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Descendants

My husband and I moved our Jewish family from Montana to Berlin to teach our children about their roots. We didn’t anticipate the neo-Nazis.

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Stolpersteine in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. (Chris Grabert/Flickr)

Two years ago, when my husband received an offer to teach at the John F. Kennedy School of Berlin—in the country where my parents and his maternal grandparents were born—we jumped at the chance. I had heard about the revival of Jewish life in Germany, though the scenes described in the media were usually filled with Russians and Israelis, not Americans. Waves of East European Jews came to Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but American Jews kept their distance. I wanted to put myself in the cultural shoes of my family, to inhabit the world that was filled with the sounds and smells of my German Jewish parents, grandparents, and great-grandmother as we gathered around the supper table in Washington Heights when I was a child. Some of our friends and family were enthusiastic about our choice, a few were politely puzzled, and still others were downright mortified. “Germany has changed,” we said. “We want to experience what it is like to live as Jews in Germany today.”

I had also chosen to reclaim my German citizenship under a law designed to restore the rights of families who fled Nazi persecution between 1933 and 1945. I was confident that my legal right to citizenship, paired with my taste for German food, language, and culture, would ease my integration into German society. I wasn’t looking to shed my American identity, but rather to give life to a dormant part of myself.

Days before I officially became a German citizen, authorities discovered a neo-Nazi terror cell that is allegedly responsible for the murder of at least 10 people over the past decade. The message seemed clear: The land that my German Jewish parents escaped in 1938 is still not safe; it is blighted by underground networks of violent, brown-shirted skinheads who easily evade detection by government officials. In my eagerness to teach our kids about their roots, did I overlook the risks of our German Jewish adventure?

***

On most days, we weave ourselves into the fabric of Berlin with ease. We belong to Ohel Hachidusch, a Renewal congregation where members radiate a deep sense of pride in carrying on the tradition of Jewish life in Germany. Our oldest son recently became a bar mitzvah in Berlin’s former Jewish orphanage—the first from our family to experience this rite of passage on German soil since the Holocaust. We take advantage of Berlin’s abundant Jewish cultural offerings and savor the great bagels, spreads, and falafel that surpass what is available in our hometown of Bozeman, Mont.

And Berlin is far from Zwickau, the East German city that was home base for the three core members of the neo-Nazi gang who called themselves the National Socialist Underground. In addition to the murder of nine men of Turkish and Greek origin and a German policewoman, the Zwickau terror cell is believed to be responsible for a number of bombings and bank robberies.

But even if the staging grounds for most skinhead groups are far from our city, neo-Nazis have a visible presence here too. Last fall, the far-right National Democratic Party plastered the city streets with campaign posters that sent chills down our spines. The most horrific of which showed Udo Voigt, the party leader at the time, revving up a motorcycle alongside the slogan “Gas Geben”: Step on the Gas. Another poster showed a caricature of three ethnic minorities sitting on a flying carpet with the slogan “Guten Heimflug,” or Have a Good Flight Home.

And daily life brings regular encounters with the Holocaust. We tread on death each day as we stumble across some of the 2,950 stolpersteine in Berlin. These brass stumbling stones are mini memorials that are placed in the ground in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims. Gathering in a football huddle, the five of us stop to read each of these testimonials to lost life when we come across them on family outings. Our children learned the words ermordet, murdered, deportiert, deported, and verhaftet, arrested, long before they learned many other everyday German phrases.

As we hurry to catch the U-Bahn or S-Bahn we often come face-to-face with a plaque or memorial to the victims who were deported from our specific location. We’ve toured the Topography of Terror, Holocaust Memorial, Jewish Museum, special exhibits about Hitler, forced labor camps, and more.

We’re so saturated in reminders of this country’s evil past that we sometimes pine for America—the land of tomorrow.

With all of Germany’s impressive efforts to confront the legacy of the Holocaust, one would expect government officials to show extra sensitivity toward families who seek to reclaim part of what they lost under the Third Reich. But this has not been my experience. Perhaps it’s just that the German habit is not to smile or display any warmth when conducting business. My fully documented citizenship application was first lost, then ignored, and finally subjected to last-minute demands for further proof of my ancestry. I spent months wrangling with bureaucrats whose answers to my inquiries seemed designed to intimidate. “They are just hoping you will go away,” said some of my German Jewish friends.

