My dear Jewish friend 10: Roaming the streets of Bamberg with Heschel on my mind

The steps of my feet echoed on the pavement as I crossed through a smaller street in the old city center of Bamberg. My restless mind was weary and I tried to avoid the most popular streets, which were so prominent with tourists from all over the world.

Its now one and a half years since we had to abandon the life we had built in New York – and I had to leave the comfort of a special friend behind, who lived so close to me and shared my passion for those on the fringes of society. I feel alone in this German city that prouds itself of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is full of history, broken history, and millions of tourists are flocking to see how splendid Germany must have one looked before the Second World War. I feel alone – sometimes even from G*d, I must admit. I often lament, why He has called me here to teach hundreds of Federal Police cadets instead of leaving me in the close comfort of our friendship.

So, in the last weeks I dug deeper into the wisdom of those, who have inspired my research during my doctoral studies. Abraham Josua Heschel, whose daughter Susannah I had the honour to meet in New York as I organised a panel discussion about „Luther and Antisemitism“ with the Leo Baeck Institute in 2017, I found an interfaith ally. As Heschel moved to Berlin to pursue his academic career, he felt alienated as a Hasidic in the bustling German capital. He roamed the streets – and maybe he even felt alone and lost in translation from one culture to the next as I do right now. I am aware that I’m a German citizen. I speak the language. I know the culture. I have been brought up with the food. But my life´s journey has put an undeniable multicultural imprint on me. My thoughts and ideas are as diverse as the cultures and places that have had an impact on me. But in this Roman Catholic city it seems like only a streamlined person with a monocultural background is accepted (preferably Franconian having lived here all of their lives). Immediately upon arrival in this Roman Catholic context I was told straight into the face that as a Lutheran pastor I should get used to being minor and should get used to this fact. No wonder, I find it hard to feel at home.

As I lamented one evening on my way beyond the tourist paths of Bamberg, it was a poem of the Rabbi I adore for his deep connection of faith and social justice that spoke consolation to me – it was as if through time the Rabbi spoke compassionate words of G*d´s presence to a lonesome German Lutheran pastor:

God follows me everywhere— 
spins a net of glances around me, 
shines upon my sightless back like the sun.

God follows me like a forest everywhere. 
My lips, always amazed, are truly numb, dumb, 
like a child who blunders upon an ancient holy place.

God follows me like a shiver everywhere. 
The desire in me is for rest; the demand within me is: Rise up,
See how prophetic visions are scattered in the streets!

I go with my reveries as with a secret
In a long corridor through the world— 
and sometimes I see high above me, the faceless face of God.

God follows me in tramways, in cafes.
Oh, it is only with the backs of one’s eyes that one can see 
how secrets ripen, how visions come to be.

Abraham Josua Heschel, The Ineffable Name of God: Man, originally published Warsaw 1933, translated from the Yiddish by Morton M. Leifmann, New York 2007, p. 57.

These words spoke deeply to my soul and called my thoughts back into perspective. G*d has always been with me, no matter where I went throughout my life journey and the places he has led me to:

the long stretched, agricultural region of Franconia and its society being aligned to monocultural structure during my childhood and youth

the beautiful American South, its mesmerising city of Charleston and the tensions of its past and present

the industrial nation of Japan pressing forward in time and economy with its fascinating ancient culture that embraces the future

the lively city of Frankfurt, providing space for a multicultural society paving the way for Germany to become a more manifold and welcoming nation

the remote islands of Orkney with its stunning nature, which is one of the most beautiful places of G*ds creation I have ever seen

the state Bavaria dominated by its capital Munich as the industrial motor of Germanys South and its harsh cement desert

the diverse city of New York as the secret capitol of the Western world, which is one of a kind and took me in as one of its own

and the medieval city of Bamberg fascinating uncounted tourists by its beauty, but finding it difficult to embrace those who are different.

