Deutschland über Chai

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I was driving home from a wedding on Sunday night when the strangest song started playing in the car. It was in German, and it turned out that my son had connected his music to the sound system. As I am constantly in search of material for my show, I listened closely, and deemed that it would be a great choice for the 07:00 slot.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jan 23, 2020

I hadn’t anticipated the outraged response that I would receive from listeners. Some hated the song (pretty much a normal day in my life), but others were “disgusted” that I would play a German-language song on ChaiFM, a Jewish community radio station. Others said that it was particularly offensive because this week marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – as though this somehow made my behaviour worse.

“German songs on ChaiFM aren’t an option. With Holocaust commemoration this week, your choice is even more offensive.”

“It sounds like a youth event in the 1940s in the Sudetenland. Please, Howard!”

For clarity, the song I played is modern. It wasn’t around (nor was the artist) in the 1930s or 1940s. It has nothing to do with anything that could have been deemed offensive. It was only the language itself that seemed to trigger listeners.

In order to explore this further, I opened the conversation up to listeners. Many compared it to, for example, driving German cars, and others asked if I would play Wagner (nothing wrong with a bit of melodrama before breakfast).

The answer is that I would not play Wagner, given that he is so closely associated not just with the Holocaust, but with Hitler as well. The song I played could hardly be compared to that. Further, although Wagner is not banned in Israel, it’s accepted practice that it’s not to be played publicly.

I wondered if it was comparable to the sound of Afrikaans to black South Africans, but considering that the language is spoken by people of all races in South Africa, I couldn’t make the comparison.

I also realised that to me, German is the language of my mothers. My grandparents fled Germany just prior to the war, and although my grandfather forbade German to be spoken in his home, this mattered not one bit to my grandmother, who used it as her primary language of communication with her children. I therefore grew up listening to the sound of German spoken between my mother and grandmother as the background sound of my childhood. It consequently makes it difficult for me to have a negative association with the language. I don’t find it jarring. And I definitely don’t find it offensive. Many, however, very clearly did.

I played the song because I liked it. I understand why, in retrospect, it might not have been a perfect match for the radio station. But I do wonder if we should still be offended by the language that was spoken by those who perpetrated the Holocaust.

I wonder further if there is still value in not buying German cars, and if we shouldn’t rather focus more on education and in protecting a history that is under attack. Perhaps it’s time to link the horrific rise in anti-Semitism to the events of the past. And I do wonder if being offended by a German-language song contributes in any way.


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