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An Open Letter – in response to Wolfgang Höbel’s article in Der Spiegel

Dear Wolfgang,

I congratulate you on finally writing your review of Allein unter Deutschen which, as you told me, is your first non-fiction review.

You portray me as a prejudiced little Jew in a dirty office, a little of a money-grabber, ever accusing but never proving, and a little funny.

I don't know why you have resorted to these personal attacks -- I think these have nothing to do with book criticism -- but I won't bother to dispute your lovely compliments.

I also won't bother to answer any of your imaginative descriptions of the book, as this should be left for the readers of the book, but allow me please to correct your description of our two meetings.

In November of last year, while I was in Germany, you asked me to send you the English-version of the book, entitled I Sleep in Hitler's Room. I thankfully obliged, and then you said you'd like to meet in person.

In January of this year, while you were in NY, you came to visit me. You charged into my office and you said: "I read your book, Tuvia. Very well written, very funny, but I disagree with your conclusions. I don’t see how you arrive from point A to point Z." I welcomed you to sit down and explain yourself to me.

And this is what followed:

Me: Which story in the book doesn't contribute to the graph of point A to point Z? What do you think, for example, about the story with WDR in Köln?

You: WDR? Is it in the book?

Me: Yes, it is.

You: I read the book, but I missed this part. Sorry.

Me: What do you think of my interview with Helmut Schmidt?

You: Is he in the book? Helmut Schmidt is in the book?

Me: Yes, he is. You didn't read it?

You: I read the book, I read it! But I missed this part.

Me: You read the book?

You: Yes, sure.

Me: What do you think of the story about Club 88?

You: Club 88? What's that?

Me: You know. 88. "Heil Hitler."

You: In the book? Is it in the book?

Me: Yes, it is. You didn’t read it?

You: I missed that, I'm sorry. But I read the rest.

Me: What do you think about the imam from Duisburg?

You: Also in the book?

Me: Yes, of course. You didn't read it?

And so we went, you and me, on and on and on. Until, finally, I had enough.

Me: Tell me, Wolfgang, what DID you read in the book?

You: What I read?

Me: What parts of the book did you read? Every story in the book I mention to you, you don’t remember, but you tell me that you read the book. Can you please tell me what pages of the book did you read?

You: The first five pages, and the last five pages.

Me: Are you a book critic for Der Spiegel?

You: I am.

Me: You are a book critic for Der Spiegel, one of the most important German publications, and this is how you review a book, reading the first five pages and the last five?

You planned to write your review immediately after meeting me, without ever reading the book, but after our strange encounter you decided to read the book before reviewing it. Good for you!

Months later we met again; this time in Hamburg.

And we talked.

You: Now I read your book and I still disagree with you.

Me: It comes at no surprise to me. You have made up your mind even before you read the book.

You: No, I didn't.

Me: Should I remind you that you planned to write your review after reading five pages?

You: I didn't read five pages!

Me: Am I making this up...?

You: I read twenty-five!

Me: Can you hear yourself talking, Wolfgang? Okay. Let's say 25. Are you proud of it? To me, that a book critic would even entertain the thought of writing a review of a 356-page book after reading 25 pages of it, is totally unprofessional.

We talked about this at some length. I told you that I don't believe you're such an unprofessional journalist and asked you what made you do this, but I never got a clear answer.

You mention none of this in your article. Instead, you tell your readers imaginary conversations that never took place in reality.

Now, you tell me: Who's making up stories, you or me?

Is there no limit to chutzpah, Wolfgang?

According to your article, I told you that you're an anti-Semite.

Are you for real? To sit down for an interview with a book critic and call him anti-Semite requires the height of idiocy. With all due humility, Wolfgang, I didn't reach that level. Not yet.

Are you an anti-Semite? It's not up to me to say. Let the readers of your article, and of this response, decide for themselves.

Ever yours,

Tuvia Tenenbom

New York, NY


PS: It will be nice if you, and some other journalists like you, start learning how to deal with anti-Semitism. Those in the media who declare themselves to be non-racist but still avoid the issue of racism in the country via the telling of tall tales, perpetual lying, manipulating or – the practice that I hate the most – finding a Jew somewhere to join in the denying and game playing, are guilty of perpetuating racism in Germany. Dealing with the issue, on the other hand, will help all of us realize our big dream: make Germany stronger and better and, eventually, even a light unto the nations.

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