Standing in Solidarity as One

My heart stopped a beat as news poured into my busy day. A synagogue attacked in my home country Germany. The Holocaust memorial I know well desecrated by anti-Semitic hate symbols. Fear poured over me like waves of hurtful remembrance of times we thought were long gone. The nightmare of history repeating itself increasingly haunts my mind.

As I shared this anxiety with a friend, she politely wanted to diffuse my fears through words ascribed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rimes.” No matter, if it rhymes or repeats in a new version – the reality is a increase of anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups across the U.S. has climbed from 954 in the year 2017 to staggering 1,020 in the subsequent year. In Germany the rise of right-winged extremism and hate has significantly risen from 2017 to 2018: a sum of 25.250 citizens have been involved in hate groups, right-winged political institutions and structures. This sum has risen by 100 in the following year according to the governmental organization protecting the German constitution (Verfassungsschutz) .

When I received the invitation to a Interfaith vigil in White Plains, Westchester on short notice, there was no holding back. As a descendant of a Nazi perpetrator and a German citizen I am committed to not hide in fear, but to stand strong against anti-Semitism, racism and other hateful actions against minorities. Yes, my grandfather fought as a marine in Hitler´s army. Yes, my home town had welcomed Julius Streicher and send innocent Jews into the Holocaust. Those opposing these hateful actions, went into hiding or out of fear. Numerous in contrary became part of a cheering crowd welcoming Hitler.

It is this legacy of remembrance, which drives me as I will not be silenced, driven into hiding because of fear or even changed to join a criminal group, which does not see all humans as the images of God.

The German Lutheran Theologian Martin Niemöller once put it into fitting words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
” (1)

His question is vital and real for anyone of us. Systems of hate gradually and first silently build up. As they do not face backlash, they will spread their evil influence in a increasing manner. As the US is becoming a Nation, where minorities are becoming the majority (2), numerous Jews came up to thank me for my participation. This gratitude moved me to tears as I as a descendant of a Nazi grandfather shook hand after hand.

After the Interfaith Vigil, I stood at the Holocaust memorial with my colleague Jim O´Hanlon explaining the different mentioned places of horror, which are located in Germany. A lady interrupted our thoughtful exchange and shook our hands in gratitude while explaining that her grandfather had fled Germany due to the Nazi crimes. Her hand was warm and soft as she embraced mine for what felt like a long time. It felt as if she wanted to warm me through her friendly embrace.

I wish, our grandparents would have met in this warm fashion. I wish, my grandfather would have never been part of a Nazi regime that killed millions. As she spoke about her fears pondering if she should go into hiding, I looked firmly into her eyes.

No!

We will not be silenced by hate.

We will not hide driven by fear.

We will stand in solidarity as one with her and any other person, who is targeted by hate.

When they come for you, dear Jewish friend, we will stand strong and will speak justice in the name of the one God, in whose image we are made.

_____________________________________________

(1) Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews . Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, p. 47.

(2) Jim Wallis. Christ in Crisis. Why we need to reclaim Jesus. New York 2018, p. 57.

The Slippery Slope starts with Words

The silence was ear deafening. One by one candles were lit by the tender hands of the female Rabbi. As the mourners kaddish filled the room said by numerous Jewish and Interreligious voices the grief formed a strong bond of commitment binding together the gathered people of different walks of life and faith.

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The slippery slope starts with words.” David Harris, Chief Executive and CEO of AJC, reminded in a calm and even more so intense voice of how the path leading to the Holocaust began long before the Kristallnacht on Nov 9, 1938. The big auditorium of the German General Consulate was filled to the brink as AJC together with the German Consul General David Gill and Ruth Zimbler, a 90 year old Kristallnacht survivor, commemorated together this despicable and tragic moment in German history.

I shivered in my seat as the events past and present simultaneously went through my mind. Kristallnacht began way before 1938. But in my mind they suddenly appeared isochronal. Wiping away the 80 year divide with one blink of an eye and a simple, but ever so wise statement.

The slippery slope starts with words.

Most beginnings are quiet. Almost silent or with few words change will begin to unfold. No one back in the spring of 1912 as Hitler was stranded in a Men´s home in Vienna had ever thought this drop-out and postcard painter would later become the greatest criminal and murderer of over 6 million people. Back then, his audience was small as he voiced his thoughts about race and inferiority of the Jews. Hitler then was still the underestimated outsider. The underdog. A existence he later very successfully used to climb to the highest political ranks as he spread disaster of almost the whole world.

My eyes were fixated to the lit memorial candles as if I tried to hold on to hope despite disaster past and present. But the sentence had a tight grip to my thoughts as I could feel my heartbeat increase even though I was sitting.

