Archaeologist's Comments to Haaretz Accusing Cologne Authorities of anti-Semitism Spark Storm in Germany

Politicians and editors lash out at the archeologist after he told Haaretz he believes 'latent anti-Semitism' is behind opposition to an excavation of a site in Cologne inhabited by Jews for centuries.

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Comments made by a German archaeologist to Haaretz accusing opponents of an excavation of being driven by "latent anti-Semitism" have sparked a storm in Cologne, with politicians and newspaper editors blasting the archeologist.  

The Haaretz article, which ran on April 6, described the archaeological excavations that have been carried out in the German city over the past few years, which have unearthed evidence of Jewish life in Cologne since the first century C.E.  There are proposals to turn the site into a Jewish museum. In the interview with Haaretz, the archeologist in charge of the project, Dr. Sven Schuette, said he believes that some who oppose the excavations – which have been criticized for their duration and cost – and the museum idea are driven by "latent anti-Semitism."

"They think it would be more appropriate to build a nice plaza here, rather  than a Jewish museum, said Schuette. He also accused the Cologne authorities of deliberately ignoring the Jewish past of the city for many years. As early as 1950, Jewish artifacts were uncovered here, but there was no interest in them," he said, adding that: A decade ago as well, when the preservation plan for the site was being drawn up, they talked about setting up a museum of Roman architecture, with not a word about the Jewish quarter." Schuette also told of the death threats he received.

Following its publication in the English edition of the Haaretz website, the article was quoted extensively in Cologne's media outlets, and sparked angry criticism of Schuette. "If he did say that, it is unacceptable and unbelievable," said Karl Jürgen Klipper, a senior member of the Christian Democratic Union party in Cologne. "His behavior is completely irresponsible. He has hurt the city's image and damaged the project," said Martin Börsche from the Social-Democratic party.

Schuette denied the comments that were attributed to him in the Haaretz article, and said in response to the local Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper: "I completely deny this. My remarks were taken out of context. I did not say that." Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger is owned by the German publisher Alfred Neven DuMont, who is also one of the owners of Haaretz.

The newspaper's editor, Peter Pauls, published a scathing op-ed in which he attacked Schuette's comments to Haaretz, and accused him of damaging the city's image at an unfortunate time – the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. "Many citizens participated in the discussion regarding the establishment of a Jewish museum – in a serious and sometimes critical manner. Are they all anti-Semitic just because they supported more restrained development of the town hall plaza? Of course not," he wrote.

In the interview with Haaretz, Schuette explained that not all of the city's residents were happy to discover that Jews had lived in their city since ancient times, since this means that Jews had been part of it for thousands of years, and were not only "guests" there: We are basically showing that the Jews lived here continuously from as early as the first century C.E. What this means is that they were part of our people and an integral part of the history of this city, of Germany, and of Europe as a whole. They were not a separate people, he said, and added: What does that say about the Holocaust? That we killed our own people?

Staff cataloging findings from the dig in Cologne, led by archeologist Sven Schuette. Credit: Ofer Aderet
Cologne archeologist Dr. Sven SchuetteCredit: Stadt Koeln Archaeologische Zone / Juedisches Museum
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Some of the artifacts that were discovered at the Cologne dig.Credit: Courtesy of Stadt Koeln, Archaeologische Zone / Juedisches Museum
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Photos courtesy of Stadt Koeln, Archaeologische Zone / Juedisches Museum
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One of the artifacts from the Cologne dig that indicate a Jewish presence dating back to the first century. Credit: Photos courtesy of Stadt Koeln, Archaeologische Zone / Juedisches Museum