Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Austrians and Germans in Israel

When Seth went to volunteer on a Kibbutz 2 summers ago, one of his roommates was German, not Jewish. I was confused, at first, as to why he was there. What appeal does a Kibbutz have to someone like him? Leo, our German (Jewish) roommate, told us that Germans learn about the events of the Holocaust from childhood, and feel guilty. He says that it's common for Germans our age to come to Israel and work either on a Kibbutz, or somewhere else. It's their way of repenting for their grandparents' unforgivable acts: coming to help build a country for a nation their grandparents tried so vehemently to destroy.
Last night Seth and I went to go hear Leo and 2 of his friends perform for a group of Israeli Holocaust survivors. (Leo played the cello). Once seated in our chairs, we were surprised to hear German all around us. The audience was not only comprised of Holocaust survivors, but of the children and grandchildren of SS men from Germany and Austria who had come to Israel on a 2-week trip to learn about and travel the country.
At first, chills ran down my spines. Sitting next to families of Nazis felt weird. But as I looked around I realized that, as hard as it may be, it really is unfair to punish this generation for acts they had no control over. One teenage boy was wearing a popular "Tzahal" (IDF: Israel Defence Force) shirt. Others were discussing places they had visited.
Watching Holocaust survivors enjoying a recital, sitting next to, and talking to the offspring of their families' murderers made me appreciate this State in a new light.
Israel is not just about being a home for the Jewish people. It's about being the center of Jewish education, tolerance, and understanding, not only for Jews, but for non-Jews as well, even, and especially, for the children of Nazis.

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