Tanya Gold

When is a Jew not a Jew? When they are German and Gentile

Germans impersonating Jews is not common, but it is less rare than you think...


Portrait Fabian Wolff

July 27, 2023 11:08

A German-Jewish journalist called Fabian Wolff, who wrote for the Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine, has discovered that he is not Jewish at all.

It took years for Wolff, a vocal supporter of the Israel boycott movement, to realise that his mother’s claims of Jewish ancestry were untrue.

Continental Europe has many Jews who hid their true heritage or had it hidden from them.

Even so, the non-Jewish Jew — a fascinating figure — has meant peril for established Jews in the past.

Ten years ago, a German poet called Irena Wachendorff was exposed by the Munich-based investigative journalist Jennifer Pyka. Wachendorff faked a Jewish identity, and a mother who had survived Auschwitz. (In truth, her father was in the Wehrmacht.

She still insists he “advised” a rabbi, whatever that means; her mother was not in Auschwitz.)

Wachendorff claimed to be a veteran of the IDF and used her imagined experience to attack Jews, calling some Israelis “the neo-Nazi troop among the Jews”.

Germans impersonating Jews is not common, but it is less rare than you think. The Shoah has many expressions, and this is one. It as if the obsession lives on.
Marie Sophie Hingst was a German writer and historian living in Ireland who wrote a popular blog called Read On, My Dear, Read On.

She was raised a Protestant — her grandfather was a pastor — but she invented a French-Israeli mother who committed suicide and an ancestry of 22 Holocaust victims who did not exist. She wrote to Yad Vashem with details of them, seeking to add their names to the memorial.

Why? We can’t know.

After Hingst was exposed by Der Spiegel in the article “The Historian Who Invented 22 Holocaust Victims” in 2019, she committed suicide aged 31. Her mother said that Hingst had “many realities and I had only access to one”.

Others are less sad, though more maddening. Sometimes they are (unintentionally) funny.

A fake German Jew tried to break the blockade of Gaza in 2010; a fake German Jew accused “the Zionist regime” of “Holocaust denial” by refusing to acknowledge the Nakba and allow all Palestinian refugees to return to Israel in 2013; a fake German Jew was president of Pinneberg Synagogue in Schleswig-Holstein. That is my favourite. It reads like an Ealing comedy.

I can imagine a desire for Jewish identity from ethnic Germans that is benevolent, at least in intent: a kind of denial, for they are making new Jews in their minds.

This, of course, is to minimise — to misunderstand — what Judaism is, and what it has lost: those murdered cannot be replaced by actors.

Twenty years ago, I went to Israel to interview the children of Nazis who had converted to Orthodox Judaism.

In some — but not all — cases, it was a function of shame: one woman told me she was disgusted by her own German-ness, and I found this both odd and touching. She felt so much disgust at Nazi crimes that she repudiated an identity she could not bear and sought another. It was a kind of penance.

But fantasists — I do not include converts in that category — are not only a danger to themselves. Some fake Jews do not merely insult Judaism with their perversion of it.

They gaily imperil real Jews, and their hunger to live as us displaces us in turn. It is the most insidious form of antisemitism, because it is erasure: if they are Jews then what are we?

Irena Wachendorff campaigned against Israel while “teaching” about the Shoah. Jennifer Pyka, the journalist who exposed her, wrote: “Six million dead Jews serve her own publicity and at the same time she undertakes a perfidious victim-perpetrator inversion to damage Israel and all Jews.” Such people have helped to create the current crisis: if a Jew hates Jews, who doesn’t?

We have our stripe in Britain, less gaudy than the German kind, but they do not have the catastrophe of the Shoah and its emotional imperatives to drive them on. They are opportunists.

We are familiar with the Corbynista Jew-hater who falsely claims Jewish identity to bait Jews, and to silence them. They are anonymous; they live on

There is also the Corbynista anti-Zionist with partial — and almost always non-practising — Jewish identity.

There is nothing wrong with not practising Judaism, but there is a cynicism to those who are raised in a different faith, or none at all, returning to incite hatred against others. If they had lived in the Jewish community, they might hate us less.

If it is sometimes fantasy, and sometimes cynicism, it is above all glib: a manque of Judaism without history, intellect, or morality. That is, nothing Jewish at all.

July 27, 2023 11:08

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