Even ordinary Germans seem to enjoy wielding authority over others. Many seem to take great delight in alerting us to our daily transgressions. We’ve been scolded for petting people’s dogs, making too much noise while recycling, breaking various subway rules, and so on. I’m not used to getting behavior lectures from adults, especially when they seem so eager to put us in our place. These encounters leave me disturbed by the German propensity to follow authority rather than question it.

I feel accepted here, but how welcome am I really? I’m sure some Germans feel I don’t belong here, and that could be true. But that decision will be mine, not theirs. I am now both an American and a German citizen, with many possibilities for where to live and work. The opportunities for my children, who have also become German citizens, are even greater.

Every day I ride the trains of Berlin, stare at my fellow passengers, listen to their conversations, and wonder. I wonder if they are a mirror image of me or a descendant of those who persecuted anyone who was not a pure Aryan. This is the paradox of being a German Jew, to share the ethnic heritage of a people who committed genocide, but to also belong to one of the groups that was the target of this genocide. This paradox haunts my time in Germany but does not deter me from staying here a little longer.

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German Jews were as were the non Jews the most educated of all peoples in Europe. What Germany also had was the same bigotry that all of Europe had towards the Jews for a few thousand years….

All of Europe needed an scapegoat for their collective troubles & as they have been doing for years, they picked the Jews.. (Thanks to the grand old churches teachings of bigotry as well as stupidity)

While I began reading this article with great interest and sympathy, I became struck – and quite disturbed – by the extent to which the author seems to confuse her own cultural perplexity with a “German propensity to follow authority rather than question it”.

As an American Jew who has spent time living in Europe, Africa, Israel and Latin America, I must remind our friendly Montanan that people in other parts of the world have different customs and behaviors than her.

At the same time, perhaps the very trait she ascribes to be uniquely and inherently ‘German’ is one of the few that can be found amongst all the peoples of the world. Given the willingness of the American populace – especially voters in Republican states like Montana – to support an illegal and murderous war in Iraq, torture, and the Patriot Act, I wonder whether a little self reflection and a little less broad generalization of others would be in order.

yehuda says:

Haha. The German’s definitely won’t like the tenor of this article. That said, I lived in Germany for many years. I’m the descendant of Eastern European Jews. In my experience, I experienced way more antisemitic dribble in the United States from Neo-Nazi groups than I ever did in the 7 years I spent in Germany. Nevertheless, I do sense that Tablet has definitely moved farther to the right.

Stephen says:

As the son and grandson of German-Jewish refugees from the 30s, I’ve got plenty of ambivalence about the country they fled, but in the interest of fairness I feel compelled to report that when some family members went through the application process for the German citizenship to which they were entitled as descendants of Jewish ex-Germans, their experience was very different from that described in this article. Though the requirements for documentation seemed onerous, they were not illegitimate, and the officials we dealt with (primarily at the German consulate in New York) were unfailingly helpful and forthcoming.

David, your liberal parroting bores me. I know, I know, you are not really “Jewish” so much as you are a citizen of the world etc.etc. ad nauseum.

David B. says:

Very brave of you.
Another detail that your family is not privy to is the German language that was “lost” when the JewishGerman culture was either murdered or deported. The German spoken before the Shoa is different to the modern German, especially since the Jewish cultural elite is completely erased. When reading essays and books of Jews who moved to Israel and began to publish again in Tel Aviv we come across these finer points. Be it Gershom Sholem, Max Brod, Martin Buber, Rosenzweig or Hugo Bergman and many many others.
Reading these peoples writings one is struck by the finer language they lived in. They lived in a deeper dimension that was not accessible to non Jewish Germans. It was the combination of their Hebrew cosmos and the best of what German had to offer.
When I talk to old German Jews today I still find this world which is rapidly dying out.
The community that has grown again is light years away from what was 100 years ago.
The Tel Aviv far-left love it in Berlin, but those who are aware of what once was are painfully missing that dimension which was beaten away.
Most “cultured” Germans are unaware of this.
I great place to find literature about this is Pollak Books in Tel Aviv. http://www.pollakbooks.com/
They have an entire wall of books of that lost world. In the 50s the emigre’s founded publishing houses and attempted a revival. But it was too late. The last books can be bought there.

verificationist says:

Hey David — The very Republican voters of Montana have seen fit to elect Democrats to both the governorship and the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. In honor of the consideration you give the Germans — which I fully support — be as expansively-minded toward the Montanans.

