My dear Jewish friend 15: As German Federal Police #WeRemember

I held my breath as the young police cadet started reading the names of places that once have been places of horror and death.

Auschwitz

Buchenwald

Dachau

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.

(All Pictures: Bundespolizei / Stabstelle Öffentlichkeitsarbeit / AFZ Bamberg)

Flossenbürg

Groß-Rosen

Hinzert

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.

Majdanek

Mauthausen

Mittelbau

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.

Natzweiler-Struthof

Neuengamme

Riga-Kaiserwald

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.

Sachsenhausen

Stutthof

Plaszow

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.

Im anderen einen wertvollen Menschen entdecken: von Respekt für Einsatzkräfte und langfristiger Vertrauensbildung

Als ich auf insgesamt drei Regalen in großen Lettern die Schilder „AUTOS“ bereits auf der Rolltreppe entdeckte, spürte ich das Kribbeln einer kindlich freudigen Begeisterung. Meine geheime Mission würde aufgrund der schon von weiten sichtbaren Fülle an „Kaufgut“ sicherlich erfolgreich sein. Da mein Patenkind in einiger Zeit aufgrund einer notwendigen Operation ins Krankenhaus gehen musste, wollte ich ihn mit einem kleinen „Krankenhaus-Paket“ überraschen und Mut machen. Ein Besuch würde aufgrund der gegenwärtigen Infektionswelle kaum möglich sein. Daher hoffte ich, dass ihm durch die kleinen Geschenke etwas näher sein würde: ein kuscheliger Schlafanzug – ein Kuscheltier, das mit einem großen Reißverschluss versehen, Sorgen fressen konnte – eine Buch nebst selbsteingesprochener Audiodatei – und ein Spielzeugauto. Aber nicht irgendeines, hatte ich mir fest vorgenommen. Denn das Patenkind war ein begeisterter Polizeifan und wusste natürlich genau, dass seine Patin bei der Bundespolizei arbeitete.

Meine Füße setzten auf dem mit hellen Kacheln versehenen Einkaufsgeschoss auf und setzten mit entschlossenen Schritten das Tempo der Rolltreppe fort. Doch schon bald verlor ich nach der Durchsicht des zweiten Regals den Mut. Das konnte doch nicht wahr sein! Wo waren sie, die Polizeifahrzeuge? Bis dato war ich immer der Überzeugung gewesen, dass sie zu jedem Kinderzimmer gehörten und daher überall angeboten würden. Als ich schon fast aufgab, fiel mir auf der Stirnseite des letzten Regales ganz unten links einige Einsatzfahrzeuge auf. Unter ihnen zu meiner Erleichterung ein Volkswagen Crafter auf dessen Seite in großen Lettern POLIZEI aufgedruckt war. Noch dazu konnte man durch leichtes Drücken eine Polizeisirene erklingen lassen. Als das Geräusch erklang waren es sehr ambivalente Gefühle, die in mir Raum nahmen:

Erinnerungen an einen Besuch bei der Landespolizei als ich selbst Kindergartenkind war, wurden plötzlich so wohltuend präsent. Damals war es auch ein Volkswagen gewesen – ein alter Bus, in den wir uns setzen durften. Wo uns der Polizist unter unseren staunenden Augen alles erklärte und ganz nebenbei viel Vertrauen zwischen ihm und uns schuf.

Aber auch schwere Gedanken mischten sich in die freudige Jagd nach einem geeigneten Spielzeug, denn die Aufschrift „TRY ME“ war in makaberer Weise in der Silvesternacht von Personen umgesetzt worden. „Try me“ bedeutet aus dem Englischen übersetzt nicht nur „Probiere mich aus“, sondern je nach Kontext auch „Fordere mich doch heraus!“. Sicher ist vielen Einsatzkräften besonders in dichten Zeiten wie einem Jahreswechsel oder anderen Tagen im Jahreskreis bewusst, dass der Dienst nicht einfach werden könnte, dass der Dienst unter Umständen sogar eine Herausforderung darstellt. Aber das, was in der letzten Silvesternacht zahlreichen Einsatzkräften der Polizei und Feuerwehr passierte, lässt mich als Polizeiseelsorgerin wütend werden. Gewalt an Einsatzkräften, die zur Hilfe eilen, ist indiskutabel und darf nicht toleriert werden.