Its Heschel words of G*d´s presence are consoling as I am trying to come to terms that sometimes the paths we are led down are not the ones we maybe have wished for. And perhaps one day, if G*d provides, we will again roam down streets, neighbourhoods or islands together. Until then, may our faith and friendship be the bond that reminds us that G*d follows us everywhere.


This is the Yiddish original poem in a beautiful interpretation:

My dear Jewish friend 9: Pictures of hope and happiness

I stared at the old picture in awe. Six men and a women were gathered around an embroidered table and deliciously filled beer steins. In the center of the picture was a gentleman with a hat and beard, who clearly looked Jewish. He proudly glanced back at me. As my gaze wandered over the details of this special snap shot in time I spotted two police officers to the left and right. They were a natural part of this cheerful and positive happening.

Uffenheim in the 1890s or 1900s. A window into the life of my hometown before Hitlers murderous thoughts, his evil making and hating ideology took grip of Franconia and the place I grew up.

The picture you see on the bottom is from my friend Rick Landman. By G´d´s providence we met years ago in New York. Who would have ever dreamed that the friendship, which once flourished before the disaster of the Nazi-Regime, would be reinstated by two Uffenheimer finding each other amongst millions of people in one of the busiest cities of this world?

(Bild: Rick Landman)

The proud Jewish gentleman in the middle is Ricks great-grandfather Gabriel Oettinger (1862-1903). He was able to experience as Jewish people became full citizens in Germany 1871. To me he looks happy and proud – along with all the other people. I can fully understand, as I’ve experienced how enriching, enlightening and heart-warming diverse and welcoming societies can be, if they dare to. The New York experience of diversity has changed my heart and soul forever.

Nonetheless, with emancipation having blossomed in Germany within years the pendulum swung back under the Nazi regime to an even more disastrous state than ever before. My hometown Uffenheim prided itself to be „judenfrei“ before everyone else and adhering to the Nazi regime more than other places. Martin Oettinger (Ricks grandfather), who was a proud born Uffenheimer, had to flee for his life.

The old picture is a proof that a different kind of society is possible- even in Uffenheim, which has once adhered so eagerly to a murderous regime and is presently very conservative. As I am now not only carrying the weight of my ancestors doings, the guilt of my Lutheran church body, but by wearing a Police uniform as a chaplain I am responsible to embrace the complicitness of this institution during Hitler as well. I hope that the picture of friendship, joy and happiness once taken in Uffenheim will foreshadow what can be in the presence and future: By reinstating a friendship amongst those, who once shared the same table, there is hope beyond time through those embracing each other in love and commitment.

May this new picture be a hopeful beginning of what once was possible in the small Franconia town of Uffenheim.


Information about Rick Landman and his family’s story, please visit his website.

„Der Mensch lebt nicht vom Brot allein“

Von Tafeln, Grundsicherung und aufbauenden Worten

Das Toastbrot reihte sich in ordentlichen Reihen und unterschiedlichen Geschmacksrichtungen aneinander. Die Donuts in Erdbeer-Rosa wechselten sich mit denen in dunklem Schokoladen-Braun ab. Den saftigen Blattspinat hatte ich in Tüten portioniert und ebenso auf dem großen Tisch platziert als mir die Leiterin unserer Tafel eine großes Packet mit Bibeln in Ukrainisch entgegenstreckte, die uns von der Bamberger Gruppe des Gideonbundes geschenkt worden war. Als diese ihren Ort auf dem großen Tisch erhalten hatten, war es bereits Zeit für die Ausgabe. Wir eilten alle nach einem kleinen Briefing zurück an unseren Ausgabeort. Meine Hand strich leicht über die bereitgestellten Bibeln, die in einer mir fremden und so wichtigen Sprache gedruckt worden waren. „Der Mensch lebt nicht vom Brot allein“, schoß es mir heiß und kalt durch den Kopf. Doch nun war keine Zeit zum Einhalten. Die ersten Kunden warteten bereits an meinem Tisch darauf, die bereitgestellten Waren erhalten zu können.