MethanP says:

I suspect that anti-semitism in Germany is no worse in 2012, perhaps less so, than any place else in western Europe. The influx of Muslims is creating an exodus of Jews from formerly safe Scandanavia. You don’t dare openly display your Jewishness in France, England or Holland. You are probably safer in Germany than anywhere else in western Europe.

Binyamin in Orangeburbg says:

Barely a week goes by when some “bias crime” against an “illegal” immigrant in the U.S. is not reported. What is important here in the U.S. and in Germany is that there is a strong social consensus, reflected in law and enforced in law, that condemns racist behavior.

We have a concept in our Constitution: no law may “work corruption of blood”, i.e. you cannot punish children for the acts of their parents. Germany has been an exemplary democratic state for three generations now. If we believe that anti-semitism is a genetic defect inherent to the goyim, shouldn’t we all pack it in and move to Israel, as that is the only (relatively) safe place? If this writer is correct, her children are no safer in Bozeman than in Berlin.

I visited Germany a few years ago and stayed a few months with friends. My friends could not accept that I had feelings and responses to being in Germany related to my being a person of Jewish descent. When I talked about how it felt to take a train in Germany and to wonder what other trains had been on those tracks, my friends were uncomfortable. When I blogged about my own feelings, after I left Germany, my friends stopped being my friends. They could not accept that the echos of the reich were disturbing to me. Their response to me was to tell me how ungrateful I was for their hospitality. It has been sad for me to lose those friends, and fascinating to see how they had to essentially purge me from their lives because I came to represent a reminder of something they clearly did not want to deal with.

Perot says:

Watch out my fellow Jews. Germany is and will always be
the “intellectual” center of Europe and the anti- semitic capital of the universe.

I will NEVER set foot in Germany..and I’m surprised that any Jew will.

Lazer says:

At least present day Germany isn’t officially anti-Semitic. Sweden has outlawed Kashrut (and Halal) and circumcision. I think Der Schweiz has as well. Oh yeah, and that on city here in the US tried to do the same.

Also, it’s incredibly hard to become a citizen in the US as well. How about a little self awareness before we criticize other countries?

Ephraim says:

She didn’t anticipate the neo-Nazis? Doesn’t she read the papers? This sounds too naive to be believed.

My parents both come from German backgrounds as well. My mother’s family was orignally from Bruchsal and my great-great-grandfather’s grave still stands in the cemetrey there. My son was able to visit it a few years ago. (That it was not vandalized during the Nazi era mystifies me, but I suppose one should be thankful for small favors, however infinitesimal.)

I also have a nostalgic attachment to certain German things that were part of my life growing up. But I think I’ll stick to listening to Beethoven, making pflaumenkuchen when the plums are in season, and settling back with a nice post-prandial kirschwasser on Shabbes and leave it at that.

I think we should realize by now that Germany is just not that into us.

This is two posts in one. A post about German antisemitism, and a post about culture shock. They really shouldn’t be confused with each other, and the author should have done better research about the society she was about to live in with her family.

There are many, many books, websites, and discussion forums to help newcomers acclimate to foreign cities and countries and learn the local ropes of society and politeness. Just because the author may not have done her due diligence and read any of them doesn’t mean that adults correcting other adults is considered rude or even out of the ordinary in Germany. The French do it all the time. More than likely, they’re trying to be helpful.

Or in other words, you’re not in Montana any more. Learn the local rules and deal.

Rocky says:

Don’t assume that America will always be the land of tomorrow. We certainly don’t seem to have learned much from Germany’s experience with irresponsible fiscal policy in the early Weimar years. If the US$ collapses, you may be glad that you have dual citizenship.

