German dictionary changes definition of 'Jew' after outcry

Kirsten Grieshaber
Associated Press

Berlin — The leading dictionary of standard German has changed its definition of Jew, or “Jude” in German, after a recent update caused an uproar in the country’s Jewish community — a move reflecting the sensitivities that persist eight decades after the Holocaust.

The Duden dictionary had recently added an explanation to its online edition saying that “occasionally, the term Jew is perceived as discriminatory because of the memory of the National Socialist use of language. In these cases, formulations such as Jewish people, Jewish fellow citizens or people of the Jewish faith are usually chosen.”

This explanation led to an outcry from leading Jewish groups and individuals who stressed that identifying themselves or being called Jews is not discriminatory, in contrast to what Duden's definition implied.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Joseph Schuster, said last week that for him the word “Jew” is neither a swear word nor discriminatory.

In this Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 photo a man with a Kippa walks up the ramp to Platform 17 (Gleis 17) to attend an hour of commemoration in Berlin.

"Even if ‘Jew’ is used pejoratively in schoolyards or only hesitantly by some people, and the Duden editors are certainly well-meaning in pointing out this context, everything should be done to avoid solidifying the term as discriminatory,” Schuster said.

The executive director of the Central Council of Jews, Daniel Botmann, wrote on Twitter “Is it okay to say Jew? Yes! Please don't say ‘Jewish fellow citizens’ or ‘people of the Jewish faith’. Just JEWS. Thank you!”

The publisher of Duden reacted to the criticism and updated its definition again on Monday to reflect the Jewish community's protests.

“Because of their antisemitic use in history and in the present, especially during the Nazi era, the words Jew/Jewess have been debated ... for decades," it now says on the dictionary's website. "At the same time, the words are widely used as a matter of course and are not perceived as problematic. The Central Council of Jews in Germany, which has the term itself in its name, is in favor of its use.”

During the Third Reich, the German Nazis and their henchmen murdered 6 million European Jews. After the end of World War II, Germany's once blossoming Jewish community of some 600,000 had been reduced to 15,000. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, around 200,000 Jews from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics immigrated to Germany, bringing new life to the country's decimated communities.