The slippery slope starts with words.”

As my head was spinning my thoughts were pulled to Germany of January 1933. It was in the office of the Reich President that Hindenburg expressed is great satisfaction that the political right had at last united against all the liberal and democratic forces. As Hitler himself swore he would act in the good of the whole nation, Hindenburg gave this political newcomer his blessings. In one voice, as it is stated through different sources, the call of Hitler as new Reichs Chancellor was underpinned with a single sentence: “And now, gentlemen, forward with God.”

As a woman of God, a faith leader and a German this heresy and abuse of faith is deeply hurtful. Even then, many, even Hindenburg, hadn’t suspected that they were already on a slippery slope leading to disaster, murder and destruction.

The slippery slope starts with words.”

May this sentence remind us of the power of words, which can develop the beautiful and more so the disastrous. “The Anti-Defamation League logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.” (1) Words of hate and anti-Semitism lead to the deadliest attack towards Jews in the US in Pittsburgh as eleven innocent believers were murdered by a white supremacist. We know by now that the perpetrator Robert Bowers was encouraged and fed by anti-Semitic words and thoughts expressed by numerous sources.

The dehumanizing words presently used in politics are leading to a never before experienced rise in hate crimes. Murders like the one of the Pittsburgh Eleven, the two African-American in Kentucky, and “smaller” despicable acts in numerous shapes and sizes against women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized people are changing the shape and form of a free and accepting US-society.

In Germany it once began with small words and ideas uttered in back yards, at ordinary tables and in small groups. They infected others and spread hate like a deadly cancer in German society.

I sighed as my eyes fixated the candles. Never again. If the world is again on the path of a slippery slope, it will be our responsibility to hold against this trend as courageous as we are able to. As God commands us: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)


(1) NY Times

Though I walk through the valley of death

Voices rose around me. Grieving people from all walks of life spoke in one voice. Jews, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Roman Catholics joined in the ancient Psalm 23 and filled the dense air of the meeting room with hope beyond grief.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me besides the still waters.

In the midst of preparations for the high holidays of Pesach and Easter, members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Consuls from numerous countries, clergy, and friends had gathered in Midtown Manhattan to show solidarity with the Jewish Community by sharing the grief about the assassination of Mireille Knoll. The French Holocaust survivor had been brutally murdered on March 23rd in her apartment in Paris and is the newest victim of antisemitism.

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The 85-year old, who suffered Parkinson’s disease, was stabbed to death by two Jihadists. A senseless and brutal end to a life that had been ever so burdensome through the suffering of the Holocaust. Mrs. Mireille Knoll had barely escaped with her life as a ten year old in the Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver in Paris in July 1942. Thousands of Jewish women, men, and children had been locked into the Vélodrome d’Hiver to be deported to concentration camps in the East. She returned to France after its liberation and married Mr. Knoll, a Auschwitz survivor. The couple was blessed with two sons. But after the nightmares of the Holocaust she had not been granted a peaceful death, but violence and hatred ended a life too quickly.

He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name´s sake.

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

My heart sank as I spoke the old biblical words, which are my Baptismal verses. Yes, Europe is facing one of the greatest challenges since World War II. Antisemitism, racism, exclusion of those, who are different is on the rise. This senseless and brutal death was its newest expression.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

In their history Jews had to face uncounted enemies. It is like a red thread woven through the countless centuries of the ancient nation. Prosecution, death and murder accompanied their struggle for freedom. In many ways their history and the way they are treated is like a litmus test showing the state of nations and societies. “We have been dealt with like the bird in the cage of a mine. As soon as the bird stopped singing, the miner knew he would need to leave it to safe his life. We are done with being the bird”, David Harris, the AJC Chief Executive Officer, emphasized at the commemoration. What a powerful picture to choose.

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As a Lutheran growing up in the safety of a small, closely knit community in Germany, I never had to suffer abuse or prosecution. I had never been excluded due to skin color, religion, or heritage. I can’t grasp, how terrible it might feel having to endure this generation after generation. Or being forced to grapple with the murder of loved ones. But as a German, bearing the weight of my ancestors and my nations crimes, I am committed to stand up against antisemitism, race, and hate. And many others partaking in the commemoration and beyond are as well, emphasizing the common ground of “Loving neighbor and self”. A glimpse of hope in times of trouble.

It is my constant prayer that these signs of hope will develop into a shield against the evil forces of hatred as more and more pull together as they feel their responsibility for peace. Governments and religions. Representatives and individuals.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

May the memory of Mireille Knoll forever be a blessing.

May Europe wake up through her senseless murder before it is too late.