Die Ausgabe war schon zur Hälfte verstrichen, als eine ukrainische Kundin mit ihren zwei Töchtern Toastbrote entgegennahm. Während ich der Mutter mit Händen und Füßen den Unterschied zwischen Vollkorn- und Buttertoastbrot erklären wollte, glitt die ältere, ungefähr zwölfjährige Tochter leise am Tisch entlang und strich vorsichtig über die ukrainischen Bibeln. Sie sah mich fragend mit ihren großen dunklen Augen an. Ich nickte aufmunternd und schob ihr lächelnd eine Bibel zu. Schnell nahm sie das dunkle Buch wie eine wertvolle Fracht entgegen und barg sie in einer zärtlichen Umarmung in ihren Händen. „Der Mensch lebt nicht vom Brot allein, sondern von einem jeden Wort, das aus dem Mund Gottes geht,“ sagt Jesus in Mt 4 und verweist hierbei auf ein Schriftstück in der Thora (Den 8), die zum Mittelpunkt die Dankbarkeit gegenüber Gott hat, der trotz all der Herausforderungen für Speise gesorgt hat.

Das junge ukrainische Flüchtlingsmädchen verstand diese Anspielung Jesu intuitiv und hatte daher nicht nur dankbar Essen, das zur Grundsicherung half, entgegengenommen, sondern das Wort Gottes mit in ihr vorübergehendes deutsches Zuhause genommen. So half die Tafel durch den Gideonbund die aufbauenden und mutmachenden Worte Gottes weiter zuschenken. Ihr Strahlen und die zärtliche Umarmung der Bibel haben sich in mein Gedächtnis eingebrannt. Ein wunderbares Geschenk, das ich an diesem Samstag erhielt und auf das verwies, was wichtig ist: das Brot des Lebens – literal durch die Grundsicherung, die die Tafel schenkt, und übertragen durch die Bibeln, die nun nach und nach ihren Weg zu ukrainischen Flüchtlingsfamilien finden werden.

Von Tafeln, steigender Bedürftigkeit und Gottesbegegnungen

Hektisch tippte ich auf meinem Mobiltelefon das Wort „Kaffee“ ein. Hinter der ukrainischen Kundin hatte sich inzwischen eine ungeduldig drein blickende Schlange gebildet. Viele Personen kannten den Ablauf bei unserer Tafel sehr gut und wollten aufgrund des strahlenden Wetters zügig ihre Einkäufe erledigen, um dann die wunderschönen Sonnenstrahlen am freien Samstagnachmittag zu genießen. Als nach einer gefühlten Ewigkeit endlich aufgrund der schlechten Verbindung die ersehnte Übersetzung auf meinem Handy erschien, hielt ich sie ihr entgegen. Sie nickte kurz und sprach dann in Ukrainisch weiter. Wieder versuchten wir über das Handy zu kommunizieren. Bis dato konnte ich mich zumeist aufgrund meiner Englischkenntnisse mit den meisten Personen gut verständigen. Nun aber war ich an meine Sprachgrenzen gestoßen. Ich lächelte sie unsicher an und bot ihr eine Auswahl an verschiedenen Lebensmitteln an. Auch sie zuckte kurz mit den Schultern, nahm nickend einiges davon entgegen und verließ die Tafel mit mehreren prall gefüllten Tüten.

Auch in Bamberg wird der Ukrainekrieg nun deutlich sichtbar und für mich in meinem Engagement bei der Tafel erfahrbar. Stetig steigen die Zahlen unserer Kunden, die aufgrund der rasant steigenden Lebenshaltungskosten immer mehr auf die Einrichtung der Tafel angewiesen sind. Aber auch ukrainische Flüchtlinge erhalten hier die notwendige Unterstützung an Lebensmitteln, damit ihre Not so gut wie möglich gelindert wird. Herr Dorsch und Frau Relevant als Leiter und Leiterin der Bamberger Tafel leisten mit einem engagierten Team an Ehrenamtlichen und Sozialstundenleistenden Erstaunliches.

