“Faultless to a Fault”: A Prescient Look
at Zenophobia Today from 25 Years Ago

I was sorting through some old clippings the other day when I came across “Faultless to a Fault” by Karen Breslau, torn from the September 28, 1992, issue of Newsweek. The subtitle was “After the Jewish problem, the Polish problem, the asylum problem–what about the German problem?” Since 1992 I have been reading book after book and dozens of articles trying to understand how many Americans can blame Poland for the Holocaust, as most recently done by Jan T. Gross in his books Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland and Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz. Gross’s books are part of what motivated me to create a list of books that are essential for an understanding of the horror unleashed on Poland during World War II where the Nazis established their death camps.

As I reread Breslau’s 25-year-old one-page article, I was astounded by the prescience of her analysis: “Throughout their history Germans have grappled with the ‘Jewish problem,’ the ‘Polish problem,’ the ‘Turkish problem” and now the ‘asylum problem,’ all the while ignoring the more profound German problem underneath.” The irony of Germany’s welcoming stance toward immigrants and refugees, said Breslau, is that “Germanness is to this day is determined by blood, by the atavistic law of jus anguina.”

Breslau’s article foretold today’s populist and nationalistic tendencies in Europe and the USA. Her warnings were ignored then by the right and the left, which has only led to further political polarization, especially in the US, France, Britain, and now in Germany, where immigration and refugee issues have given new vitality to zenophobia and intolerance.

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