German, Jewish and Neither

Yascha Mounk in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_480 Jan. 05 16.51My family, too, came to West Germany as immigrants. Born in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, my grandparents embraced Communism as teenagers, leaving home to become political activists. They survived the Holocaust by fleeing to the Soviet Union and returned to Poland after the war, keen to put their ideals into practice at long last. But then the regime they had helped to build threw them out amid a large-scale anti-Semitic witch hunt. Out of options, my mother and her father sought refuge in West Germany.

Born in 1982 as the citizen of a peaceful, affluent and increasingly cosmopolitan country, I spent a mostly happy childhood in places like Munich, Freiburg and Karlsruhe. I was a fervent supporter of the national soccer team and dreamed of running for the Bundestag. German is, and will remain, the only language I speak without an accent.

My family’s Jewish identity has never been strong. I had neither a bris nor a bar mitzvah. When I was young, my mother gave me Christmas presents so that I wouldn’t feel left out.

Even so, as I grew older, I felt more and more Jewish — and less and less German. Gradually, I concluded that staying in Germany was not for me.

The reaction of my classmates in Laupheim might suggest that ignorance or hatred — which have subsided since I was a child, but remain real problems — are why I left. But that’s not quite true. If there was one thing that made me feel I would never truly belong, it wasn’t hostility: It was benevolence.

More here.