I held my breath as the young police cadet started reading the names of places that once have been places of horror and death.
It was Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year January 27 was a cold, crisp day with old snow and icy edges giving roads and sidewalks a rough appearance. As I made a small remark about the weather, the Rebbetzin, who stood next to me, looked at me and nodded: „I’ve heard that the weather on the day of the liberation of Auschwitz must have been the same.“ A cold shiver ran like a lighting down my spine and made me shiver even more.
To commemorate the liberation and commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, we had organised a ceremony at the Training Facility of the Federal Police in Bamberg. As its chaplain it was important to me. Not only am I a German citizen, but a clergy working for the Federal Police. Both, police and churches have been hurtfully complicit during the Nazi regime. My commitment is therefore even more urgent and our friendship has sealed my personal responsibility in ways I can’t describe.
Six classes of police cadets with their teachers plus the leadership had gathered in neatly arranged rows. Over one hundred and fifty people in total filled the large space, which once was called „The Change of Command“ when the facility was an U.S. military base. Rabbi Dr. Yael Deusel, Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegel with Rebbetzin, and Mr. Rudolph, the chair of the Synagoge in Bamberg had followed my invitation to the commemoration ceremony. I was thankful that they joined us during this important remembrance to read a prayer. Many of my police cadets never have personally met Jews – and certainly haven’t had the honour to meet Rabbis.
The grounds on which we stood on January 27 couldn’t have been more ambivalent and made a commemoration even more important. The land was used for military reasons for a long time. First built as the „Lagarde Kaserne“ for the Royal Bavarian Army as an infantry barracks, it was extensively used during World War I and World War II. It is said that almost every branch of the German Army was stationed here. The most elite group was the 35th Armor and the 17th Cavalry Regiments, which was composed of noblemen who were wealthy and had their own riding school. Claus von Stauffenberg was its most prominent member. He was known for an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. When both Rabbis presented their prayers I was filled with deep thankfulness. Hitlers evil plans hadn’t worked out – even if he did use this stretch of land centuries ago, it is now under the leadership of Leading Police Director Thomas Lehmann used to educate generations of police cadets to uphold democracy and human rights.
As Leading Police Officer Thomas Lehmann lead the Rabbis to the flag masts, we were supported by rows of police cadets and their leadership. While making our way to the masts, it felt as if they were forming a protective back up for those, who were grieving in remembrance. It might have been the same cold day in 1945 and 2023, but what happened back then, will never happen again. I can assure you, that many together with me, will give their very best. May the memories of the victims never be forgotten, but for a blessing as we train young police cadets to protect and serve democracy.