them, (2) envied the status of Jewish victimhood, and (3) took pride in their national background. The feelings that Middle Eastern/Muslim-background Germans expressed throughout my fieldwork ran counter to the expectations of Holocaust education programs aimed at triggering feelings of remorse and responsibility. Muslims who expressed feelings outside of that narrow framework were judged to be lacking in moral qualities, even at times lacking the capacity to be good citizens. Yet, a Husserlian understanding of empathy demonstrates that the emotions triggered by standing in someone else's shoes begin and end in the shoes one already has on.

4 Subcontracting Guilt, Policing Victimhood
chapter abstract

New Holocaust education programs designed for Muslims open up space for minorities to enter into Holocaust memory discourse through affiliation with the German perpetrator. Participants learn about and enact the narratives of the Mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with the Nazis and righteous Arab and Turkish Schindlers who saved Jews. Through this engagement, some Muslim-minority Germans attempt to enter the realm of moral German citizenship. At the same time, this very model prevents them from claiming the victim position as Palestinians and Lebanese in relation to Israel, and as Middle Eastern/Muslim-background Germans in relation to white Germans. While successfully accepting them into Holocaust memory in the majority of German contexts, the script produced, perfected, and performed by a number of Muslim individuals compels them to engage with the Holocaust in relation to their own forebears but not in relation to ethnicity-based German nationalism.

5 Visiting Auschwitz as Pilgrimage and as Shock Therapy
chapter abstract

Holocaust education projects aimed solely at Muslims often utilize a visit to Auschwitz as a form of shock therapy. Muslims who participate in these Holocaust education projects aim to transform themselves, and often exhibit signs of severe anxiety about whether they will be able to go through this transformation or not. Equally important, these projects aim to shock the mainstream German population by the sight of such unexpected engagement with the Holocaust by Muslims at Auschwitz, a place that has attained semi-sacred status in postwar German national identity. Muslim-minority participants seek to demonstrate to mainstream white German society both that they are willing to shoulder the burden of the German Nazi past themselves and that they empathize with the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. By doing so, they demonstrate their belonging in German society.

Conclusion: Can Muslims Flip the Script of the German Memory Theater?
chapter abstract

Sociologist Y. Michal Bodemann developed the concept Gedachtnistheater to describe both the performative nature of collective acts of national commemoration and the Jewish role as witnesses to white Germans as the latter come to terms with the past and redeem their guilt. Recently, German Jewish public intellectual Max Czollek encouraged all minorities, Jews, and others to disentangle themselves from the roles assigned to them by this national theater; however, while the agency to do so might be available to some Jews in Germany, it is not available to migrantized Muslims. The Muslim youth I met in the working-class neighborhoods of postindustrial Duisburg can unsettle the national memory theater only by inserting themselves into it as actors who perform the script even better than white Christian-background Germans. They have the potential to "flip the script" only by changing the set of actors who can play the given roles.