In a cruel twist of fate, you will find Chabad centers in every major city in Germany, but not within the city limits of Detroit. The former Arsenal of Democracy has become so crime ridden that very few Jews will live there. Berlin’s murder rate is far below that of major American cities and I felt comfortable using its subways when I was there in 1998.

Take advantage of all that the city has to offer. You are not in Bozeman anymore so don’t try to act like it.

Liesel says:

This writer grew up in what was called, jokingly, the “Fourth Reich” and how dare she say that she and I share the ethnic heritage of genocidal monsters! Leave me out! Jews had a whole separate very fine ethnic heritage. It’s gone. We can read the books the German Jews wrote but that’s it. She should read any book by Marian Kaplan she can get her hands on. She should have read, I mean. Too late now.

I visited Germany with Mom who lost 14 members of her immediate family and after 25 years wanted to see her two surviving Mischling cousins and her aunt who walked home to the Rheinland from Theresienstadt. Mom saw with satisfaction that the town had been bombed so heavily that the streets no longer ran up and down hills but around them. Where her synagogue had been, was, as the Nazis promised, a parking lot, with a plaque and a memorial bench freshly carved with swastikas that I sat down on so she wouldn’t notice. This trip was made possible by the premature death of my father, who would never have gone back. He had no one left to visit.

The Germans ARE cold and formal. They don’t correct you to be helpful but to avoid your rudeness. And please don’t go into ecstasy over “German” food like lox and felafel. We visited my great-grandmother’s grave, dated 1/42; after Pearl Harbor, 12/41, food deliveries stopped at her “old age home”; she was first to starve at 82, a better death than most. They’re all in the Friedhof in a little row where no one comes to leave a stone. I went back specifically to show THAT to my kids.

The German people do try to deal with their past, and you can live next to a neo-Nazi terrorist group in Palo Alto. I did. (PA Times, 1/69) No fun. Doesn’t anyone remember how “safe” Bozeman recently was? But when I saw that ad, I found all the required documents in five minutes. The first record of my family in the Rheinland was from 1348 (burned at the stake for “bringing” the Black Death). Citizenship? Yeah, I don’t think so.

We’re reading your post with interest as part of our year-long discussion of Holocaust-related books and films. I’m the January gust answering questions about my work. You can look in on what the reaction is to your post at GSI books and film on fb

Hershl says:

So what.

Germany is not and has never been either black or white. Same for Jews.

Find what is useful and ignore the rest. Doubtlessly, is will be memorable for your family. Exactly how, is another question.

We have neo-nazi here in America. You didn’t have to travel that far to find them.

Jack Kuper says:

I fully agree with those Germans who feel that you don’t belong there. You are too optimistic,too hopeful, naive, and ignore the lessons of our history. I shudder at your claiming German citizenship. Will we ever learn?

If you want to watch a slide presentation made by an Israeli photographer about his trip to “Jewish” Berlin, go here:

http://guyshachar.com/content/blog/2009/berlin-jewish-journey-presentation/

It is available in English or Hebrew.

FYI, your chances of being murdered in the US are significantly higher than in Germany, based on recent statistics. In large US central cities, the odds are much worse.

To sum it up: You actually dont like the Germany, you dont like Germans, but you insist to live there.

You complain that they treat you bad because you are jewish? How do they know?

You dont feel welcome in Berlin. That is your problem, because its like a self fullfilling prohecy. Reading the article I got the impression, that your problem to adapt the expectations that they welcome you like: Thank you that you are here, we waited soo long. But the truth is: They dont care, why should they?

You wrote about your prolems with some bureaucrats and your neighbours. Are you sure you had this problems because you are jewish or because you behave like an american?

By the way it is kind of interisting that the keywords holocaust and WW2 were used for this article, because it has nothing to do with it.

Moshe Blei says:

I’m with you Perot. All of you should read history. Killing Jews on a smaller or a bigger scale, in german history is a repeating act .If one wants to live in Germany take it for granted. Don’t complain.

Terrye Lee says:

What would make a Jew keep throwing themselves back into (not the frying pan), but the fire?
Naive and a sting your children will feel forever.
You are lucky to be an American, and a Jew, in freedom and security.
Go back home where you can be truly yourself.

