On the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, their work was honored with Germany's most important music award. And, despite the symbolism, it looked as though the duo would get away with it.
Germany's music industry initially refrained from condemning the popular musicians, who have broken several commercial records with their most recent — and most controversial — album. Their record label, BMG, refused to cancel their lucrative contracts, arguing that the lyrics were “art” and protected by free speech.
But public pressure mounted, as some of Germany's top performers returned their own Echo awards in protest. Some leading German musicians branded the lyrics “contemptuous of human dignity,” and “misogynistic.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also weighed in, saying that “anti-Semitic provocations don't deserve awards, they're simply disgusting.”
“We have to protect Jewish lives — every day and everywhere,” Maas said.
Last week, the duo's label BMG finally announced it would not record any more songs with the pair and vowed to spend more than $100,000 on educational programs to counter anti-Semitism.
One of the rappers, Felix Martin Andreas Matthias Blume, who is known as Kollegah, later apologized for the Holocaust reference. But by that point, the Echo awards' reputation had suffered irreparable damage, the organizers said Wednesday.
The decision to scrap the awards entirely comes in the midst of amid a national debate about anti-Semitic incidents that were reported in Germany during the past months. In the latest attack, two men — ages 21 and 24, at least one of whom was wearing a Jewish kippah — were assaulted by an attacker who whipped them with a belt in broad daylight in one of Berlin’s most gentrified districts, Prenzlauer Berg, last week.
The assault sparked widespread condemnation, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling it “horrible.”
Merkel later vowed to make tackling anti-Semitism a priority. “We have refugees now, for example, or people of Arab origin, who bring a different type of anti-Semitism into the country,” Merkel said in an interview with Israeli television.
Her remarks came a week after a report released by an Israeli university concluded that Jewish life around the world is under attack once again by “classic traditional antisemitism.” Although acts of violent anti-Semitism dropped by nine percent between 2016 and 2017, other incidents, such as abuse and harassment, are on the rise and have led to a “certain corrosion of Jewish life.” The study found that “Europe’s largest Jewish communities are experiencing a normalization and mainstreaming of antisemitism not seen since the Second World War.”
Ever since World War II, Germany has been perhaps most committed to ensuring the safety of Jews, besides Israel. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of Jews in Germany has risen sevenfold, to an estimated 200,000. About half of them are part of Jewish communities.
Synagogues are guarded by police at all times, and anti-Semitic incidents usually trigger large-scale investigations. Yet anti-Semitism hasn't faded completely.
Although conservative commentators and the far right mostly blame a recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents on the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have entered the country since 2014, as well as Germany's second- or third-generation immigrants, right-wing attacks on Jews are still more common, according to the country's Interior Ministry.
As troublesome as such attacks, however, may be the broader acceptance or tendency to overlook anti-Semitic stereotypes in parts of German society, researchers say.
This year's Echo awards could become their prime example.
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