Mein Blick geht aber nicht nur zurück, sondern auch in die Zukunft. Meine eigene lange zurückliegende Erfahrung hat mich von Kindesbeinen an positiv geprägt. In New York habe ich auf diese Erfahrung aufgebaut und meine Konfirmandinnen und Konfirmanden im Rahmen eines Praxistages mit zu meiner damaligen Polizeistation genommen. Während die Polizeikollegen sie mit in die Station nahmen, ihnen Türen öffneten, die anderen so nicht zugänglich waren und Einsatzfahrzeuge erklärt bekamen, sah ich in ihren Augen ein Strahlen, das sich sicherlich als eine gute Erinnerung an die manifestierte, die für unsere Sicherheit sorgen.

Innerhalb des Community Policing Projects konnte ich viele vertrauensbildende Projekte besonders mit Kindern und Jugendlichen erleben: die Youth Police Academy, die in den langen Sommerferien kostenlose Camps anboten und spannende Einblicke in die Polizeiarbeit schenkten; die NYPD Explorers, mit denen die deutsche Jugendfeuerwehr im polizeilichen Bereich vergleichbar ist; Familienfeste; Basketballturniere mit Cops und so vieles mehr. Die grundlegende Konstante hierbei war, dass Bürgerinnen und Bürger mit Polizistinnen und Polizisten in Kontakt kamen und so manches Vorurteil fiel. Im anderen den Menschen entdecken – ob in zivil oder Uniform- das prägt beide Seiten und hilft, den anderen zu verstehen.

Als Polizeiseelsorgerin würde ich mir aufgrund dieser Erinnerungen wünschen, dass wir Polizei und Bürgerschaft, alt und jung, egal welcher Herkunft oder finanziellem Status, die Möglichkeit geben, im anderen einen wertvollen Menschen zu entdecken. Das ist aus meiner Sicht die beste langfristige Prävention gegen solche schweren Silvesternächte.

Ich drückte nochmals gedankenverloren auf den kleinen Volkswagenbus. Vielleicht sollte ich eher die große Aufschrift der Verpackung „TRY ME“ mit „TESTE MICH“ im Bezug auf meine Ideen übersetzen. Wenn ich in entscheidender Position tätig wäre, würde ich ein Projekt anstoßen, durch das die evangelische Seelsorge in der Bundespolizei diese Menschen zusammenbringt und Vertrauen schafft. Bis vielleicht eine solche Person den Mut fasst, werde ich dies im Kleinen als Pfarrerin umsetzen. Bei meinen Konfirmanden hatte ich in New York den Anfang gemacht. Nun war es mein Patenkind, das durch seine Patin einen spielerischen Zugang erhielt. Und wer weiß, welche anderen Möglichkeiten Gott in unsere Hände legen möge.

My dear Jewish friend 14: Inter-religious education and lessons to grow

After two public Christmas holidays, where we celebrated among our family, I headed back to work regenerated and full of hope despite the challenges on personal, professional, and political level.

For another year the Chanukah decorations – my small electric Chanukiah and the large wooden Dreidel from Israel – would rest in the large cupboard of my office. After placing the Chanukiah in front of a stack of Bibles longing to be used. Then, I carefully placed the Dreidel in front of it. The wooden art piece would forever remind me of a special lesson about Chanukah, inter-religious education, and own theological reflections on this Jewish celebration. As I slowly turned the dark Dreidel on its socket I remembered the astonished voice of a young police cadet.

