Being German in Israel

Visiting Israel as a German will never be a totally normal thing to do. Mostly because you do not know what to expect.

When I first visited two years ago for the start of the last Madonna tour, I was a bit nervous about people’s reactions.

And I would have understood if people acted weird, or would not talk to you, I expected it outright.

After all, I am surrounded by people who survived the holocaust, or lost all their family members, their homes, or are children and grand children of them.

Truth is, my fears were totally unjustified. The welcome on both trips has been warm and loving… People might hear the accent and ask where I’m from, if I say Germany, they shoot back: Berlin? I love Berlin! I have so many friends there…

Indeed, Berlin seems to be the place to go for young Israelis, to work, explore… It’s a great  new development, and encouraging.

People are always friendly and ask what I do, where I lived, not once have I heard or felt any negative or reserved reaction. It is an enormously generous attitude, and it sure was not easy to get there.

Sure, no one mentions it much, either. It’s like ‘Don’t mention the war!’. They don’t ask what my great-grandparents and grandparents did, and I can’t ask them right away if they lost someone in the holocaust (the question rather being: how many people, not if…)

Sure enough, the holocaust pops up from time to time, but weirdly not more often that in my normal life.

To say the truth, I cannot remember any day where the war, Hitler or the holocaust have not found their way into my day. I do read a lot of newspapers and books, there’s simply no way not to be confronted with it. And maybe my antennas are tuned in, too.

I have to admit, it sometimes exhausts me. I want to honor the memory, but it can be mentally draining, when I find myself in yet another discussion about Hitler… and knowing it will never go away.

And knowing that it should not go away, because we need to remember what happened, be alert, know the mechanisms, and defend freedom and human rights, every single day.

I realize, it is mostly in my head, especially in Israel. When I see old people I sometimes wonder: Are you a survivor? Have you lived in a camp? Have you lost all your family…?

The other day, I helped an older lady get her even older mother walk up a few stairs to the house across, and carried the wheelchair up a few steps. I inadvertently scanned her arms for a tattooed number. I am not sure what would have happened had I seen one. I fear the day…

It might sound weird, but I guess I want to see and meet survivors, and meet their children… It’s like a testament that inhumanity didn’t win, if only a few survived, and they lived, and their families are alive.

Being born in 1975, two generations after, I have no personal guilt. And yet what I sometimes wish for is forgiveness, on some level I cannot explain.

Maybe I should see the warm welcome here by everyone as a sign of that, from my new Israeli friends, from people I meet at the beach or while shopping, in a bar or on the street.

Still, I’ll visit Yad Vashem on this trip, and especially honor those who managed to help and save someone. To remember that resistance and help was possible, even on the smallest, personal scale, and that it made all the difference.

2 thoughts on “Being German in Israel

  1. I felt exactly the same way when I visited Isreal. I also spent 1 week with a family- during their Pesach festivities. The entire family came together and they included me during one of their most important tradition. Their grandfather, understanding and speaking German, was a Holocaust survivor. I was mortified and felt very uncomfortable first. But I agree with you: they seem to have moved on. They can talk about it, they don’t blame and they did not make me feel guilty. The guilt feeling never left me though. I was moved to tears while we talked about it. This experience and their open, warm personalities won me completely over.
    Another even more intense experience was when a group of young Isrealian (15-25 years old) came to visit us in exchange ( I was 15 myself). We went to the Concentration Camp in Dachau together. I have been there before, but you can probably imagine how it is to walk through it, see the horrible images and videos together with the grandchildren of the victims. It was a chorus group from Isreal and in honor of their relatives, they held short speeches (in Hebrew) and sang 2 songs. During the first song, everybody around them literally broke down. We were sobbing like we lost our own parents. Guilt and grief mixed. We all started to hug & comfort us while tears streamed unstoppable. We ended up with a gigantic group hug around and with the singers. Young Germans and Isrealians combined & connected. I don’t know how long we stayed embraced after the song ended… It is until today (20 years later) the most emotional and unforgettable experience I had.

    And on a side note: I am glad we did not have Iphones to capture it 20 years ago. Nobody was filming or taking pictures. We were all 100% present and emotionally captivated.

    • Thanks Eva for sharing this experience. It sounds like it was a very emotional, but somehow soothing experience, together!

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