Jewish Journal


July 26, 2012

Germany’s guilt



Was there another option?

“Lately, more and more German citizens have decided, on their deathbeds, to dedicate their will to the state of Israel”, said an article in the paper yesterday. In the past year, numerous German messengers knocked on the doors of Israeli Embassies, with wills signed by people who decided to give all their money to Israel. Some donations were modest, some contained millions of dollars. This is not a new fashion trend that struck Germany all of a sudden; this is a direct consequence of pure guilt. It’s been almost 70 years since the war ended, and almost 80 years since the Jews were marked as the reason for Germany’s financial problems and its loss in WW1.  More and more Holocaust survivors pass away of old age, and with them, more and more German citizens, who knew and kept quiet.

During the second act of Cabaret, when the Nazis can no longer be ignored, and people start to realize in what direction Germany is going, Fräulein Schneider asks Cliff: What would you do? She knows what’s going on, and breaks off her marriage with Herr Schultz, because she fears for her business she worked too hard to build and maintain. She knows that marrying a Jew at the time would mean being boycotted or even killed. This is not just a scene from a musical, this is what happened. German citizens, who didn’t support the Nazis, simply froze. They knew Germany was going towards a dark time, but felt impotent, powerless against the big wave of hate. This is something I have no idea how to respond to. I just feel a whirlpool in my stomach whenever this subject arises, just like yesterday morning, when I read the paper. People couldn’t bear the guilt, so they gave all of their property to the Jewish state. I don’t know if their will made them feel better, or if they saw it as their redemption. I cannot get into their minds and ask them if they feel like this money is given as an apology for looking the other way after witnessing their neighbors being butchered. Maybe they knew it counts for nothing, but still chose to do the best they could to make up for their mistakes. Maybe they supported the Nazis and stole property from their Jewish neighbors and now they felt like they should return it. Either way, I hope they knew they could have prevented this whole thing from happening.

It is a very reasonable presumption that there was more than one Cliff out there, in the real world. People disagreed, but couldn’t bring themselves to say it out loud. They were mentally weak. I cannot put my rage aside when I encounter this topic, because a big part of the Holocaust was the civilians, those who stood by as Jews were beaten up on the street; those who disconnected from their Jewish friends, because they didn’t want to be marked; those who lived across the street from a death camp; those who saw the smoke, heard the screams, and cried at home, trying to convince themselves it’s not what they think. On one hand, I really don’t wish for them to die with a clean conscience, just because they donated their money to Israel. But on the other hand, the older and wiser I get, the more I can’t help but understanding their actions.

Every Holocaust day in Israel, I think to myself “what would you do if you were a Jew, living in Gemany at that time?” Would I leave during the early 30’s? Would I join the Partisans later on? Or perhaps I would be led, quietly. After reading about the wills, I started thinking what I would do if I was standing in the Germans’ place. Would I be able to stand up to the Nazis? We don’t need research, though there is plenty, to know how difficult it is to stand up to the majority, or even to a very strong minority. This story got me thinking of how guilty those Germans felt for everything that happened while they stood still. Maybe they didn’t see their wills as redemption, but as an apology to their friends and neighbors who have no grave, or way to help preventing this from ever happening again. I know I will never be able to forgive them, the people who by doing nothing helped the Nazi demons, and I don’t think anyone should ever forgive them. But lately I am starting to find a small place in my heart for understanding why they did what they did. Wills are usually dedicated to family members or close friends and are very personal and private. By giving everything to Israel, those people were at least able to show their torment and guilt, which is, in a way, a partial conciliation. Maybe now I will stop crying as much.

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