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.

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 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.

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.