The page one story in the August edition, “Berlin today,” was posted on the Jewish World website, with some additional text and photos. My two-week Scandinavian vacation in July included a side trip, my first visit to Berlin, which I knew would yield material for a Jewish World story. I don’t know why I waited so long to visit that great world city.
One thing that didn’t make it into the print version was the sensational deal offered to those using public transit in Germany.
As I noted in the online version, “Germany instituted a nine-euro ($9.08 USD) monthly pass for public transit during the summer months. This minuscule fare covers all buses, trams, U-Bahn (subway) and regional trains. It’s a great deal and there is talk of extending the subsidized fare beyond August.”
An Aug. 15 story in the New York Times — “Germany’s €9 Monthly Train Pass Has Proved Popular (and a Pleasant Surprise)” — explained: “Through the end of August, in a bid to help offset the inflationary pressures on so many other of life’s essential items, especially energy, the government is subsidizing all-you-can-ride monthly rail tickets for only 9 euros, or about $9.30.” Apparently, the dollar has slipped slightly against the euro since our July visit.
Bärbel Hell, 67 and a retiree, told the newspaper, “I think it helps a lot. It gives people the chance to get away — because who can afford that with gas prices these days?”
Germans, as the Times article notes in the title, are buying the nine-euro monthly passes in large numbers.
“A recent poll conducted for Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, found 55 percent of all Germans in favor of extending the program, with 34 percent against,” the Times reported.
Also quoted in the story was Felix Lobrecht, a German comic and social observer “who by his own admission prefers his Mercedes to trains,” who commented on a recent podcast: “This is one of the greatest things that Germany has thought about in recent years — I would almost say decades.”
And in the way of a follow-up, via Facebook I contacted some relatives of Hirsch Leib Znaider, whose name appears on a memorial to members of the Danish Brigade killed in Copenhagen, May 6, 1945. As I mentioned in the August issue, the Danish Brigade trained in Sweden and returned to liberate its homeland at the end of World War II. At Nuuks Plads, where we took the metro every day, the freedom fighters came under fire from auxiliary Danish police working for the Gestapo. Members of the collaborationist HIPO corps fired from rooftops across the street and killed Znaider and two of his comrades.
I sent a link to my article in messages to Znaiders that I found on Facebook. I heard back from a niece and a great-niece, both living in Copenhagen. Znaider’s niece, the daughter of Hirsch Znaider’s brother, sent a photo of her father, uncle and two others posed in a rowboat on the seashore of Sweden, after they fled Denmark in 1943. This was the famous boatlift that rescued most of Denmark’s Jews. (On the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, there’s a white fishing boat on display to mark the rescue of the Danish Jewry.)
Perhaps, on my next visit to see my son Max in Copenhagen, I can meet the Znaiders and learn more about their historic forebear.
While traveling with my wife in Denmark, Sweden and Germany, I thought about how governments can prioritize the needs of citizens, provide popular amenities like the subvention of public transit fares in Germany. We paid a bit more for our transit passes in Copenhagen; but, riding the harbor buses, the big yellow ferries plying the city’s main waterway, was a pleasurable way to see the Danish capital. Various journals have declared the Danes, or the Finns, to be the “happiest people in the world.”
My son Max, who’s lived in Copenhagen for the past four years, said that the Danes are “content” — their society, not without its flaws, aims for equity and acknowledges human nature as it is. (I won’t go into what Max refers to as the “fixing house,” a building near the popular Meatpacking District, a nightlife hub, where addicts can safely inject drugs.)
In contrast, the United States, in its current state of polarized politics, does not seem to be governed effectively. Twin Cities residents are well aware of the chaos that followed the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd. For most of a week, residents of south Minneapolis and other neighborhoods had no police and fire service. A large swath of East Lake Street, near my home, saw extensive looting and arson. Since May 2020, there are areas that have not fully recovered — some blocks look like a mouth with several teeth missing.
As U.S. society muddles on, we approach the midterm elections in November. A new feature of electoral politics has been brought to the fore by the former president, who persists with his brazen lie that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged and stolen.” Millions of his followers have swallowed this whopping lie and demand that Trump be “reinstated,” a process with no basis in the U.S. Constitution or the law. With Trump, a friend of authoritarians and dictators everywhere, and his cult-like followers, elections now amount to “heads I win, tails you lose.” If an election doesn’t go your way, just organize a mob to lay siege to the U.S. Capitol. We can expect that Republican losers in November will complain unceasingly about imaginary election fraud. The pattern most likely will repeat in 2024.
In Minnesota, the GOP has fielded a slate of extraordinary right-wing extremists to compete against DFL incumbents. One is worse than the next. In Page 2 of this issue, the Jewish World published a JTA report about Dr. Scott Jensen, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, who remains steadfast in his benighted comparison of public health measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of the Nazi regime in the run-up to the Shoah, the destruction of European Jewry. (In Germany today, Jensen could be prosecuted and imprisoned for such comments.)
And at the Minnesota Republican convention in May, Kim Crockett, the GOP-endorsed candidate for Minnesota secretary of state, showed a video that portrayed financier and political megadonor George Soros as a puppeteer pulling the strings on two puppets, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and Marc Elias, the lead elections lawyer for the Democratic Party. Soros, Simon and Elias are all Jews, and the video evoked the antisemitic trope of Jews secretly manipulating government and society.
David Hann, the Minnesota GOP chairman, responded to the uproar over Crockett’s video with a statement: “We wish to assure the JCRC and our friends in the broader Jewish community that the image was not intended to invoke hostility toward the Jewish people. It should not have happened, we apologize, and are committed to working with the JCRC to educate our staff and candidates on antisemitism.”
Best of luck to the JCRC, as they embark on educating Minnesota Republicans about antisemitic tropes.
It turns out that Rep. Ilhan Omar is not the only Minnesota politician taken to task for expressing antisemitic tropes. And she has apologized; Jensen refuses to back down from his COVID-19/Nazi analogy.
In a larger context, there’s a large faction of evangelical Christians that sees themselves as victims, vis-à-vis pandemic restrictions and a host of other social issues. Remember the yellow stars with “Unvaxxed” that anti-vaxxers were hawking last year? This was a play on the yellow star armbands that Jews in Germany and other lands under Nazi occupation were forced to wear. In medieval times, European rulers decreed that Jews must wear a “Jew hat” or other apparel for purposes of religious identification.
Dr. Jensen and other good Christians want to pretend that they’re Jews suffering under Nazi tyranny. It’s really something to behold.
Pres. Joe Biden approached this mentality in a tentative way on Aug. 25 when he told Democratic Party donors in Maryland that Trump’s philosophy amounted to “semi-fascism.”
“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of extreme MAGA [Make America Great Again] philosophy,” said Biden, according to Politico. “It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that … it’s like semi-fascism.”
The October issue of the Jewish World will feature a special section, “Elections 2020: Election Day.” This is an opportunity for elected officials and candidates for elective office to advertise and for the editor to try to make sense of national politics that have taken a turn to the extreme — and to dangerous incitement.
The editors and staff of the American Jewish World wish all our readers a happy and sweet new year.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.