Stéphanie Le Bars
January 24, 2012
PARIS - There were 25 Mormons in the town of Saint-Brieuc, in northwest of France, when the missionary arrived from the United States in October 2010. By the time the young American left the town's cobbled streets a few weeks later, there were exactly the same number of Mormons.
Today, posted in the French capital, Nicolas Hujtyn, a tall, well-built 20-year-old from Missouri, says he doesn't let this get him down. As a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, he fulfilled his mission to "share the message." Part of that means assuring his listeners that "the Church of Jesus Christ has been re-established on earth," thanks to the founder-prophet, Joseph Smith, a mystical 14-year-old born in Vermont in 1805.
Accompanied by Brookx Andrus, also 20, Nicolas works the streets of Paris. "The majority of people are polite, but they just don't have time to talk about Jesus Christ," acknowledges Hujtyn, just one of the 300 missionaries currently based in France.
Between the atheists and those in a hurry, very few passers-by agree to stop and discuss the merits of their beliefs compared to Mormonism. "I kind of believe, but not enough to start a debate with you," Gabrielle, 20, tells them, adding as an aside: "They're a bit like a sect, aren't they?" That is a recurring suspicion that leaves the two Americans frozen in place. Mormonism is not listed as a cult by France's Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances.
Despite the widespread mistrust in France, the Mormons have shed their usual anonymity over the last few weeks. This is partly thanks to Mitt Romney, of course; the leading candidate in the Republican primaries in the United States was a missionary in the French cities of Brest, Le Havre and Bordeaux between 1966 and 1968.
But beyond the Romney connection, there are other reasons why many Mormons in France see 2012 as the year of their "emergence." After 30 years of searching and disappointment, the Church has finally acquired land in Chesnay, 17 kilometers west of Paris, to build the first Mormon Church in France: an unadorned but imposing building.
Investing 80 million euros for a community of just 35,000 people – which grows by only a couple of dozen followers per year – may seem surprising. Moreover, top officials of the Church deem the main areas of potential growth to be Asia and South America. "This decision forms part of our campaign to build churches across the world," explains Christian Euvrard, director of the Church's training institute. "Our president-prophet an 85-year-old American, Thomas Monson wants the churches to come to the believers, not the other way round." The Mormon Church, financed by 14 million followers throughout the world, as well as income from proceeds of its properties, can allow itself the luxury of such an investment.
Not in my (Catholic) backyard
But the Church's attempt to put down roots on such Catholic soil, just around the corner from the Château of Versailles, has kicked off a debate. A petition, which has gathered as many as 4,000 signatures, is circulating on the Internet to demand "a public consultation" on this project, likely to "modify the town and its surroundings' and which critics say "doesn't correspond to the demand." Having appealed against the planning permission awarded by the town hall and given the political battles going on in the background, one of the town councillors has even resigned.
According to tradition, Mormon churches, closed to non-followers, are mainly used to celebrate marriage ceremonies and host spiritual retreats. French Mormons who want to get married in a Mormon church currently have to travel to England or Germany to do so. "Other than that, they followers come once or twice a year. There are no big celebrations or congregations," explains Dominique Calmels, Head of Communications for the Church, in an attempt to calm public concerns.
Calmels sees a real need for this new church for the 30% of followers who worship regularly, including several hundred Americans. Sunday services currently take place in unmarked buildings, in rooms with no religious decorations whatsoever. That is the case in Malakoff, a community 5 kilometers southwest of Paris, where French, American and African families, all dressed in their Sunday best, meet for three hours of education and traditional worship every Sunday.
Originally, non-believers from Catholic families, Calmels and his wife, Françoise, took part in Holy Communion this Sunday in Malakoff, where French and English are spoken on alternate weeks. The couple converted in the 1970s, inspired, like many others, by "a Church which doesn't place a priest between God and the believer," as every man has access to "the priesthood." In Mormonism, the prohibitions are known as "words of wisdom" and the rules as "advice on all aspects of life, from health to money management."
By means of "revelations', the founder and his successors respond to questions which arise throughout the decades. In 1978, a revelation inspired the then-president to "open the priesthood to men of color." Therefore, although they recognise a literal reading of the Scriptures, the Mormons stress their "pragmatism" to reject the label of "fundamentalists."
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This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
Eva Marie Kogel
October 24, 2021
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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