1.7 Stephan J. Kramer

Sensitive antennae

There are a lot of preconceived notions about Jews. Most are incorrect. Some might be: I definitely do think Jews have a particular sense of humor, generally a bitter one. There’s good reason for that: Throughout history, life as a Jew has often been so bitter that the blackest of jokes were the best way to face it.

Jewish people are also skilled in the art of recognizing danger. Certainly not always. “Knowing danger means avoiding danger” is not always true. To me personally, this kind of “instruction” by anti-Semites really helps me grasp the value of freedom and democracy – and specifically, to know just how important it is to defend it with as much determination as possible.

I myself have experienced anti-Semitic abuse, including physical threats, more than once. In September 2012, I was pestered and threatened on Yom Kippur in front of the synagogue by a total stranger who recognized that I was a member of the hated “Jewish enemy” group.

As the longstanding secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, I also experienced what concentrated hatred of Jewish people is like in my official capacity.

All that was, and remains, an incentive for me to stand up for all people who face defamation or discrimination for racial, political, or religious reasons by all kinds of extremists. Ignatz Bubis, the former president of the Central Council, was a role model for me in his time while I was his personal assistant. Bubis not only took a stand against anti-Semitism, but also against attacks on other minorities and deliberately sought, to give just one example, dialog with Muslims.

Of course, you don’t have to be a minority member a to stand up for democracy. In Germany especially, people know just how dangerous enemies of democracy are, even to the majority society, and how quickly they can drag the entire country to its downfall. Most people in Germany value democracy and freedom and reject extremism and racism. Still, my personal view is that a pronounced Jewish consciousness and having our “antennae” out are helpful in the fight for a society based on mutual acceptance.

Stephan J. Kramer has been the president of the Office for Protecting the Constitution at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Local Government in Erfurt, state of Thuringia, since December 2015. Before that, he served as the Director of the European Office Combating Anti-Semitism for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Brussels and Berlin and as Secretary-General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He worked in the area of individual forced labor compensation for the Jewish Claims Conference, including in Eastern Europe. Kramer studied law, economics, and social work, earning a B.A. and M.A. in social pedagogy and is now a visiting fellow at Rutgers University, NJ (USA).