Trying to Make Sense of It All — The Whole Post

Trying to make sense
of it all is impossible, certainly in this medium.  Hopefully this
trip helped me understand, and to a certain extent raised, certain
questions:  trying to figure out how I feel about Germany, Poland,
and Europe as a whole in light of the Holocaust and the Jews’ sad
history there; and attempting to understand how in the world the
Holocaust could have happened.  

This is more an essay than a post, so
I’ve written about various aspects of these questions and linked to
them rather than making one GINORMOUS post that will take you forever
to read.


It all started before
I even got to Germany.  A friend of mine wrote about her trip to
Berlin and prefaced it by saying that she had never had any use for
Germany and never wanted to set foot in the country, and in fact had
avoided it in her extensive previous travel through Europe.  

I shared this sentiment with my
German friend Melanie, who took umbrage at it.  She said that the
war was 60 years ago and it was offensive to think that Germany is like
that now.  Melanie feels that her generation is not anti-Semitic
and just wants to move on.  In Mel’s opinion, because of WWII, it
is still not permissible in German society to say anything positive
about Germans, and she finds that really stifling.  “I want to be
proud of my country,” she told me.   “Nationalism is
overrated,” I replied, and a falsehood anyway designed to manipulate
people’s natural desire to belong to a group of people that they feel
are “like them.”  

But Mel has a point, and that is, do
we punish today’s generation for what happened 60 years ago?  We
are talking now about a generation that has grown up with full
knowledge of what happened.  And most if not all 20-something
German youths – hopefully, not just the liberal ones – remember the day
they learned for the first time about the Holocaust, and the subsequent
identity crisis that this spawned.  We did this?  How could
such a thing happen?  Mel’s friend Daniela related just such an
experience to me in Berlin.

Another friend of Melanie’s,
Christine, is a history teacher, and she told me that, not
surprisingly, by far her students are most interested in the WWII
period of German history, and specifically, the question of how such a
thing could happen.

Then again, in the grand scheme of
things 60 years is not a very long time, especially because no one
talked openly about it for twenty or thirty years after it happened.

Melanie and Daniela were fascinated
when I told them about how learning about the Holocaust left me with
some very strong associations – as a child, just hearing the German
language spoken left me fearful and uneasy.  They had absolutely
no inkling of what it was like to feel afraid you might get messed
with, or even be in danger, just because of who you are.

Those of you who have been reading
this blog from the start know how I am leaning on this issue.  I
don’t hate Germany or Germans, certainly not the youth.  Also, as
I have thought about this issue, it has often occurred to me that given
the Jews’ history in Europe, perhaps this could have taken place
anywhere in Europe, and maybe it only happened in Germany because there
happened to be a fascist dictator there who was bent on destroying a

On the other hand, while I was on
this trip, far-right parties made large gains in the former East
Germany, and Daniela told me some disturbing stories about run-ins with
former East Berliners who were doing work on her apartment and were
visibly disturbed about the fact that she had a Turkish roommate.  

Something Melanie said was even more
disturbing.  She had a realization recently that caused her some
alarm, and that realization was that in the period immediately before
the war, many Jews had become quite successful and were becoming deeply
integrated into German society.  Had the Holocaust not happened,
she wondered, would some other purge have occurred?  Melanie is
not sure the German majority “would have allowed” the Jews to continue
to be as successful, or powerful in German society.

In the end, I’m not much closer to
any answers than before this trip.  But hopefully I’m asking some
of the right questions.  


It has occurred to me
– I’m certainly not the first – that the Holocaust could possibly have
happened in any country in Europe and it just happened to be in
Germany.  Without question, Jewish history is filled with
expulsions, discrimination, humiliation, and vicious, brutal, sadistic
violence, often at the hands of friends and neighbors.  (In some
respects, Zionism was a response to this history, that response being,
“Screw this, we’re outta here.”)  

You could say that Europe never
worked out for the Jews, which the possible exception of the 19th
Century, when Jews were “emancipated” and received equal rights all
over Europe.  But we all know how that turned out.

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