Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

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German Books Return to Germany

July 15, 2011

Here is a very nice story that I’d like to share with you. Source: Der Spiegel.

“German Jews who fled Nazi persecution to what is now Israel took as many books as they could carry. But their descendants, many of whom don’t speak German, are left with cratefuls of heirlooms they can’t read. Now the Goethe Institute [in Jerusalem] has started a project that sends the well-traveled books back to Germany — as teaching materials for students.”

Read more on the program, called “Keine leichten Pakete,” or download a flyer (pdf) that outlines the project in German.

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Searching for German-Jews in New York

May 24, 2011

In early May, the Leo-Baeck Institute in New York and the Baruch College Jewish Studies Center held a conference entitled “German-Speaking Jews in New York City: Their Immigration and Lasting Presence”.

Only a handful of German-Jewish émigrés, who had fled to the United States from Germany in the early 1930s, were present. I was sitting in the audience, missing the many German-Jews whom I’ve met in New York in the early 1990s, when I was managing editor of the legendary German-Jewish newspaper Aufbau (which was founded in 1934 and folded in 2004. Read my article about Aufbau’s history, in German). I remembered our devoted German-Jewish readers, so attached to their paper that they would call the office to ask for the time. I missed our German-Jewish freelance writers and photographers, who had so much inner strength, poise and intellect.

The almost empty auditorium at the Leo-Baeck Institute made me miss them even more.

It was ironic that of all the Jewish institutions in New York, it was the Leo-Baeck Institute that hosted a conference like this. Even though the Institute has dedicated itself to preserving German-Jewish culture, back when Aufbau struggled to survive, we approached its directors again and again to help us save the paper, at least as long as there was still one survivor, one German-Jew, alive. Our pleas, however, fell on deaf ears. To be fair, there were a few individuals on the Institute’s board who supported us as much as they could, but officially, the Leo-Baeck Institute never seemed to care too much about Aufbau’s demise.

Now, panelist after panelist remembered the Aufbau and its important role in the survivors’ lives. For them, however, and for the paper, these reminiscences and acknowledgements come too late.

I miss the resolute Werner Stein and the soft-spoken Jerry Brunell, chairman and publisher respectively of the Aufbau. I had fierce discussions with both of them about which direction the paper should take, but I always learned something new from their experiences; their stories will stay with me forever. (Werner Stern contacted me on June 16, after learning about this blog post, and I was glad to learn that he is well! I hope that Jerry Brunell is too.)

I miss our freelance writers, like our 80-year-old art critic Judith Helfer, who had the wrinkle-free face of a delicate Chinese porcelain doll and a soft voice to match her features. Judith came from a prominent family of Rabbis; she died in 2002.

I miss Frederick R. Lachman (top right), a Jewish scholar, author, historian and executive editor of the Encyclopedia Judaica, who wrote Aufbau‘s column “Was das Judentum dazu sagt”, on how Judaism approached the issues of the day. Lachman — with his disarming wit, poignancy and very long-form writing style — once took me aside and shared with me his anguish that some people still thought that German-Jewry started with Hitler. “Child,” he urged me, “continue to fight this misjudgment.” I have and always will. Lachman died in 1998 at the age of 96.

I miss our photographer Erich Hartmann (at left), who worked for MAGNUM and accompanied me to many assignments, most memorably to an interview with Wolf Ulrich von Hassell, the son of a German resistance fighter in Nazi Germany. You can read the article (in German) and view the photo Hartmann took here. Hartmann, who was as elegant and polite as an English gentleman and such a Mensch, passed away in 1999.

I miss Lisa Schwartz (bottom, at right), who was the vice president and Grande Dame of Aufbau. As a former hat model, she was as eccentric and charming as you’d imagine, and I miss her dry humor and hearty laughter. She chain-smoked and flirted with everyone. She had survived the war in Switzerland as a child and still vacationed there every year. We lost contact; but I do hope she is alright. [Update: Lisa Schwartz passed away in March 2012 at the age of 90. May she rest in peace.]

Years back, all of them would have been present at a conference like that, either participating in the panels, sitting on the podium, or in the audience.

But very few people sat there with me now, as if I needed a reminder that their numbers were dwindling and that their children and grandchildren, for the most part, didn’t care much about their German-Jewish roots.

But there are still a few witnesses, like retired history professor Henry L. Feingold and Max Lerner, who came to New York from Germany and Austria respectively in the late 1930s early 1940s. Both recounted their experiences after arriving in the New World:


Representing the second and third generation was author and poet Janet R. Kirchheimer (How to Spot One of Us), who shared her grandparents’ and parents’ experience after coming to New York.

In her poems (i.e. “This Is How My Opa Strauss Died“), she comes to terms with her own German-Jewish heritage and identity:

I don’t know how many survivors will sit in the audience, or on the podium, next year. But I do know that I will miss those who won’t.

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Hitler Exhibit in Berlin Draws Praise

October 23, 2010

Germany’s Central Council of Jews recently welcomed a new exhibition on Hitler and the Germans in Berlin  and warned against worrying parallels between the Nazi era and the current debate about integration in Germany.

Hitler and the Germans: Crime and the People’s Community opened on October 15 in the German Historical Museum in Berlin and runs through February 6, 2011. This is the first exhibit in Germany after the end of the war to focus exclusively on Hitler with the goal to explain the Nazi leader’s personality cult and how it affected the nation during his reign from 1933-45.

It took more than 10 years of planning to stage an exhibit of such nature that doesn’t conflict with the country’s strict laws against displaying Nazi paraphernalia in public. The exhibit curators have mounted more than 1,000 items, including photographs, artworks, uniforms, videos and narrative, to draw the connection between Hitler’s rise to power and the personal cult surrounding him. Approximately 10,000 people attended the opening weekend.