But let me start with the lesson itself… : After the murderous crimes of World War II the number of Jews living in Germany presently is under 1% of the German population. Most of my police cadets have never had an encounter with Jews and only small knowledge about the living faith of Judaism. Therefore, during the festive season of Chanukah, I taught them about the history of this important festival showing them the Chanukiah and even playing a fun round of Dreidel. While I explained the historical background of your festival I could see that one police cadet sitting in the center of the class room looked very puzzled. He persistently raised his hand. I nodded, as I could feel the urgency of his question. „Mrs. Groß, please forgive my question, but I am confused. Are you Jewish?“ Now it was me being the astonished one. I set down the Dreidel on my desk. „No, I am not Jewish. But I have lived in New York for almost seven years. My children brought home many Jewish traditions. Some of my best friends are Jewish, and through Judaism I was able to understand a lot of my Christian faith.“ While the class then eagerly turned to playing a round or two of Dreidel, the question of the young police cadet stuck and evoked a deeper research on what Chanukah, Judaism and Christianity might have in common. Who would ever think, that an inter-religious lesson I had designed for my police cadets to help them with their ethical decision making, would help me to reach a deeper level of understanding of both faiths.

In the Christian Holy Scriptures we hear from Jesus celebrating most likely Chanukah:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

John 10:22-23 NRSV

The German Bible translation „Bibel in gerechter Sprache“ even directly speaks of Chanuka:

Damals fand in Jerusalem das Chanukkafest statt.

John 10:22 Bibel in gerechter Sprache

There is no further biblical proof, if Jesus celebrated Chanukah. But the reference seems very convincing to me and I will definitely add to my answer that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi and most likely celebrated Chanukah like other Jews did.

With a soft push I closed the cabinet door, where the special objects of my teaching are stored. The Dreidel will forever remind me of this special lesson – by now I am convinced that I am challenged to grow as I teach as much as I challenge my young cadets to learn about other faiths, cultures, and festivals.

Love from Bamberg to my Jewish friend.

My dear Jewish friend 13: Shining lights of hope beyond Chanukah and Christmas

I sighed as I looked at the Chanukah decorations on our Christian Christmas tree. A few days earlier I had carefully placed a porcelain dreidel and festive window with a brightly lit Chanukiah in the center of our Christmas tree.

It was the eve of Christmas day and our two holiday seasons, Chanukah and Christmas, share one festive day, my thoughts had you on my mind. I vividly remember one Chanukah evening I was invited to speak about my family´s history, which represents like so many that of broken German history and more so the responsibility for present and future.

But now it was time to dim the light on this beautiful small window and our electric Chanukiah, which has accompanied us through your beautiful festival of lights. The lights of your beautiful festival might have been dimmed and those of Christmas will seize in a few days as well, but there is a light beyond that shines through us into this world.

A beautiful poem of Philip M. Raskin reminds us that the light will continue to shine:

The Rabbi tells his old, old tale,
     The pupils seated round.
“…And thus, my boys, no holy oil
     In the Temple could be found.

The heathens left no oil to light
     The Lord’s eternal lamp;
At last one jar, one single jar,
     Was found with the high priest’s stamp.

Its oil could only last one day—
     But God hath wondrous ways;
For lo! a miracle occurred:
     It burned for eight whole days.”

The tale was ended, but the boys,
     All open-eyed and dumb,
Sat listening still, as though aware
     Of stranger things to come.

Just wait, my boys, permit me, pray,
     The liberty to take;
Your Rabbi—may he pardon me—
     Has made a slight mistake.

Not eight days, but two thousand years
     That jar of oil did last,
To quell its wondrous flames availed
     No storm, no flood, no blast.

But this is not yet all, my boys:
     The miracle just starts.
This flame is kindling light and hope
     In countless gloomy hearts.

