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.

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.