Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Auschwitz privilege in West Germany

During a debate that took place at Harvard University in 1985, Romanian-born Jewish scholar Andrei Markovits told of how in 1964 he'd witnessed his cousin use his "Auschwitz bonus" to bully a West German police officer into ripping up a ticket that had been put on his illegally parked luxury car by accusing the policeman of being a Nazi and having washed with soap made from members of his family:

When my father and I first visited our relatives in Frankfurt in 1964, we found a parking ticket on our hosts' car as we exited from a movie theater. Irate about this, my father's cousin drove to the police station and demanded to speak to the officer who had penalized him for parking in a clearly prohibited area. Without attempting to justify his actions - indeed boasting of his contempt for what he called "this Nazi law" - he asked the officer in a hostile tone whether he (the officer) had taken showers during the war. When the startled policeman, who was probably in his mid-fifites, answered affirmatively, my father's cousin shot back: "Well I just wanted you to know that you washed with soap which you Nazis made out of my family." Shocked and speechless, the policeman tore up the parking ticket. My father's cousin, exiting triumphantly from this Frankfurt police station, had been the beneficiary of what has been called the "Auschwitz bonus," or as Günther Rühle, the Schauspielhaus' director was later to put it, the "Schonzeit" or "no hunting season." 
I remember distinctly being very upset hearing for the first time that Jews were made into soap by the Nazis. Confronting my father on this matter, he confirmed what I had taken to be hyperbole of his cousin's rather flamboyant style. I detected that my father was also upset about the parking ticket incident, though for different reasons than I was. In part, he was jealous that his cousin could cash in so profitably on this "Auschwitz bonus," which was non-existent in Austria. My father was also worried that in the not too distant future this "Auschwitz bonus" would be depleted in the Federal Republic as well, especially once police officers such as the one who rightfully penalized his cousin began to be drawn from a generation which was born after 1945. 

"Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Garbage, the City and Death: Renewed Antagonisms in the Complex Relationship between Jews and Germans in the Federal Republic of Germany", 
Andrei S. Markovits, Seyla Benhabib, Moishe Postone, New German Critique, No. 38, Special Issue on the German-Jewish Controversy, Spring-Summer, 1986, p.5.

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