And in our long and starless night,
     Lest we should go astray,
It beacon-like sheds floods of light,
     And eastwards points the way,

Where light will shine on Zion’s hill,
     As in the days of old.
The miracle is greater, boys,
     Than what your Rabbi told

Philip M. Raskin – 1880-1944

As we as a Christian family are emerging ourselves into twelve days of the Christian festive season I know from our friendship that there is a light shining in both of us. A light of joy for the better, which we try to bring into our broken world large or small. May it kindle light and hope in countless gloomy hearts, which struggle.

Love from Bamberg on Christmas to my Jewish friend.

My dear Jewish friend 11: Forms of Identification and Responsibility

Preparing for an upcoming lesson I had dug out my seasoned passport. My thumb ran over the rounded edges and the large white registering sticker of my visa that was placed over the federal eagle and had almost been rubbed off. The many travels I had made with this faithful companion had given this important document a soft appearance.

For the upcoming week I was asked to be part of a role play to help my police cadets prepare for a standard situation: I would play a passenger, who needs to identify herself to the authorities while traveling. „Pretty straight forward“, I quietly said to myself. I love being part of these vital practises as they help our young trainees to grow into their new, responsible role as representatives of the German government. But this practise would have a different, very deep meaning as it the responsibility growing from its day to day practise at German airports, train stations and borders was rooted in the darkness of the German past.

How many times had I taken for granted that I would not be in danger when handing my passport to an immigration officer? I can’t recall how often I had presented it while travelling from the United States to Germany and back. My German passport comes along with a lot of privileges citizens of other countries do not have. According to the Henley Passport Index it is listed on 3rd place worldwide for visa-free travel. Whenever I was holding this small, but powerful form of identification in my hand, I always felt secure when handing it over.

But there have been times in Germany, when certain forms of identification haven’t been a protection, but an endangerment for those holding them. Inge Auerbacher, who is a Holocaust survivor and whom I was honoured to meet in New York, knows through hurtful experience. Just a few weeks ago I stood with in front of an exhibition about „Kennkarten“ at the Jüdisches Museum Berlin as tears rolled down my cheeks. It was exactly on the day when Inge had left Germany. This day was marked by authorities in red letters across her German identification card, which was back then called „Kennkarte“.

(Picture right : by the courtesy of Inge Auerbacher)

The „Kennkarte“ was the basic identity document, which was used during the Third Reich. The murderous regime quickly used this form of identification as a weapon of control and fear. Unfortunately, Germany back then had been very efficient in the layout of bureaucracy. Letters on the outside of the „Kennkarte“ were introduced to mark each ethnicity – J for Jews, U for Ukrainians, R for Russians, W for Belarusians, K for Georgians, G for Goralenvolk, Z for Roma and Sinti.

I can’t possibly imagine what kind of fear it must have evoked as a person with such a letter had to produce their ID to an officer. After seeing Inge´s Kennkarte I will never ever take such freedom for granted. Encountering her story, took my teaching at the Federal Police to a deeper level. As long as I am allowed to, I will talk with my cadets about their responsibility to be guards of democracy and human worth. Back then, the police force was a terrible accomplice of the murderous Nazi regime enabling fear and becoming an instrument of its terror. Today, as long as I am permitted to teach, I will tell the stories of hurt, loss and disaster to help the young police officers to remember this terrible time in Germany and become a vital part of resistance against any form of exclusion, dictatorship and executive terror.

I sighed deeply as I slid my passport into my bag. What a privilege and responsibility. Maybe this is one of the reasons I was called back to Germany: that we remember these horrible times and stay committed to democracy and justice so people feel safe as they enter and life Germany.

Wenn Fleischereien sich christlicher Symbolik bedienen…

Schnellen Schrittes bog ich mit meiner Familie im Schlepptau um die nächste Straßenecke. Immer mit dem Blick abwechselnd auf das Smartphone und die Umgebung. Der Hunger trieb uns in der unbekannten Berliner Umgebung voran, denn wir wollten möglichst schnell zum ausgewählten indischen Wunschrestaurant kommen. In meiner Vorstellung stand vor mir bereits ein leckeres indisches Curry mit butterweichem Lamm. Mir lief schon allein bei dem Gedanken das Wasser im Mund zusammen.