Seit Wochen ist für mich die Tafel ein Ort geworden, an dem ich Gott begegnen kann. Und zwar im Angesicht der bedürftigen und zu unterstützenden Personen, die Woche um Woche dort Hilfe suchen und deren finanzielle Not durch umfangreiche Lebensmittelspenden gelindert wird. Für mich ist Gott so vielgestaltig wie die Menschen, die diese Erde bereichern. Nicht umsonst heißt es im Schöpfungsbericht: „Und Gott schuf den Menschen zu seinem Bilde, zum dem Bilde Gottes schuf er ihn.“ (Gen 1,27a) So ist für mich Samstag für Samstag die Tafel ein Ort der vielfältigen Gottesbegegnung, die ich durch die erleben darf, die am Rande unserer Gesellschaft sind.

Ich habe versucht, meine Erfahrungen in ein kleines Gedicht zu fassen, das Mt 25,31-40, eine der für mich wichtigen biblischen Textstellen mit meinen Erfahrungen verknüpft.

Gottesbegegnungen in der Tafel

Denn ich bin hungrig gewesen und ihr habt mir zu essen gegeben.

Gott kommt mir nah im müde lächelnden älteren Kunden, dessen Augen trotz der tiefen Schatten in seinem Gesicht strahlen während er sich ein Stück frische Torte an der Kuchentheke auswählen darf.

Ich bin durstig gewesen und ihr habt mir zu trinken gegeben.

Gott kommt mir nah im freudig jubilierenden Jugendlichen, der einen „hippen“ und sonst zu teuren Eistee mit nach Hause tragen darf.

Ich bin ein Fremder gewesen und ihr habt mich aufgenommen.

Gott kommt mir nah in der nur gebrochen Deutsch sprechenden Kundin, die mich bittend ansieht und „Chocolata“ beim Betrachten der Gebäckstücke so zärtlich ausspricht, dass sich Schokolade wie Streicheleinheiten anhört und mein Herz dahinschmilzt.

Ich bin nackt gewesen und ihr habt mich gekleidet.

Gott kommt mir nah, wenn ich im kleinen Gebrauchtwarenladen der Tafel die Mutter beobachte, die Strampler genau überlegend nebeneinander legt und vorsichtig abwägt, welcher ihr schmales Budget für das sich ankündigende Kind erlauben würde.

Ich bin krank gewesen und ihr habt mich besucht.

Gott kommt mir nah während die Leiterin davon erzählt, dass sie langjährigen Kundinnen und Kunden, die dauerhaft schwer erkrankt sind und sich aufgrund von COVID nicht mehr zur Tafel trauen, Essenspakete trotz der vielen geleisteten Stunden nach Hause liefert.

Ich bin im Gefängnis gewesen und ihr seid zu mir gekommen.

Gott kommt mir nah in den Sozialstundenleistenden. Einige sind bereits jungen Jahren im eigenen Gefängnis und der Spirale von Kriminalität gefangen. Durch ihre Tätigkeit bei der Tafel hoffe ich, dass sie sich aus diesen Fesseln befreiten.

Denn: Was wir unseren geringsten Brüdern und Schwestern getan haben, das haben wir Jesus selbst getan.

My dear Jewish friend 8: Remembering and committing as Police

I carefully placed the large candles on both sides of the table, then arranged the white framed picture, book and the program in the center. As the candles burned I waited in the quietness of the morning for my colleagues for the briefing and the following holocaust remembrance. For me it was a tripple commitment as a German citizen, Christian pastor, and now working for the Federal Police since almost a year. The epaulet with a golden cross on my shoulder visiualized my double responsibility for the church and the Federal Police.

