Wolfgang Kraushaar. Die Bombe im Jüdischen Gemeindehaus. Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, HIS Verlag, 2005. 300 S. EUR 20.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-936096-53-8.
Reviewed by Karrin Hanshew (Department of History, Michigan State University)
Published on H-German (September, 2007)
A Chronicle of Antisemitism and the New Left
The November Revolution, Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch, Kristallnacht, and the opening of the Berlin Wall have made the ninth of November a notoriously conflicted day of national commemoration. With his book on the unsuccessful bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Berlin on November 9, 1969, Wolfgang Kraushaar draws our attention to another such moment--one largely overlooked by scholars and popular memory alike. The attack, the first to be carried out by a group of self-proclaimed "urban guerillas," was planned to coincide with the annual commemoration of Kristallnacht. In what has already proven a controversial thesis, Kraushaar argues that such an attack could only have been conceived and carried out by a new generation of Germans who, despite professions to the contrary, had failed to break fully with the antisemitism of their parents. Kraushaar uses the bomb plot, above all, to suggest the very impossibility of a "clean" break, be it generational or political, with regard to antisemitism in (any) postwar Germany. He convincingly shows how the New Left's insistence that antisemitism was a problem limited to the political Right was not only naive or delusional but also dangerous: it directly facilitated the Left's own latent and manifest antisemitism.
Drawing on published sources as well as interviews and archival materials from the files of the Sozialistisches Anwaltskollektiv and the GDR's Ministry of State Security, Kraushaar seeks to reconstruct the "scene" and actors behind the bomb plot and thereby understand what made a German attack on Jews--and Jewish survivors--conceivable among a subset of the West German New Left. He begins his search with the observation that the late 1960s marked not only a moment of organizational dissolution and political disorientation, but also a time of new beginnings, when new actors, previously on the fringes of university-centered actions, stepped to the fore and refocused the lens of New Left politics in West Germany away from Vietnam and onto the growing conflict in the Middle East. Disappointed and outraged by Israel's territorial expansion following the Six Days War, members of the radical Left launched a campaign against the young Jewish state that, in Kraushaar's estimation, ruptured the thin veneer of postwar philosemitism. Members of both the liberal and radical Left seconded Gerhard Zwerenz in the belief that "there are no left-wing antisemites!" and remained stubbornly deaf to traditional anti-Jewish sentiments resurfacing in anti-imperialist critiques of Israel and calls for Palestinian liberation. The author shows how this uncritical pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel position reached its extreme when a handful of German students armed themselves in solidarity with Palestinian militants and Jews once again became acceptable objects of German aggression.
Despite the centrality of the theme to the work, Kraushaar largely confines his discussion of the New Left and antisemitism to his final chapters in favor of providing an in-depth glimpse of the New Left scene and a "whodunit" crime story. Tying a number of narrative strands together are the life and actions of one man: Dieter Kunzelmann. One-time member of SPUR, Subversive Action, and Kommune I, Kunzelmann finally led his fellow Hash Rebels in the formation of the Tupamaros West-Berlin (TWB), West Germany's first urban guerilla group. After returning to Berlin from the training camps of the militant Palestinian group Al-Fatah in early November 1969, Kunzelmann and company launched a series of attacks on the city. The bombing of the Jewish Community Center was the group's first act, intended both to proclaim the guerillas' existence and to call other members of the radical Left to action. It is here that Kraushaar offers one of his more provocative conclusions: namely, that antisemitism was a constitutive aspect of West German terrorism.
As Kraushaar moves from what made the attack on the Jewish Community Center conceivable to what made it materially possible, he also sheds light on the German government's sinister role in instigating and arming violent action. Specifically, he leaves little doubt that the bomb planted in the basement of the Jewish center came to the West Berlin guerillas by way of Peter Urbach, an undercover agent who gained the trust of Kunzelmann early on and was well known among APO activists for his access to weapons and eager violence. Though the government connection to the guerillas has been suspected for a long time, Kraushaar is able to provide new evidence about the government's role in tipping the scales in favor of terrorism's eventual outbreak. Arguably more crucial to the mystery surrounding the November 9 attack is the identity of the long unknown bomber, a question that Kraushaar conclusively answers. In an interview with the author, Albert Fichter confessed to the crime and described the events leading up to it. Fichter explained his action with heavy drug use, a traumatic experience in a kibbutz, and the uncritical philosemitism of postwar German society in an account that does much to blur the distinction between victim and perpetrator. Though Kraushaar does not dismiss Fichter's role in the bomb plot, his sympathies are clear: he is unabashed in the conviction that responsibility for the November 9 attack rests firmly on Kunzelmann--as the provocateur extraordinaire who planned the bomb assault and then emotionally and physically coerced others into carrying it out.
This is a book whose many strengths are simultaneously a source of weakness, for the material that contributes to the color of Kraushaar's work consistently undermines its scholarship. Aside from missing and incomplete citations, Kraushaar's analysis is overshadowed by at times painful levels of detail (how important is it, for example, that the tape accompanying the bomb plot was recorded in BETA format?) and a text riddled with information "dumps" that, however interesting, serve no clear purpose. This also holds true for the pages of nearly uninterrupted interview transcripts. While Kraushaar's interviews with key actors involved in the plot represent a significant contribution, his uncritical handling of the testimonies--most notably that of Fichter--diminishes what should be the book's indisputable strength. All of this is simply indicative of a general failure on the author's part to control his wealth of sources within a clear analytic framework. While withholding the identity of the would-be bombers until the very end maintains a certain enjoyable suspense, the same strategy, when applied to the book's argument, creates disorientation and disgruntlement.
Though Kraushaar's moral outrage over the Left's blind tolerance of antisemitism is unmistakable, he issues no sweeping condemnation. Kraushaar's goal is not to tar and feather the persons or politics of the New Left. Instead, he presents his readers with a winding, circuitous story, in which political rationales provide little comfort--or justification--for the actions of a few (be they urban guerrillas or undercover agents). Moreover, his narrative reveals the tolerance of larger circles (whether the APO or the newly elected SPD-FDP government) to have been questionable at best.
In the end, little doubt remains that Kraushaar has succeeded where others--including a specially commissioned police force--failed. While every reader can evaluate for themselves Kraushaar's speculations on a possible "order" originating with Al-Fatah, the evidence he presents on Fichter's role as the bomber and Kunzelmann's as ringleader and mastermind is enough to put this particular case to rest. And the controversies he dug up along the way will certainly prove rich fodder for further research on antisemitism, the New Left, and West German terrorism.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Karrin Hanshew. Review of Kraushaar, Wolfgang, Die Bombe im Jüdischen Gemeindehaus.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.