BERLIN - Ten minutes after we had agreed to meet, a text message from Stephan Kramer came through. "Are you there? I'm inside, in the back." Later, Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, explained that he felt safer meeting in a separate room.
We met two weeks ago in the backroom of Cafe Einstein Unter den Linden, located on the famous boulevard. "Do you feel threatened?" I asked him. "I carry a gun 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Kramer responded, adding that he did not feel under threat at the moment because he had just returned to the city after being away.
Kramer said he no longer trusts the Germans. "Only the Jews can save themselves," he said.
On Yom Kippur, Kramer says he made use of the gun, pointing to it "to scare off" a man who threatened him on a street in this city. "He yelled at me very aggressively ... asking me what I am doing here and that I had had no right to be here," Kramer said. "He also yelled at my children, [aged] 8 and 10," Kramer related, adding that the man came within five centimeters of his face.
"He screamed that if my kids weren't there he would ... I had to guess what ... Hit me, kill me," Kramer continued, adding, "Then I decided to tell him that I carry a gun and showed it." Kramer explained that he opened his coat to reveal the gun to the man but emphasized that he did not draw the weapon. "I hoped it would scare him," Kramer said."
Both men filed complaints with the police, who are investigating the incident.
Kramer, 44, has held his post at the organization, which oversees 106 Jewish communities comprising around 100,000 individuals, for five years. Berlin, where he lives, is home to about 12,000 Jews.
Just a few weeks before, Kramer related, he was standing near the Cologne Cathedral with other Jewish leaders when a group of people "passed us on the street and said, 'Look, Jews!' the way that people say, 'Look at the monkeys in the cage," Kramer said.
Once, Kramer said, only "losers and drunks" did such things, but "today it's people from the middle of society ... bank clerks, insurance agents, people with cars and children," adding, "When it reaches the normal people it's more dangerous."
When asked about the reasons for this behavior Kramer said: "It's not because they love Hitler and what he said. It's because they fear for the future. The economic crisis and [Germany's] identity crisis" makes Germans more extreme in their attitudes toward minorities, Kramer suggested.
Kramer spends most of his time these days fighting opposition to ritual circumcision in Germany. The battle is expected to reach its peak when a new bill to regulate the practice, for the first time in the country's history, is introduced by lawmakers.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, Germany's justice ministry published the draft law, which will be put to a vote in the country's parliament after a round of deliberations. "The law they're passing now has nothing to do with practicing medicine and protecting children," Kramer said, adding that German parliamentarians want only "to kick a few more Jewish butts." He terms what is happening in Germany "an anti-Semitic war against the Jews."
"The good Germans, who support the Palestinians and human rights, have found a new issue to fight for" and are couching their anti-Semitism as concern for the welfare of babies undergoing circumcision, he says. "For 60 years no one cared, only now are they talking about it, even though very few even know what the issue is. Most of them don't care about the facts," Kramer said, adding that the anti-circumcision forces constituted an alliance of "anti-Semites, anti-Muslims and the anti-religious," banding together under the flag of "child protection."