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 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 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

In hot waters…

The tea cup slowly filled with hot, boiling water as the small silver frog held tightly on to the rim. What first seemed such a normal activity of filling hot water into a cup with a animal shaped tea egg, quickly evoked unforeseen associations in my news shaken mind. I could almost feel the hot water of the cup surrounding myself as the news trickled in about the Pardon of the former Sheriff and White Supremacist Joe Arpaio.

Just minutes ago I had begun reading Victor Klemperer´s diary. A stunning testimony of the terrible events leading Germany and the whole of the world into a humanitarian disaster. As I reached his entry from March 14, 1933, Victor Klemperer mentioned different happenings in a quick succession. The first one evoked a cold shiver running down my spine as I simultaneously heard the current news evolve.

„On the order of the Reichskanzler the five people, who were sentenced during summer by the special court in Beuthen for killing of Polish insurgent convict have been pardoned.“ (1)

For me as a German pastor it is like deeply hurtful déjà-vu , reminding me of the beginning of a disaster evoked by my nation upon others and mostly the powerless and marginalized. Over 6 million Jews and many uncountable others were murdered through the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The above mentioned „Potempa-Murder“ by five SA-men and its sentencing , which took place in August 1932 (2) and the pardon by the newly empowered Reichskanzler Hitler was just the beginning of a brutal and systematic change to a system of fear, oppression and death. It was the first step, even though it was announced as a „legal and proper act“, that may be seen as the official recognisable dismantling of the parliamentarian democracy. More and bolder steps would follow very soon.

As I pulled out the small frog shaped tea egg, it lay hot and steaming in my hand. I quickly tossed it into the kitchen sink as I eased my burning skin with cold water. If only mankind would learn from their broken past that sometimes leaves aching burns and deep scars on society. I could only hope that the testimony of Victor Klemperer and others, who give us through their writings a precious time machine into a broken and terrible past, may be a warning sign for us as the presence and the future is unfolding.

https://youtu.be/qZ5twOslkGE

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(1) Victor Klemperer: Tagebücher, 1933-1934, Berlin 31999, p. 11. (Translation: MG)

(2) http://www.bundesarchiv.de/aktenreichskanzlei/1919-1933/1000/vpa/vpa1p/kap1_2/para2_123.html;jsessionid=56F760C0770BFEBB61A62667DB9F769D?highlight=true&search=Luetgebrune&stemming=false&pnd=&start=&end=&field=all