Terrye Lee says:

On further thought, I am reminded of the advice my mother taught me:
If you go into a backyard and there is a mad dog who bites you, you didn’t know and it’s not your fault.
BUT, if you go back into that backyard, you deserve everything that happens to you.

Just wanted to respond to a few of the comments. First, I love living in Germany and have written extensively about our wonderful experiences on my blog. Second, I spent lots of time in Germany before moving to Berlin and am very familiar with the people and culture…. and no, I did not experience any culture shock after the move. Third, of course I knew there were neo-Nazis here. Tablet wrote the heading for the article, not me. If you read the news, you will see that this is much more than a situation of some neo-Nazis running around distributing leaflets. We are talking about murders and bombings that were carefully planned and executed. Some government officials knew what was going on and turned a blind eye; others tipped off the criminals that they were under surveillance. Fourth, applying for German citizenship as a resident of Germany is very different than applying through a German consular office in the U.S., especially the NY office that handles most of the applications. Finally, Montana is full of highly intelligent people who do get out and see the world!

Philip says:

I have visited Berlin and Germany on business and my wife’s family is “Yekke”, German Jews. Yes, Germany is dealing with its past in a much more public way than Austria, Poland or Lithuania, and this is important. Yes, you can visit, but to take out German citizenship?? To once again be a part of them? Why?

Gil Franco says:

A question about gaining German citizenship as the child of a child refugee: I was told that if the formerly German parent was naturalized in another country before his/her child’s birth that the child is not entitled to German citizenship. Is this true or part of the run-around described in the article. Thanks.

olterigo says:

To Peter,

Holocaust and WW2 have everything to do with it, because for many Jews it’s the first thing that comes to mind, when you are talking of going to Germany. (Notice, I didn’t say all or even most Jews, but for many, it certainly is a thing that comes to mind.)

Earl Ganz says:

Two things bothered me about this article.
The writer didn’t talk about her Montana experience. What were they doing there? I
lived in Montana for thirty years and a day
didn’t go by that I didn’t think the place was unique, wonderful, miraculous. And I’m originally from Brooklyn.

The second thing is that nobody, not the writer of the article or the commentators seemed to have read Amos Elon’s great book.
The Pity Of It All, a study of Jews in Germany from Moses Mendelsohn to Adolph Hitler. Please read it.

Of course I’ve read Amos Elon’s book. I thought it was outstanding and wrote about it on my blog. See my post on Moses M.

JayJay says:

German Citizenship

Born in Berlin in 1937, my parents fled with me to Australia in 1938. We became naturalised British subjects in 1945. My husband’s family has a similar background. We have returned to Berlin twice in the past decade, the first time at the invitation of the City of Berlin and the second time, privately.

Subsequently, I decided that I’d find out what would be required to apply for German citizenship. I, too, went to the local German consular office, was given documents to complete and was told to wait for some time for the result. When it came, it offered naturalisation! What I had expected was the return of my citizenship stolen during the 1930s, something to which I believed that I had a legal right. The consulate was not helpful after offering the naturalisation papers a number of times in writing and by telephone. They suggested that I write to the Bundestag, which I did, pointing out that I was only requesting what had been stolen from me. After first losing the correspondence, which I sent a second time, people at the Bundestag wrote back that I’d have to make a special application with a petition to the government and that a new law would have to be enacted to permit citizenship other than naturalisation. (Since I was naturalised by my host country, I felt that my country of birth should return my citizenship.)

It has been an interesting exercise. Considering all that has been done by Berlin and Germany to show that its people are contrite, it is sobering indeed that this simple request (and I’m guessing that mine is not the first) has been denied on the grounds of legal niceties!

Given the deterioration in the financial and political situation in the US in the past 11 years, having dual citizenship is a good thing, even if it is German. The US has not, since the Civil War, experienced the kind of upheavals that many other countries in the world have experienced in the past century. But that does not mean that upheavals cannot happen here. The country got a taste of civil unrest during the riots of the 1960′s.

