A long line of children from different countries crowd together in front of the entrance to the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin. It is summer vacation from school but they are still there, in organized groups and led by a teacher.
The “terror” in the exhibit is Nazi terror, and the exhibition is not easy to see. It’s not fun – certainly not summer vacation fun. It’s no fun seeing the brutal racism from before their parents were born, in a country they don’t know, and of peoples they don’t belong to. It’s no fun going there when, just a 10-minute stroll away, the Friedrichstrasse offers everything that Europe can give young people. But here they are. And their visit is educational – and education is not always fun.
The visit to the exhibition educates on openness. When you bring children from Italy, Portugal and France to such an exhibition, you don’t intend to teach them only about racism in Germany. Their main interest is not in what the Germans did to the Jews, but racism and the damage it can do.
The main thing parents and teachers want is for the children to understand that racism still exists in the world in which they live. It is not just a history lesson; it’s a lesson in human nature, and its ugly side. They learn from such an exhibition that human nature does not change, and what happened in Germany could happen to them, too.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a long line of students in front of it, too. So too the Louvre in Paris and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. There, too, it is not just a matter of art, but educating about openness. Children learn that the world does not begin and end with their own language and religion. They learn that their culture influenced, and was also influenced. They learn that the cave paintings are connected to Egyptian hieroglyphics, Russian icons, Renaissance paintings and modern art.
One could ask, What do you want? After all, this is Europe. You can get from Paris to London by train in about two hours, and Paris to Berlin in three. That’s true, but the other culture is not five hours’ flying time from us. It’s here with us, under our noses – just stand up and gather it up. Why collect it? Just ask Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. Why openness? Ask Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Regev knows, Bennett knows and Orwell wrote about it: “Ignorance is strength.” They’re in power thanks to ignorance, and the ignorance keeps them there. If we were to learn about the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, we might possibly think there are Arab poets, too. And if we go on the internet, we might think that being gay is not a disease. And if we learn about Renaissance art, we might discover that the New Testament exists. Wait, wait, Bennett is raising his hand: In the end, our children will think that European culture is not just Eurovision and the UEFA Champions League.
In order to fill the cracks in the wall of ignorance, we have invented the proud idiocy “Ignorance is cute.” We are no longer shamed by our ignorance. Instead, we are actually proud of it. Haven’t read Chekhov? So what? Don’t know who Quentin Tarantino is? Who cares?
Acceptance of culture – all culture, Western and Eastern – is the admission ticket to human society. And this ticket is a declaration of our being part of it. Nationalism, ignorance and religiosity close off this entrance to us, and only the internet offers us a side door. In the meantime, we are outside. We tell ourselves that everyone hates us anyway, so let’s just concentrate on ourselves.
If I was culture minister, I would not have approved an exhibition on racism here – what are we, Breaking the Silence? We don’t talk about racism, because if we talk about racism, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the racist and the victim.
Also, we are not willing to talk about racism because we are not ready to share the suffering. As far as we are concerned, only anti-Semitism is racism. Racism against Jews is a crime, and racism against others is sometimes a necessity. It is enough to call African asylum seekers a “cancer” and the message gets through. In Berlin, the cradle of Nazi racism, I met many mixed-race couples. I felt embarrassed, and I know why: In enlightened and liberal Tel Aviv, I never met one such couple.
Forget about racism. Except for the eternal participation in our sorrow, we do not want anything from the world. Well, maybe just something small: to let us be part of the war against Islamic terrorism. But when we finally want to belong, they close the door in our face – our disappointment that the gunman in Munich last Friday didn’t act in the name of Islam could be heard as far away as Berlin.