The twin crises over the possible demise of the euro and rise of the neo-Nazis haven’t put much of a damper on the holiday spirit in Berlin. The city is awash in stollen, marzipan, lebkuchen, and chocolate Santas. The other day I ran away from a real Santa in a department store with Sam in tow, fearing yet more sweets and hefty dental bills. But Santa was persistent. When he caught up to us and offered a tangerine, I felt like the little Jewish Grinch who spoiled Weihnachten. There is a “Bad Santa” on the loose in Berlin too. He’s been cruising the Christmas markets and offering drinks spiked with liquid ecstasy to holiday shoppers. That may sound appealing to some of you, but apparently it doesn’t sit too well in the victims’ stomachs.
Germans seems to exhibit even more holiday hysteria than Americans. But not everyone in Germany is having a jolly season. The families of the neo-Nazi terror cell victims are still coming to grips with the revelations that their loved ones were murdered by right-wing skinheads, not members of their own ethnic communities. Der Spiegel reported this week on how Suspicions Destroyed Lives of Victims’ Relatives, offering detailed accounts of how these families had to defend themselves against insinuations that the victims were members of organized crime gangs. As the truth about the murder of eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant has emerged, it comes as little surprise to learn that some of the victims’ relatives are now planning to leave Germany. This news hit even harder as it came alongside media reports that the case against the sole surviving member of the terror cell was making little progress in the face of her refusal to answer questions.
The usual reminders to think about others during the holiday season are especially poignant for me this year as I think about the tragedy that has caused some members of Germany’s immigrant population to leave the country. There is much to be illuminated when we light the Chanukah candles next week: the lives of families destroyed by hate, the path that leads us away from racist terror, and Berlin’s incredibly short winter days when the sun sets before 4 pm. May the menorah’s lights cast their glow in these dark places this year.