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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ausweis bitte !

“Can you prove that you are Jewish?” is the surprising question that I received at security control of the new synagogue in Munich [1]. The guard was politely asking me to prove that I am Jewish by showing him my identity documents.

Vigilant control in German synagogues appears necessary [2] and questioning visitors is a common measure of security [3].

Requesting identity documents to establish if someone is Jewish could be regarded as a pragmatic and indirect technique of ethnic profiling. Many Jews have easily recognizable Jewish names or surnames, and until recently Israeli identity cards even included an obligatory reference to the bearer's ethnic group [4]. Ethnic affiliation of emigrants from the former Soviet Union might also be established with a passport or a birth certificate because the Soviet governments have always regarded the Jews as a nationality [5] (ironically enough, citizens born from a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother also hold Jewish nationality).

Requesting someone to prove that he is Jewish by showing his identity documents is very different though and might appear as a quite disturbing practice for a German synagogue.

Anti-Jewish legislation in prewar Germany decreed that all Jews were obliged to carry identity cards that indicated their Jewish heritage, whereas Jewish passports were stamped with an identifying letter "J" [6, 7]. It could be noted here that the new synagogue in Munich opened on the anniversary date of the Kristallnacht [8], making therefore a clear reference to Nazi Persecution of Jews in Germany. Jews in today’s Germany do not need a mention of their religion or ethnicity on their identity documents anymore.

As far as I am concerned, the answer to the initial question is very simple: no, I cannot prove that I am Jewish with my identity documents. It simply never crossed my mind that anyone would ask me to [9, 10].

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