When I broke the news to you over a year ago that I would be leaving New York to be called to the Federal Police we shed tears. We instantly knew that something special would very soon be no longer part of our routine: the strolls in our neighbourhood chatting about our lives, working together in your food pantry for the poor, and sharing joy, laughter, and tears.

Even though I still can’t get used to be so far away – to be exact 3.923 miles – this January morning gave me the feeling that our pain of distance at least makes some sense as I remembered with other leading police officers the crimes of the Holocaust. When the Police director spoke of the responsibility remembering and committing to never forget what had happened to your people and so many others during the Nazi horrors, my heartbeat increased. I was proud to hear that the German Police, which was complicit like many other institutions including my Bavarian Lutheran Church, commits to securing human rights and the German constitution.

This commitment is central as I teach young police trainees in ethical decision making. But let me try to briefly recall what happened back then with policing making the Police force a significant element of the muderous Nazi-regime. (For further information follow the link to the German article about Policing during the Third Reich)

The rise of the Hitler movement began against the background of economic and
political crisis of the Weimar Republic. The brutal regime took advantage of the difficult situation of million Germans. Hitler and others in power legally created system of injustice that was aimed at installing a National Socialist-oriented community, which was „liberated“ from any „un-German spirit“.

Essential feature was the so-called „Verreichlichung“, in which the Police force was centralised by the Nazi rulers and became its outward appearance through the „Reichssicherheitshauptamtes“ (Reich Security Main Office) in 1939. From spring 1933 until the end of the war in 1945 the police apparatus received extensive new possibilities to intervene and monitor. In addition, the boundary between „law enforcement“ and „security police“ become blurred in favour of the SS, which ultimately held all powers. To make things worse, the population supported the daily terror of the Secret State Police by
willingly denunciating their fellow citizens.

Police battalions and task forces not only took part in the organisation of the Holocaust in the Germany and occupied areas, but were involved in mass shootings in East Europe and therefore directly took part in the Nazi genocide.

After celebrating six very meaningful Holocaust Remembrance Days in New York, it was this day that added an important mew layer to my commitment as a German citizen, and a pastor working in and for the German Federal Police. May we learn from the disaster of the Holocaust to never make it happen again to anyone, no matter what religion, nationality, or skin color the person might have.

Zu Gast bei Initiative 27. Januar

Am Abend des Epiphanienfestes war ich zu Gast bei Initiative 27. Januar. Im neuen, modernen Talkformat bei Instagram durfte ich mit Herrn Matthias Böhning meine biografischen und theologischen Zugänge zu Friedens- und Versöhnungsarbeit, Rassismus und Antisemitismus in Übersee und Deutschland sprechen. Es war eine spannende Unterhaltung, die mir sehr viel Spaß gemacht hat. Ich danke Herrn Böhning sehr für diese Einladung und lege die Initiative allen Leserinnen und Lesern ans Herz! Mitmachen könnt ihr bereits jetzt ganz konkret durch die Unterstützung des Projekts „Weiße Rosen und Briefe für Holocaustüberlebende“ (Link).

Hier ist der Zugang zum Video, der auf IGTV gepostet wurde:

My dear Jewish friend 4: The Franconian newspaper connection

Saturday morning rush. I was standing in line for the cash register. With people only slowly moving forward, I glanced through the newspaper shelf right next to me. There were different German newspapers pilled up reaching from local papers like the „Fränkischer Tag“, „Süddeutsche Zeitung“ having an emphasis on the south of Bavaria, and even international ones. „The New York Times“ brought a smile to my face. This newspaper was of such importance to me as I lived and worked as a German pastor in New York. You, my dear Jewish friend, are a vivid newspaper reader yourself. And I remember us discussing politics, news and happenings with one another. But did you know, that The New York Times has Franconian roots? Without a courageous and visionary descendant of a Franconian Jew, who emigrated to the United States, both of us wouldn’t have had this great and fearless news source.