Have any of you given any thought to what might happen in the US if the country were forced into the same type of austerity measures that now face Greece or that did face Germany in the early 1920′s? While Goldman Sachs does not appear as often in the financial press in a negative way as it did the the height of the recession, I have no doubt that its name will return as code words for Jewish speculators next time the economy experiences a major downturn. Everyone should have a Plan B. Good luck, Donna.

dina adler says:

on what planet have you and your family been living?

were you really surprised by neo-nazism in ‘germany when it has been going on all along and never died despite the payment of reparations and the genuine good will of a handful of germans?

okay, your husband was offered a good job. admit that that was the reason you went. everything else is delusion.

Salomon Mizrahi says:

As a Jew born in Egypt and expelled after the Suez war in 1956, I decided to never go back to that place again. I never transmitted the Egypt nostalgia to my sons and daughter, because countries that mistreat their Jewish citizens do not deserve any further sympathy.
We, Jews, belong to the Middle East, we originated from several tribes with our central physical reference being Jerusalem, not Berlin nor Paris and nor New York. And we repeat it every year: “hashana ha-ba-a be yerushalayim ha bnuya”, or “Im eshkachech Yerushalaim tishkach yemini, tidabek l’shoni lechikiim lo ezkerechi.” That´s the essence of feeling Jew, the rest is assimilationism.

Deb Fein says:

Hi Donna: The article is very well written, and also understandable why some of the content is controversial. However, I appreciate your honesty. I’m currently reading a book called The Kingdom of Beasts, about Berlin during the Holocaust from an American’s perspective. I know neo-Nazis exist today even in the U.S. How can modern man (or woman) justify this? It’s more than just bias or racial hatred. Lives (millions) have been forsaken, and yet former Holocaust survivors still cling to their faith. Good for you for standing up for your principles.

Liesel says:

So much wrong with this. Donna, did you think Germany would love you back? You spent a lot of time there, know the people and culture (really?), then what’s the problem?

The Gemütlichkeit you remember from grandma’s table isn’t there anymore, because it wasn’t German, it was Jewish. Gone. Ermordet, or the better word, vernichtet. Obliterated. In our great-grandparents’ (and the Nazis’) lifetimes, Jewish social life was almost entirely separate from German social life, except in rare cases — even Germans can’t be all bad. You didn’t do due diligence. You should have done more reading before dumping your children into this. You gathered impressions, and wool. And now you AlexanderplOtz. In a blog, yet.

Visiting is not like living there. Who knew? Memory is not always perfect, or maybe your family was sparing you. Or by now they’ve decided, let her get it out of her system. Of course the people on the Bahns, unless they’re obvious foreigners, are descended from those who persecuted all non-Aryans. Do the math. Don’t make exceptions, they are statistically insignificant.

Living abroad, and I have, takes great effort, preparedness, depth of information, really good language skills and courage. A sense of humor helps. Then you can tell how they’re really treating you. Much of the time, you don’t want to know, but intellectual honesty kind of requires it.

Michael A. Albert says:

I lived in Berlin from 1971-1974 and again from 1975-1976. I have been back three times since to visit friends and family. The Berliners before the wall came down are vastly different than now. As I remember, being an American meant something back then, regardless of faith or race. We are living in the Last Days, so you might expect things to return to 1939 shortly. As a Jew, if you are looking for acceptance from the world, you will not find it until Yeshua returns. God bless and Shalom.

patrick says:

Is it ironic that with Summers, Rubin, Greenspan, Bernanke, Blankfein, Wolfowitz, Abrams, Krauthammer, Frum et al having brought America to its knees you are all looking for a Plan B? Is Israel not plan B? All very strange.

Steven says:

I would like to weigh in here, as a 25 year old American Jewish guy from the states who’s been living in Berlin for the past two years. Living in Berlin was very traumatic for the first six months but mostly because of the send off I received from the Jewish community in Seattle: the dire warnings from my mother’s friends, the appalled silence from even the most open-minded and well-traveled of Seattle Jews. Their fear became my fear and I projected it on to the city and most Germans that I met. I ruined at least one friendship here by being so uncomfortable with the German language that I made everyone else uncomfortable by my presence.

