Do Jews hold a Grudge Against Germany?
edit: To add some more to this sentiment: My parents this summer visited Germany. My mom was hesitant to go but she went. They took a river cruise on the Rhine and had a wonderful time. And, everywhere they went, there was not a single place visited where their tour guide did NOT make a mention of the atrocities that happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. The tourguide was extremely compassionate as he discussed the plight of the German Jews with my parents. They would certainly recommend a trip to Germany now that they visited.
A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of participating in some intense Jewish study with some very intelligent women in my neighborood. The study session was held in preparation for a nine-day mourning period in Judaism that happens each summer culminating with the fast day of Tish B’Av, or the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.
During this time, no meat is consumed. Religious women run lots of clothes through the wash before the nine days because no clothing can be laundered in this time period. Swimming is off limits as well.
This time marks some of the saddest occasions in Jewish history, most notable are the destruction of the two Holy Temples – first in 423 B.C.E. and then 70 C.E. – that once stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temples also marked the Jewish Exile from Israel, which ended only with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
So, why mourn something that happened millenia ago? The issue of how to make that feeling of mourning relevant today was the topic of our study session.
I started to write this post a day before our study, but what gave me the chills is how our moderator opened the talk with another time of destruction in recent Jewish history: the Holocaust. Even if you didn’t have a direct loss in your family, it was a loss for the Jewish family as a whole, a loss that is still viscerally ingrained in the Jewish psyche today. We should also strive as Jews to make the loss of the Temples just as palpable.
Getting back to the Holocaust:
A few things I deducted from my Hebrew school education about the Holocaust, as taught by our rabbi, son of Holocaust survivors:
- After the destruction of Jewish life and Jewish culture under the Third Reich, Jews should Never Forget. Therefore, Jews should never again set foot in Germany
- Because of Hitler’s infatuation with composer Richard Wagner, because Wagner’s music was the soundtrack of music played as Jews marched to their deaths in concentration camps, Jews shoud Never listen to or play compositions by Wagner.
- Jews don’t buy BMWs or Volkswagons
- Again, Jews don’t visit Germany
I held onto these notions a for a long time, including during the summer of 1989, when I spent a month in Israel volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel’s northern region. To my surprise, many of the other volunteers were not Jewish kids; most were European. To my further surprise, many of them were German.
I never knew any Germans before this encounter. As I got to know them, I found them to be gentle and kind. They also had a thirst for learning all they could about Jewish culture, Hebrew, Jewish holidays – anything Jewish they could get their hands on, they wanted to learn about.
I asked them – why?
Their explanation: Germans of their generation felt an enormous sense of guilt as to what happened in their country, and that guilt was unjustified. They wanted to learn about Judaism, because, at the time, there were very few Jews in Germany. Still, I expressed my reluctance to ever visit their country.
Instead of being angry with me, their reaction was one of sadness.
Over 20 years have passed and I still struggle with my feelings about contemporary Germany. But just in the last week, there was media coverage about Jews and Germany that is making me reconsider.
The other evening, I listened on NPR the unthinkable: that the Israeli symphony was in Germany playing Wagner compositions.
Former Soviet Jews and young Israelis are settling in Berlin. There, they enjoy a thriving cosmopolitan culture with nighclubs, art galleries and community centers – all with an Israeli twist.
Another one of my brilliant neighbors, Athene Goldstein, returned from a visit to Germany, where her son-in-law, a professor, was delivering a talk on Jewish history in Germany. There, she also visited a museum in Berlin dedicated to Jewish culture. From her working knowledge of German, she could tell that none of the museum’s visitors were Jewish, but again, just as I experienced on that kibbutz, there was that intense curioustiy of wanting to know about Judaism.
“The museum was filled with basic Jewish artifacts: Sabbath candles, Torah Scrolls, a menorah for Chanukkah,” said Athene. “It was Judaism 101. But that is where they are. Germans are very up front about what happened in their country under the Nazis. Now, they just want to know about who their country tried to completely destroy.”
Is the fact that the Jewish population is growing in Germany a sign that Jews are forgetting their past? Or is it perhaps, maybe the best way to deal with the memory of the six million lives lost is to replace what was lost by renewing life there once again?
Interesting post. Thank you!
I was born in 1934. My growing up years I spent mostly in Berlin. Guilt feelings about how Jews had been treated in Nazi Germany are never going to leave me.
German Jews contributed immensely to German culture. Jews with a German background to this day feel part of German culture. There is a growing Jewish community in Berlin. May this community stay alive and well for years to come.