Stefan Schlüter’s mission for the past 30 years has been to improve the relationship between Germany and Jews around the world. That mission came from his time serving in the German Federal Foreign Office from 1979 until 2017.
“You can only do so much in explaining what has been done in Germany since the Holocaust,” Schlüter said. “You can only do so much explaining of what contemporary Jewish life is in Germany right now. People have to see it for their selves and the next best thing from going to Germany is being in contact with a German who can convey what the country is about.”
Schlüter visited Phoenix as a part of a seven city U.S. tour to discuss how Germany faced its past and the rise of nationalism and populism in Germany and Europe. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix hosted the former diplomat at the Valley of the Sun JCC on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
The JCRC’s executive director, Paul Rockower, said that the organization was honored to host Schlüter.
“This program offered a powerful opportunity to learn more about the specter of rising anti-Semitism and populism both in Germany and throughout Europe,” Rockower said. “Herr Schlüter has demonstrated throughout his career that he truly values engagement and dialogue with Jewish communities all over the world.”
During his time as a diplomat, Schlüter worked in several embassies. From 1986-1990 he served as the spokesman of the German Embassy in Tel Aviv. He then served as Deputy Consul General in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s and in the same role in New York City in the early 2000s. In 2014, he was the Consul General in San Francisco. After leaving the German Foreign Service he began working at the German Foreign Office’s Diplomatic Academy in Berlin.
While working in those roles, the former diplomat engaged with several different synagogues and Jewish organizations about Germany’s post-Holocaust relationship with the Jewish people. He even scheduled several trips to Germany for North American rabbis.
This second U.S. tour was made with the same purpose. In October 2018, Schlüter visited 12 U.S. cities in the Midwest and Southeast. During the trip he engaged with more than 1,200 attendants. Last year’s tour was in collaboration with the American Council on Germany and the American Jewish Committee.
Although this current tour is not sponsored by the AJC again, the ACG, German company Allianz and the World Affairs Councils of America are supporting it.
Schlüter described some of the policies that Germany enacted to combat anti-Semitism and what America should be paying attention to as a nation.
“Under the pretend umbrella of the First Amendment, there’s a lot more freedom to express anti-Semitic views than there would be in Germany,” Schlüter said. “It is illegal to deny the Holocaust in Germany, for example.”
He added that the U.S. has to pay attention to the early warning signs of what anti-Semitism looks like and how it grows.
His U.S. tour comes shortly after the tragic synagogue shooting in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur that resulted in the deaths of two bystanders. Schlüter, who was at his home in Hamburg at the time, was shocked and saddened to hear what had happened.
“We’re making a lot of progress in Germany and I think it has become a great place for Jews to live,” Schlüter said. “However, it’s sad that we have to say that. It really breaks my heart that there has to be a police presence at most synagogues now. I don’t see it as much in Germany, but I see it all the time here.”
But even in dark times, Schlüter said that he felt hopeful about the future for the relationship between Jews and Germany. He believes that the actions of Germany during the Holocaust compel him, as well as others, to address the country’s history and to improve the relations.
His presence in Phoenix was an opportunity to create a stronger understanding and Rockower was grateful for his appearance.
“This type of people-to-people exchange is vital for our community to help us better understand the complicated historical dynamics of the German-Jewish relationship, and offers context to understand the trends that the Global Jewish community faces,” Rockower said. JN