Adolph S. Ochs, American newspaper publisher and former owner of The New York Times, was a descendant of Franconians. His father Julius migrated from Fürth in 1844 at the age of 18 to the USA and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Adolph Simon Ochs was the oldest of six siblings. At the age of eleven he started to earn money as a newsboy, pursued a printer apprenticeship and bought The New York Times in 1896 at the age of 38 before the paper went bankrupt. The rest is history. Up to today The New York Times sets the highest standards for investigative, critical, and independent journalism. (1)

No wonder that you and I, my dear Jewish friend, were so perfectly informed through the rough year of 2020, where a pandemic, an up cry against Racism and Antisemitism, economic difficulties, and a nation divided over elections made the ground beneath us shake. But we held on to each other and our deep hope for a better world as we were involved in תיקון עולם (Tikkun Olam). A paper diary, in which I kept the most important articles of The New York Times reminds me of this faithful year of 2020.

And so it came about many years and generations later during a year of hardship, doubts, and uncertanty that The New York Times was a lifeline for Christian pastor from Franconia living and working in New York. And this I can surely and wholeheartedly say: Adolph Ochs memory is for a blessing.


(1) Source: Verein zur Förderung des Jüdischen Museums Franken – Fürth, Schnaittach und Schwabach e.V., Vereinsmitteilungen Nr. 58, Juni 2021, S. 9.

My dear Jewish friend 2: The Star of David and the guild emblem of brewers

It was a crisp winter day with clear skies and the sun shining bright. A perfect day to stroll through my new home town Bamberg. As my eyes wandered from the old medieval buildings to the beautiful light blue sky my thoughts wandered to you, my dear Jewish friend. The color reminded me of the beautiful New York sky that accompanied us as we walked through our Westchester neighborhood and chatted about our lives, our faith communities, and our shared involvement at your lovely pantry.

As my glance wandered back from the New York colored sky I halted my steps in great astonishment. Right in front of me I could see a golden Star of David at the historic smoke beer brewery „Schlenkerla“. The brewery has a long and old tradition. It was first mentioned in 1387 and is in operation since 1405.

As a Franconias I really enjoy the name „Schlenkerla“. It roughly derives from the English verb „dangling“ or even better „swinging along“. The -la suffix is typical of the East Franconian dialect. The name reportedly comes from a brewer with a gait whose image as it can be seen on the „Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier“ bottle. This brewery is run by the Trum family since six generations. A real traditional family business, where tradition and passion for exquisite beers make it a unique place of hospitality.

The symbol displayed on the outside of the historical brewery and tavern is the guild emblem of brewers. This hexagram is the same as the Star of David, which is the most important symbol of Judaism I truly honour and cherish. How could this shared symbolism come about? Matthias Trum outlines in his final thesis at the Technical University Munich that symbol was used for the first time as explicitly Jewish sign in Prague in 1350 on the flag of the Jewish militia and then appears as brewing emblem for the first time in Nürnberg in 1425.

„… the hexagram was in those days in Franconia and northern Bavaria widely used symbol for protection and in this form used by everyone including both jews and brewers . The exiled jews of Nürnberg brought the star with them to Prague, where it became symbol of the jewish community and was then spread all over the world through letterpress. The brewing star remained however in south Germany and developed into a tapping sign.“

Matthias Trum, Historical depictions, guild signs and symbols of the brewing and malting handcraft, TU Munich, 2002.

My dear Jewish friend, what a fascinating interconnection and shared history of our forbearers! I wished my ancestors would have embraced these shared roots, and as I have discovered, shared symbols instead of committing the crimes of Hitlers Nationalism.

I dream of having a stroll like today with you while the blue Bamberg sky will guide us to the historical tavern and we will have a nice cold beer with delicious Franconian food. On the way home, I am sure we will be swinging like the gait on the „Schlenkerla“.

Love across the miles from your Christian friend.