According to Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews,

“The exhibition is going in the right direction, it is dealing seriously with the issue, and I don’t think there is a danger of any form of glorification. […] “The exhibition does not excuse Hitler, nor does it stylize or glorify him. […] The current debate about the integration of people of foreign backgrounds, particularly Islamic, into mainstream society in Germany, should moreover be viewed through the lens of this history. […] The exhibition does not excuse Germans for their role in Nazi Germany.”

The New York Times recently published a lengthy article on the exhibit, under the headline Hitler Exhibition Explores a Wider Circle of Guilt. The paper states,

“The planners began discussing this kind of show 10 years ago [and] an expert committee viewed it as part of a continuum of penance and awareness that historians say began with the Auschwitz trials. […] The exhibit, with all its photographs of young and old adoring Hitler, also sought to dispel the notion that the Nazi spirit was simply impossible to resist.”

 

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Unmenschliche Forschung

January 31, 2010

Ich habe Ihren Artikel [Unmenschliche Forschung] gelesen und fand ihn ausgezeichnet.

Ein kleiner Fehler unterlief Ihnen:[Sie schreiben],
“Ungefähr 400.000 Menschen wurden zwangssterilisiert, davon 95 Prozent vor Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Dieses Euthanasieprogramm wurde dann 1939, mit dem Einmarsch in Polen, in mobilen Gaskammern perfektioniert. Bis August 1941 wurden so 70.273 Menschen Opfer der Euthanasie, das war ein Prozent der deutschen Bevölkerung.”

Das ist falsch. Es handelte sich um ein Promille, nicht ein Prozent.

Nichtsdestotrotz bin ich froh über Ihren Beitrag zur Information einer Generation, die das alles nicht erlebt hat.

— Fritz Szoncsó, Frankreich

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Heimat Berlin?

January 31, 2010

Ich habe, eher zufällig, einige Ihrer Artikel gelesen, die mir, wenn Sie mir diesen Kommentar erlauben, sehr gefallen haben.

Sie sind wohl, wie ich, in West-Berlin aufgewachsen. Die besonders beschleunigte Veränderung Berlins trägt dazu bei, dass West-Berlin als “Heimatort” und “Unikum” jetzt sehr in die geschichtliche—und somit auch jeweils betont in die biografische Vergangenheit—gerückt ist. Berlin ist nicht mehr die unverfälschte Kulisse der Jugend, die wir herkömmlich bereisen können, wenn einem je diese Melancholie befällt.

Aber was bedeutet Ihnen Heimat? Sprache, Licht und Landschaft, die Geräusche der U-Bahn, ein freundliches Wortkolorit Ihres Nachbarn, der Ort der Ahnen, Israel und bald der Broadway? Ich wünsche mir gelegentlich ein Zurück und gleichzeitig festigt sich die Einsicht, dass ich niemals zurück kommen werde. Wo die Reise beginnt, führt sie auf anderem Weg zurück.

[…]

Ich hatte den Eindruck, dass Ihre geschilderten Erlebnisse mit deutschen Praktikanten (Sprache als Brücke) in der Redaktion auf eine nicht repräsentative Naivität (der Praktikanten) schliessen lassen.

Vielleicht hoffe ich auch nur, dass ich damit recht habe und wenn nein, gäbe es berechtigte Hoffnung auf lösbare Probleme.

— Holger

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Meine Aufarbeitung der Geschichte

January 31, 2010

Ich bin 19 Jahre alt und komme aus Berlin. Ich habe schon sehr viel von Ihnen und Ihrer großartigen Arbeit gehört. Nach meinem “jugendlichen Verständnis” setzen Ihre wirklich beeindruckenden Arbeiten in der Aufarbeitung und Auseinandersetzung mit der Jüdischen Geschichte weitere Meilensteine.

Ich beschäftige mich mit der Recherche über ehemalige Synagogen in den neuen Bundesländern; eine für mich wirklich spannende, interessante und schwierige Aufgabe und Herausforderung zugleich, an der ich mehr und mehr wachse. Das Wichtigste für mich, und ich hoffe auch für nachfolgende Generationen, ist die Erinnerung und die Verantwortung, die stets Bestandteil meines Lebens sind und auch bleiben werden.

— Lennard Krueger

Ich freue mich sehr, dass Sie die Aufarbeitung der Geschichte so wichtig und ernst nehmen, denn das ist, als Vertreter der Nachkriegsgeneration, unsere bleibende Aufgabe.

Ich wünsche Ihnen alles Gute bei der Recherche. Bitte halten Sie mich auf dem Laufenden. Sie werden sicher wissen, dass das Ziel, das Sie sich vorgenommen haben, nicht leicht zu erreichen sein wird, und Sie manchmal auf Widerstand, Unverständnis und Animosität stossen werden. Lassen Sie sich dennoch nicht beirren!

— Tekla Szymanski

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Hans Litten als Vorbild

January 31, 2010

Wir sind eine Gruppe von Pfadfindern in Hamburg, die sich, auf der Suche nach einem Menschen, der uns Vorbild sein kann, 1998 an die Mitarbeiter der Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Buchenwald wandte. Dort wurden wir mit dem Leben und Sterben Hans Littens konfrontiert…ja, das kann man so ausdrücken.

Wir [36 Kinder und Jugendliche] waren sofort gefangen von diesem Menschen. Seither sind wir auf der Suche nach Informationen über HANS LITTEN.

— Horst Schröder