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:
When entering our apartment, my hand softly touched the Hebrew letters of שלום. Shalom. Peace. Frieden. I sighed deeply as the well-known words of the Shema Israel came over my lips. Protected by a beautiful bright blue outside the small parchment scroll of the Mezuzah contained important parts of the Holy Scriptures (1) and was a precious memory of seven years in New York.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Shalom. Peace. Frieden.
Our world is struggling heavily to find peace. Despite a raging pandemic, a large portion of our world is still engulfed in different conflicts and wars. (2) What a terrible fact as Christianity is celebrating Christmastide and all nations are heading for the New Year!
Year after year I am hoping for peace to come. Even though you and I live in peaceful nations, many are not as fortunate. My own nation has not lived up to the basic religious principal engrained into Judaism and Christianity. During the Nazi dictatorship most Germans were official members of the Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches, but didn’t live up to the concept of shalom. Instead, they were eagerly part of a murderous, diabolical system. Large numbers did not simply forget the connections between Judaism and Christianity, but some very actively tried to destroy every trace of shared values.
When on a very cold night of November 9 the local Rabbi Dr. Salomon Almekias-Siegl came to our Christian home, it felt as if a tide of personal family history was turning in healing ways. It could have not been a more touching date for installing our Mezuzah at the apartment door of our German Christian family. On what is today known as „Kristallnacht“ (3), from November 9 to 10, 1938 when synagogues and Jewish property were burned and destroyed on a large scale, and hundreds Jews were killed or driven to commit suicide, it was this gesture of שלום that deeply moved us.
After checking that the small scroll was kosher, the Rabbi spoke the blessing hanging the mezuzah slanted on the right side of the door, facing inwards towards our apartment. My thoughts went to the biblical story of the Rabbi Jesus discussing religious matters with scribes where he referred to the Shema Israel and the commandment to love neighbour and self as the highest commandments of faith (Marc 12:28-31). If only the perpetrators of the Nazi dictatorship large and small would have lived up to this commandment instead of killing millions of Jews!
Now, day after day, as I pass through our door, the bright blue Mezuzah and its silver letters remind me that the way to שלום is adhering to these fundamental commandments, which bind Judaism and Christianity together. I am so thankful for this reminder, which was installed on one a night that reminds us of one of the darkest night in German history.
Shalom. Peace. Frieden.
With every new day rising and every passing through our doorway my hope grows that God´s kingdom will grow in our broken world by love we show God and our neighbour.
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.„
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.
As we are facing horrific antisemitic violence in New York I am increasingly worried. As a German I not only know where this form of hate can lead through history, but my own family’s history is embedded in this murderous act of Hitler´s National Socialism and Antisemitism. It is therefore one of my greatest responsibilities to warn about these murderous dangers and bring up the next generation to commit to this important task. As we marched yesterday in solidarity across the Brooklyn bridge to set a sign against hate, my eleven year old daughter walked at my side. It was her first demonstration ever and I am sure that it will be printed into her mind.
I may not be able to embrace January 6 as the „Jewish and Proud“ day in the same manner as my Jewish friends, but in honor of all my Jewish friends I chose to make soup with matzoh balls for my family. Not only do we Germans say: „Liebe geht durch den Magen“ (Love makes its way to a person through the stomach) as we are trying to bring up our children in respect for the Jewish communities and other faith communities, but matzoh resemble an important link to the broken past of my home town:
Uffenheim is a small town of now 5.000 in middle Franconia. It once had a famous matzoh factory, which was known for its delicious bakery from Berlin to Munich. Interestingly, one of their products was named „Frankenperle“. Gerson Landmann, the great-grandfather of my friend Rick Landman, whose family has originated as well from Uffenheim and lives in New York, has sold their products in Munich. It is unbelievable, how many interlinkages the two of us discover: Not only did our families originate from the same town, but I ministered in Munich for a number of years as well!
Unfortunately, the small factory disappeared with its significant Jewish population before World War II. Uffenheim had „prouded“ itself being „judenfrei“ before the 1938 and was one of the “brown” centers of Hitler´s Nazi regime with the famous propagandist Julius Streicher roaming the area and “brainwashing” all its population. My German grandfather had eagerly joined in this very dark chapter of human history, which brought death and destruction over uncounted lives, families, and whole continents. I recall many discussions and fights between us as I reacted very emotional as he had prided himself to have fought as a marine in Hitler´s army and painted these days in a glorious fashion. One can easily imagine that I was not his favorite grandchild.
As I travelled back to Bavaria this passed November, I visited my parents-in-law in Uffenheim and was able to track down the old Matzoh factory, which is now a shed for fire wood. Its owner allowed me to take a closer look and even promised that he would unearth the old oven, which is presently „buried“ under piles of wood.
Matzoh will be forever connected to the broken history of my home town as I am continuously committed to remembrance, reconciliation and peace. I may not be able to „undo“ the crimes of my forefathers and -mothers, but I can warn others and encourage the next generation to seek peace and love their neighbor.
Therefore, in honor of today’s „Jewish and Proud“ day, as an ally I will make matzoh ball soup for our family. They will quickly understand this symbol of our past and present. May many more allies come from our small parsonage and the ministry I am embarking in New York.