Germany Confronts Rising Anti-Semitism After Rap Duo With Holocaust Lyrics Wins Award

The country has experienced an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in recent months.
Hip-hop artists Farid Bang and Kollegah perform during the Echo Awards on April 12, 2018. Some of the lyrics on their latest
Hip-hop artists Farid Bang and Kollegah perform during the Echo Awards on April 12, 2018. Some of the lyrics on their latest album appear to denigrate Holocaust victims, which sparked an uproar in Germany. 

Mainstream manifestations of anti-Semitism are causing Germans to take a harder look at what is permissible in the name of artistic expression, after a rap duo whose lyrics some have interpreted as denigratory toward Holocaust victims won a major music award. 

Farid Bang and Kollegah’s latest album, “Young, Brutal, Good Looking 3,” won an Echo award, Germany’s equivalent of the Grammys, on April 12 for best hip-hop album. Some of the lyrics on the album include the mention of bodies that are “more defined than an Auschwitz prisoner” and the warning that “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov cocktail.”

The two artists have apologized to those, including Holocaust survivor Esther Bejarano, who expressed outrage in the face of the lyrics. Bang said in a Facebook post that “the past cannot be forgotten” and he hopes something positive can emerge from the debate. 

The music industry has responded with a series of disavowals. 

BMG, the company that distributed the album, announced Thursday that it would donate 100,000 euros (about $124,000) to help fight anti-Semitism in German schools

“Recent news reports have produced shocking evidence of a new wave of anti-Semitism in German schools,” CEO Hartwig Masuch said in a statement. “BMG is utterly opposed to anti-Semitism. We know our artists and employees are behind us. We want to ensure that something positive emerges from the debate surrounding the ECHO Awards.”

“We emphatically apologize to you and everyone else whose feelings were hurt by this,” Florian Druecke, chairman of Germany’s BVMI music industry association, said in a letter to Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch.

Yet the group also defended its decision to ask the duo to perform during the awards given their popularity, stating that the debate around the lyrics “is an appeal to the industry to pay even more attention in the future and to take a closer look at the contents of the texts of published artists.”

Other artists have even taken a stand against the lyrics. Some Echo winners handed back their awards in protest. Campino, the lead singer of the country’s most prominent punk band, slammed the rappers in his own Echo acceptance speech.

“It crosses the line of acceptability when lyrics include misogynistic, homophobic, right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic insults,” he said.

The debate around the lyrics has pitted those defending self-expression against those decrying the overt and covert forms of anti-Semitism that have cropped up across Germany in recent years. 

On Wednesday, German police were investigating an assault on two young men in Berlin wearing kippahs. It comes on the heels of a variety of reports that Jewish children are being bullied in German schools and subjected to name-calling. More than 1,400 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Germany in 2017 ― about four per day ― which represents a more than fivefold increase in the last seven years.

The uptick also comes at a time when views seem to be shifting to the right. Alternative for Germany, a far-right party, won enough votes in September to enter the country’s parliament for the first time. And the country’s Interior Ministry has said that the vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents are perpetrated by right-wing extremists

“This fight against such anti-Semitic excesses must be won,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.