Als ich aufsah, blieb mein Blick erstaunt an einem Schild haften. Etwas über Augenhöhe war weiß auf rot in einem Leuchtschild ein Lamm mit einer Fahne abgebildet. Darunter prangte in großen Lettern ebenfalls in strahlendem Rot gehalten die Aufschrift „Fleischerei“. Mitten auf den beschäftigten Straßen von Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg strahlte unübersehbar bei Tag und Nacht das Agnus Dei als Werbeschrift für eine Fleischerei. Die Kombination von christlicher Symbolik und einem Fleischereifachgeschäft erschien an diesem Urlaubstag selbst für mich als Pfarrerin, die eigentlich die Passions-, Kreuzigungs- und Auferstehungsgeschichte in und auswendig kannte, wirklich drastisch und sehr massiv. Dabei wies die durchaus gewagte Kombination von christlicher Symbolik und der Tötung von Tieren auf die Schwere dessen hin, was wir Christen glaubten, dass Christus für uns vollbracht hatte: nämlich dass er als Unschuldiger unsere Schuld wie ein Lamm auf sich genommen hatte und dadurch uns den Weg zum ewigen Leben eröffnet hatte. Ob sich der fleissige Einkäufer oder die hungrige Kundin der zugrundeliegenden Symbolik des Geschäftes bewusst waren?

Die Vorstellung des „Agnus Dei“ rekurriert auf das Lamm als Opfertier im Alten Testament, besonders auf Pessach-Lämmer, deren Blut in der Nacht des Auszugs Israels aus Ägypten auf das Gebot Gottes hin als Schutzzeichen vor der Zehnten Plage an den Türpfosten gestrichen wurde (siehe Ex 12). Das sog. vierte Gottesknechtslied schöpft in seinen Worten ebenfalls aus der Symbolik des Lammes:

Fürwahr, er trug unsre Krankheit und lud auf sich unsre Schmerzen. Wir aber hielten ihn für den, der geplagt und von Gott geschlagen und gemartert wäre. Aber er ist um unsrer Missetat willen verwundet und um unsrer Sünde willen zerschlagen. Die Strafe liegt auf ihm, auf dass wir Frieden hätten, und durch seine Wunden sind wir geheilt.

Jes 53,4-5

Im Neuen Testament findet die Lamm-Symbolik fast selbstverständlich eine Verwendung, wobei sie ganz auf Jesus bezogen wird und vor allem im Johannesevengelium eine besonders gewichtige Rolle spielt. So weißt Johannes der Täufer an zwei Stellen auf Christus mit diesen Worten hin:

Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm, das der Welt Sünde trägt!

Joh 1,29 (1,36)

Interessant ist, dass der Evangelist nicht nur die oben genannten Worte wählt, sondern auch die Kreuzigung Jesu zu der Zeit verortete, in der Passach-Lämmer geschlachtet wurden. Auch die anderen Evangelien sowie die Offenbarung des Johannes schöpfen aus der Lamm-Gottes-Symbolik.

Selbst auf das Drängen meiner hungrigen Familie hin konnte ich mich nur schwer von dem vor mir prangenden Fleischerei-Schild lösen. Wie oft habe ich Osterlämmer für die gebacken, die mir wichtig waren und dabei mehr auf die putzige Osterlammform und den richtigen, süßen Kuchengeschmack geachtet? Wie oft habe ich das Abendmahl gefeiert und dabei mit der Gemeinde innerhalb der Liturgie das „Agnus Dei“ gesungen bevor ich Brot und Wein als Leib und Blut Christi reichte ohne mir der massiven Symbolik in seiner Tiefe bewusst zu sein? Es schüttelte mich an diesem sommerlich heißen Nachmittag in Berlin durch und durch bei der Vorstellung eines Lammes, das zur Schlachtbank geführt wurde – die Fleischerei verwob die oft so harmlos scheinende Symbolik mit bitterem Ernst.

