My dear Jewish friend 16: delivering a promise bit by bit – combating Antisemitism and racism through education

Tears ran down my cheeks. Hot and angry tears. It felt as if their trail was burning my skin. I remember well, when I had to break the news to you that I would be leaving the U.S. and returning to Germany. Our friendship was one of the most precious gifts I had been gifted with during our time in New York. Under your leadership we fed the hungry through the pantry of your synagogue and stilled the hunger of those, who had been hit hardest during the economic effects of the pandemic. It was on this day, that I promised to you that within my next call I would commit myself to fight Antisemitism and racism. I would infuse this commitment into the German Federal Police through education. Only a few months later, I started teaching young Police Cadets infusing the strong sense of commitment for Human rights, dignity and our German constitution, which was born as a democratic law out of the pain and death of millions.

Two years later, as I listened to the words of Dr. Borys Zabarko, my hand discreetly stroke my cheek down the same path the tears had taken over two years ago reminding me of the promise I had made to you. The auditorium was filled with 250 members of the German Federal Police. As Dr. Zabarko spoke about his experiences during the Holocaust, you could’ve heard a needle, if it would’ve dropped.

Dr. Zabarko had escaped the ghetto of Sharhorod as a child. After the Second World War he studied at the Chernivtsi University, and commenced his PhD at the Institute for History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev, where he received a PhD in 1971. He dedicated his whole career to combating Antisemitism and researching on the disaster of the Holocaust. The number of books he has written is impressive and he is at the forefront of research of the Holocaust in the Ukraine, gifting generations with his knowledge and commitment to combat this terrible heresy, which has cost millions of people their lives and has brought suffering over generations.

It was a twist of historical irony that he as a Ukrainian Jew was standing in front of a German audience, speaking about the horrible things which had happened through Nazi-Germany and its executive authorities. Now he had to flee his own country finding refuge where the perpetrators and terrible deadly heresy of Antisemitism had once installed a brutal system of death and catastrophe.

As he talked about the deadly role the police during the Nazi dictatorship had played, I held my breath and tried to swallow away the tears – the same hot tears of grief I had felt back then when I broke the news to you. Dr. Zabarko spoke about the massacre of Babyn Yar as the site of the largest massacre carried out by Nazi Germany’s forces during its campaign against the Soviet Union in World War II. It took place 29–30 September 1941, killing some 33,771 Jews in an industrial manner. He spoke about how the massacre was commenced with a mass ditch, in which line by line the victims fell through the hand of Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, consisting of SD (Sicherheitsdienst) and SiPo (Sicherheitspolizei) men, the third company of the Special Duties Waffen-SS battalion, and a platoon of the No. 9 police battalion. As you can guess, a large number of these men had been police officers. While I glanced over the large number of listening police members and looked at the dark blue of my own police uniform, it felt as though not only the skin of my cheeks was set on fire. An important fire I hope others in the audience felt as well.

I am utmost blessed that the Leading Police Director understands my vision and calling. We share the same goal as we try to strengthen our democracy, standing up for human rights and combating Antisemitism, racism and any kind of exclusion through education and leading by example. There are so many obstacles in our way as we try to infuse these goals into the educational system of executive authority. Sometimes I am at the brink of giving up and the sacrifice of being ripped away from the comfort of our friendship seems to high of a cost as loneliness sometimes clouds my soul – but the shared goal of education within the German Federal Police and the promise I once made to you keep me going.

And I must admit: this remarkable day with Dr. Zabarko was in my eyes a living expression of the vision we are pursuing. It even found its outward expression as he signed the Golden Book of the City of Bamberg while Holocaust survivors, civil servants, politicians, and police officers were present.

I wish, you could’ve been here and experienced it first hand. I am delivering my promise to you bit by bit – with every new cadet being committed to combat Antisemitism, racism and other forms of hate. May it be a consolation across the miles as we are far apart, but united in heart and mind.

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.