Then, things started to change. I found a job. I met some Israelis. I ended get along very well with my German coworkers, and now I have some really liberal and relaxed German friends in my neighborhood. More importantly, I have tons of international friends from all over the world. They’ve come to live in Berlin because Germany has the strongest economy in Europe right now. Together, we’re all foreigners here, and that’s okay.

There have been a lot of articles in Der Spiegel International (almost daily) about Jews coming back to re-claim their German roots, in addition to tons of articles about young Israelis coming to Berlin for not nearly as vaunted of reasons (partying and sex, mainly). The divide over Germany now seems to be a generational thing in Israel as the younger folks enroll at the Goethe institute as the older generation clings to their (very valid, I admit) prejudices.

Neo-nazis are not just a threat to Jews but to everyone who isn’t white, including (especially) Muslims, liberal Germans, and anyone who wasn’t born here. When they rally here, tens of thousands of Germans show up to counter their rally. They’re just as disturbed as we are, if not more so.

I no longer feel I am betraying my Jewish identity somehow by being here, except when I read comment threads like this one.

Because I liked this article, I went and checked out the author’s blog. I hadn’t realized that “returning” to Germany was such a large theme in her life. I had presumed her family went to Berlin because of a job or something.
Having such enthusiasm for a country like that, particularly after what the author’s family went through with Germans during the Nazi years, just seems strange to me–and yes I’ve been there and didn’t have any negative experiences.

In the same way that antizionist Jews are so well received by antizionists, Jews who return to Germany are well received by Germans. I’m sure it’s heartfelt, and that there are genuine feelings of camaraderie all around, but one net result of all these Jews going to Germany is to effectively wash Germans of their nation’s sins. Sure, those Germans will help you get a place to live, they’ll help you research your family history, they’ll help you make sure your stay in Germany is wunderbar in every way possible. It can be a pretty cushy set-up, being a Jew “going back” to Germany.
But you are doing something for them, something very important. In a nation that is trying so very hard to erase the shame and guilt of the recent past, you are allowing them to absolve themselves of the biggest crime of all: the destruction of European Jewry perpetrated by Germany. Rebuilding Germany’s architecture will erase the visible scars of war; compensation for war crimes will help assuage some guilt; as will teaching about the past rather than denying it. But none of these things will help Germans overcome the ultimate crime of what the German volk did to German Jewry like enthusiastic Jews responding to German hospitality, particularly by reclaiming their stolen citizenship and returning to the heimat. I hope it’s worth it. Just remember that this grand reconciliation is taking place on Germany’s terms, not yours.

Steven says:

Dave,

I don’t think that you can dump the guilt of their forefathers on the heads of young Germans.

No one is asking you to move to Germany, but if Jews want to move there for their own personal reconciliation, who are you to judge their motives?

No Jew deserves shame for re-claiming something that was once theirs.

If we’re going to indulge in all this German-bashing towards the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the perpetrators, maybe we need to be a little more rigorous in judging ourselves – we who live in what was once (and really not that long ago) a slave-holding country, and, for that matter, a country that wouldn’t give safety to thousands and thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis. Do the children inherit the sins of the fathers (and mothers)? And only German children?

Steven says:

One more note: doing something on “their terms” is naturally what happens when you’re a foreigner in another country.

German writer Erich Remarque (“All quiet on the Western Front”) escaped Nazi Germany in the thirties. When he was asked once – did he miss his country he answered: “I’m not a Jew”

Steven: I don’t know what motivated you to move to Berlin, but if I were 23 again, I would give it some thought as well. I visited the city in 1992 and again in 1998 and felt quite at home there, even though my parents spent their childhoods in small shtetls in Galicia and I have no relatives in Germany.

On my 1992 trip, I remember having lunch in the small cafeteria in the Prussian Academy of Sciences Building, where Albert Einstein, I believe, had his office before the Nazis took over. When I asked the man behind the counter if he could put together a meal for me without meat, he was quite accommodating. In Berlin, history is all around you.

The more you try to compare America to Germany or other parts of Europe, the more obvious the diff. becomes.