Mein Hunger nach einem indischen Lammcurry war mit einem Mal vergangen. Wie nur konnte ich all die Jahre die Tat Christi, die für Christen so essentiell ist, gedanklich verharmlosen und mich so weit von dem entfernen, was es eigentlich bedeutete? So wurde ich plötzlich wachgerüttelt. An einem heiteren, warmen Urlaubsnachmittag mitten in Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.

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 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.

My dear Jewish friend 7: Shabbat Shira, the New Year of the Trees and songs of praise

After riding with my bicycle through a cold starry January evening to the local synagogue in Bamberg, I thankfully entered the warm and cozy building. Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl had invited me for the Shabbat service and the following festive evening of Tu B´Shvat. As I sat down in a pew, my cold and stiff limbs started to thaw with every word spoken and every song rising.

When Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl explained in his sermon that this evening was Shabbat Shira, my thoughts immediately traveled across the miles to your synagogue and Rabbi Shira Milgrom. My heart silently began to sing as I was reminded of you. What a coincidence to be invited on Shabbat Shira to this synagogue. I suddenly understood why the Rabbi had pointed out to others that my first name was Miriam (as you know in Germany you usually call each other by the surname). It never occurred to me that the names „Shira“ and „Miriam“ are closely intertwined in such significant ways. This special Shabbat not only flabbergasted me, but helped me to understand more about our shared commitment. Shabbat Shira emphasises the Song of the Sea and the Miriams song, which has always has been near to my heart. It is one of the greatest songs of the Torah:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD willI will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD will reign forever and ever. reign forever and ever.

Exodus 15:1-18

It is the song of the people of Israel at the Red Sea, when your people were saved from the pharaoh through G´d. Being named after biblical Miriam, I was always drawn to the story of the exodus. Many a times I shivered about the pressure, toil and hardship Israel had to bear in Egypt, the plagues, and the miracles Moses performed through G´d.

For me as a Lutheran pastor committed to seeking peace and justice, this story is a symbol of triumph after difficult times and that G´ds promise of justice and freedom can be reached. Many times it takes the struggles of numerous generations until justice becomes reality.

But how quickly do we get used to a peaceful and just surrounding? You and I, we both had the privilege to grow up in peaceful times. Through the history of our nations, which are intertwined through the murderous crimes of the Holocaust, we should remember with huge thankfulness that we are blessed with peace.

The nearness of Tu B´Shvat on this Shabbat may help us to remember that the Creator has provided us with everything we need. The New Year of the trees celebrates the fruit of the tree, the vegetables, the plants that give air to the world and so much more. As the Rabbi shared his memories of celebrating „the New Year of the Trees“ in Israel I could feel the joy spreading in the small diaspora synagogue and once more my longing to visit Israel has been awakened again. (I truly hope to be able to spend time there as soon as this pandemic is over.) As we entered the small communal space on the ground floor, a beautiful meal was prepared for us with more fruits than we could eat and we indulged in fruits, which came from your homeland Israel.

As I ate the carefully selected and beautifully presented fruits, I had to think of all the blessings laid into my life. I don’t have to worry about food or a roof over my head, and am blessed in so many ways. But how often do we forget that the basic things in life are small wonders in themselves? Working in your pantry, getting to know your synagogue, and experiencing how quickly even basic things like food can be taken from you, have changed my perspective both on the song of Miriam and the basic things in life.

I think it is our challenge, to recognise the everyday gifts received from above, and to share these blessings with those, who are less fortunate than us. For them they are wonders and free those, who are less fortunate from their bondage hunger and economical troubles. May our actions become very practical, recognisable songs of Miriam as we use our hands, hearts, and lips to give praise to the one, who has called us to pursue peace and justice.

My dear Jewish friend 6: Shalom and Shared Roots of Faith

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.

Deut 6,4-5

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.


(1) Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

(2) Statista:

(3) The Night of Broken Glass