Reckoning with the Past

The meeting room filled quickly as members of the American Jewish Committee and Interfaith Partners gathered on the cold Sunday afternoon. Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, had summoned this meeting of the AJC Interreligious Affairs Commission on “Christian Responses to the Antisemitism Epidemic.”

As all attending made themselves comfortable, helping themselves to some refreshments and looking through the well prepared material supplied, the room buzzed with warm welcomes and kind introductions. As Rabbi Marans began the meeting, the buzzing group transformed into a quickly concentrating diverse group of Jewish and Interfaith friends, who had gathered to discuss the unsettling rise of Antisemitism and how Christians could respond to this terrible development.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA, and author of the book Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust, spoke about the topic how is own denomination had dealt with Antisemitism and Holocaust through the centuries sharing the experience of persecution in Europe. He talked about the significance of friendship, sacrificial solidarity, and how important it was to learn from missed opportunities for future actions.

Reckoning with the past is a important task we need to actively embrace. As a German citizen I am entitled to say this, because my nation’s past has led to so much death and suffering. This should never ever happen again. As Antisemitism is on the rise, it is urgently time to account for these deadly actions of Nazi Germany and to fulfill our obligations arising from them for the whole world community. In my opinion, we Germans have the holy duty to warn others about the lessons we have learned through the broken history of Nazi Germany. Any kind of slight beginning, any historical analogy needs to be outlined and first steps towards such destruction quickly hindered.

As Rabbi Marans kindly invited me to share a small statement on how Christians may respond to the rise of Antisemitism, I took a leap of faith in those present as I spoke about the broken past of my nation, family, and fears for the presence and future. I am sharing it here in my blog laying my trust in you, dear reader, that we may become partners in remembrance and reconciliation.

Reckoning with the past is the hurtful and necessary step to lead into a just future without Antisemitism, Racism, and Hate. It deeply hurt me on that Sunday afternoon and I had to hold myself together as the words poured out of my heart:

It is a great honor for me to speak today. In full disclosure: I am a German. My grandfather served under Hitler in the Nazi navy. He was half Sinti. I still can´t understand, why he supported and glorified this murderous regime. I remember countless discussions as I challenged his idealization of the Nazi era, which he painted in glorious colors over family gatherings. As I held strong against his words, my reaction was met with anger and emotional coldness as you can well imagine.

It is my holy duty as a descendant of those, who committed crimes under Hitler, and as a Christian through the Gospel to warn about the dangers of right-winged thoughts and antisemitism. Reliving the nightmares of Germany passed is one of my greatest fears…

But this passed Wednesday, Feb 5, we all held our breath as analogies to the beginning of a destructive regime resurfaced in Thuringia, Germany.
Thomas Kemmerich was elected as the new prime minister of the free state of Thuringia. His own party FDP barely made it into the state parliament. Through the help of the rightist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and Merkel´s CDU he surprisingly came into this high office. It was as if a breath of Weimar was taking its grip of Germany.

In 1932, Adolf Hitler and his murderous regime came to power through the help of Hindenburg and numerous parties taking down the Weimar Republic. We do not have 1932, but the analogies are frightening: A antidemocratic party is trying to take a grip of the free state of Thuringia, with Weimar at its center. Yesterday, the newly elected prime minister stepped down due to pressure from numerous parties, protestant churches and public protests.

We need swift and courageous actions, because Weimar can be everywhere! Back then, almost unnoticeable hate crawled into everyday life through phrases and small actions of exclusion. As people got used to the dose of hate as part of the daily grind, the intensity increased numbing the human capacity to empathy and solidarity.

“Weimar can be everywhere!” is a warning we need to take seriously. The Jewish Bible calls us to love our neighbor and self. For Christians this is a fundamental principle we are called to. Wherever there are tendencies of right-winged ideology, antisemitism or racism, we have to stand strong and boldly with those, who need our help.

To combat this kind of hate, education is one of the most important keys. As a pastor teaching at the German School I educate the next generation about the holocaust. You may ask my son later, who attends my class together with eight other students. Education is the best antidote we have.