What about slavery? It ended 150 years ago, and African-Americans were treated as 2nd class citizens for generations after. Many thought the only way to be truly free and safe was to “go back” to Africa in the early part of the 20th Cent. Many whites thought they were unassimilable into “European” American culture.

While many European Jews realized there was no future for them in Europe and opted for Zionism, many African Americans also thought they would have to flee to the sanctuary of Africa or ultimately be subjected to expulsion or death.

Well, we all know how history turned out. The Jews were hunted down and murdered by popular decree in Europe, while African-Americans were allowed a place at the American table rather than chased off or murdered. If America were Germany, blacks wouldn’t have survived the 20th Century.

Also, if you want to compare the US turning away Jewish refugees with the nation that turned those Jews into refugees in the first place as one small part of a larger campaign to dehumanize them, scapegoat them, steal their identities, their human rights, and their property before ultimately murdering them all, then the chasm bwn. the injustices perpetrated by Germany and the US in this case should be plain to see.

Plus, in the aftermath of WW2, those Jews who were held in German-run slaughter pens but not yet murdered were indeed able to find refuge in the US. The Europeans, of course, still wanted them out. It took them a generation or two more of eliminationist antisemitism before they became the ersatz philosemites we see today.

When I visit places like Upper Egypt and get the VIP treatment I know it’s because I’m an exotic American and Egypt is a culture of hospitality, not ‘cuz I myself am loved there. Similarly, to be a token “returning” Jew in Germany is to be at the receiving end of their need to show their judeophilia.

My point was not to equate the U.S. and the German past – obviously they’re very different – but to ask what the responsibility is of any people to its past, however awful or only semi-awful it may be. If today’s Germans – very few of whom were of adult age during the Nazi time – are held accountable for Nazi crimes, then it seems to me that we Americans need to be a little tougher on ourselves, to be on guard again smugness, self-righteousness and self-delusion, and maybe a little more circumspect in pointing and wagging the finger. Again, I’m not talking about the German past but the German present and the way we view and judge it.

Oh yes on the scolding received. Did you notice pedestrians waiting in the rain for the light to change so they could cross streets empty of traffic?
Sound curfew is taken very seriously. Do not make sound at recycling points prior to morning hours. Even 1/2 hour prior!
We stopped into a gym where a high school girls basketball game was under way. We picked a team and started cheering. Looks we got. But you know what happened to the two teams? Intensity of the game picked up for both.
BBQ smoke will bring out their “concern” also.
I was stationed in Berlin when the wall came down. Berliners are noted for loving their dogs more than strangers. Southern Germany is much more friendly.
I enjoyed my times in Germany.
Auf Wiedersehen or love’em with Choose.

Ruth Gutmann says:

This is a difficult undertaking. Because even if the Germans you encounter tell you what you happen to be doing wrong, you are suspecting them of ill will.

Perhaps they were just trying to be helpful?

Many people like to exert authority or exercise power. People generally prefer to sit behind the desk than stand in front of it, as petitioners.

Don’t loose hope in us Germans! Please please help some of us to open our horizon!

We love Jews! <3 (at least I do :) )

Elisabeth says:

This truly breaks my heart! I am from Germany and am currently in the US for my education. In the first few paragraphs I literally started to smile and was so proud of this family who wants to see for themselves and doesn’t just follow what they were raised with.
As I kept reading and also read those commentaries it made me not only really sad! The Germany I’ve experienced is loving, nobody is “cold and distanced” as being sad in a few comments! Please don’t see yourself as a victim in our country! Just make yourself comfortable and try to broaden our horizons a bit!
and Neo-Nazis aren’t that common in Germany! America has a lot too! Or Denmark, Sweden, etc!
I hope you don’t judge anybody by his history!

Isn’t it racist to call all the Germans racist?

Dear Donna, you ARE welcome in Germany! Very much so!

Hey, hey, hey, nothing to loose the hopes. You wrote a mind touching writing here. 
However, I appreciate your honesty. And now my suggestion is to think equally about the US and the German. For your help I think this video goo.gl/BYMCd will really make you feel grateful! 

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Descendants

My husband and I moved our Jewish family from Montana to Berlin to teach our children about their roots. We didn’t anticipate the neo-Nazis.

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