In addition, vital friendships across faiths play a important role. As a small German speaking congregation in New York resembling the larger German Protestant Churches, we reach out to other faith communities and we are blessed to have AJC as an important partner.

“Weimar can be everywhere!” might be true, but as we are setting signs of peace as the beloved community God, we are hindering history to repeat itself.

Thank you for AJC for calling us as the beloved community together that we may be a glimpse of hope for those targeted by antisemitism, racism and hate, those on the margin of our society!

How Society gets used to Injustice

Every morning the newspaper is delivered to our drive way. It is the same procedure every day. I wait until the yellow school bus swallows our children and the door close with the same squeaking noise. Then I bend down and pick up my daily portion of news wrapped in a dark blue plastic bag.

As I opened todays paper and flipped through the pages a almost silent thought crept into my mind getting louder and louder with every new page I turned. A campus shooting in Texas, that had been a rather casual side note in TV last night, was not even worth a mention in todays edition. I couldn’t believe, how quickly one gets used to certain kinds of news.

This kind lack of information mirrors human behavior: The human mind gets quickly used to certain occurrences. In January 2020 there were 28 mass shootings costing 38 lives. Only few nowadays make it to the headlines. That was different, when I was a child. I still vividly remember the first mass school shooting in Germany.

As quickly as life and routines change, the way we see the world and what we perceive as dangerous, just or unjust seems to shift. Victor Klemperer (9 October 1881 – 11 February 1960), a German native and language scholar, experienced this shift of conscience in a very personal way. His diary tells us in details about his life under the Nazi dictatorship and is a frightening documentation of a shift in mind and ethics enabling the most destructive regime ever haunting the face of our earth.

These shifts never come abruptly. More so, they quietly make their way into society. Changing habits, thoughts, and mind-sets in small steps. Almost unnoticeable. They crawl into news, everyday life, conversations, and increasingly change how we perceive things. What formerly was branded as unjust, is after a while met with indifference, and later will even be seen as a just decision.

It was February 21, 1935. Victor Klemperer awaited the visit of two students. As a son of a Jewish parent he had lost his call as a University professor due to Adolf Hitler´s racial laws. Now he was forced into retirement and isolated from his highly active life as a renown scholar and teacher. Any kind of normality was happily welcomed by him and his wife reminding them of the life they had before the Nazi regime took its deadly grip of Germany. But the normality that entered his quiet, isolated home through two former students opened his eyes to the gradual disappearance of what he once called normality:

The girls are completely anti-Nazi. But when it came to talking about two young noble women who had just been executed in Berlin for espionage (for Poland, the friend!), they thought it was all right. They did not ask about the difference between peace and martial law, security through public negotiations, etc. The sense of justice is lost everywhere in Germany, is systematically destroyed.

Victor Klemperer, Tagebücher 1935-1936, Berlin, Germany 1998, p.15 (translation: Miriam Groß)

Miss Winkler and Miss Hildebrandt had been two average young students, who hadn’t supported the Nazi regime. Nonetheless, they too were changed gradually with what they perceived as just or unjust. They stand for millions of average Germans, who had not enthusiastically embraced Hitlers thoughts, but opened the gates to destruction through their increasing shift in the sense of justice. A bitter warning, Victor Klemperer left behind through a small remark in one of eight diaries describing the year 1935.

What was unjust yesterday, is perceived as normal and soon will be deemed just. Harsh sentences, brute words tweeted quickly without thinking sow the seeds of indifference and later hatred. Back then during the Nazi regime it started of with the normalization of violent slurs against Jews. And then escalated into the murder of millions of innocent people.

We should stay woke! Victor Klemperer´s diary is a important warning. May our sense for justice never again be lost. May it not be systematically destroyed as once in Germany.

I am afraid, this will take the courage of many to speak up and show that they are not indifferent towards any kind of totalitarianism. It will come at a high personal cost, but so be it.