Sunday, November 15, 2009

To go or not to go

"You're going where?!"

A score of faces turn to me in horror.

Maybe it wasn't a good idea to bring this up at the Shabbos table.

"It's a conference. For work."

"You want to go to Germany? Of all places!"

"I don't want to go to Germany. But that's where the conference is going to be. In Berlin."

"So don't go."

"But it's for work. I need to go. You know I'd never go just for a vacation."

"You don't need to go. You want to go. Nobody is forcing you."

"Well yes. OK. True. I could skip the conference entirely. But I really want to give a presentation there. It's a great opportunity."

"Work. Phuh. IBM also justified being in Germany before the war, they also said it's just for work."

"This isn't the same thing. Germany is the least anti-Semitic country in Europe at the moment." Even in my ears it sounds lame. I feel I'm playing devil's advocate.

'It doesn't make a difference. Their streets are soaked in Jewish blood."

"So is King George street. So is Machane Yehuda."

"For a child of mine to step foot in Germany is as bad as watching her bite into a ham sandwich."

Gulp. Thanks for the guilt trip.

I've always loved my family, for being so open minded, so chilled, laid back.

"As long as you're happy." That was my parents' motto, when I was growing up. Well, add "And marry a nice Jewish boy" to that. But still, not much to ask, after all.

But we all knew the unspoken rule. Don't buy anything German. Not cars, not napkins, nor anything else. When I bought a German produced gluestick by mistake, I had to return it to the store. The best erasers were the ones stamped with "Made in Germany." I'd make do with others.

The ironic thing is that neither side of my family went through the holocaust. My great-great-great grandparents died of either old age, or cold and starvation, in Russia, before the German army reached them. Their descendants, my ancestors, had already emigrated to safer lands, years before.

I sometimes wonder if it's guilt, guilt at being safe, that made my family even more insistent to boycott everything German.

Around me I'd see my peers , grandchildren of survivors, not understanding what the fuss was about. When I travelled to Europe with them, I was the one who refused to visit Austria for a day trip. Instead, we went to Lichtenstein, and that only after I'd researched its WWII treatment of the Jews.

But I never sacrificed anything big for that ideal. Anything that really mattered to me.

And now that I'm asked to, I'm questioning, reexamining the values I was raised with. It could be I'm seeking a logical way to salve my conscience. Simply putting career before principles. I hope not. I'd hate that.

But is the land of Germany, today, still a land that no Jew should tread on? If that is indeed the truth, then why do almost no other Jews seem to feel the same way?


  1. personally I don't think Germany is any longer a persona non grata. Once Israel accepted reparations money from them, and we get all those deals on mercedes buses, all that was no longer an issue. People buy German, and those who hold out are the exception.

    I do respect people who are strong enough to withhold despite the popular trend. And you have to ask yourself if it is so importamt to you that it is worth fighting with your family about, and perhaps not bieng forgiven, depending on your families sensitivity to the issue.

  2. I have to agree with Rafi - I think the biggest, possibly only, reason not to go is out of consideration for your family's feelings. In other words, if it'll bother them *that* much (especially if you have grandparents who went through the war), you may want to reconsider. Otherwise, if you can profit from this trip, I think you should go for it...
    Whatever you do, make sure it's a decision you feel you can live with. Good luck!

  3. I sympathise - it takes a lot to visit Germany, although in practice, there was probably more Jewish life lost in Poland than in Germany itself - and unfortunately anti-semitism is still rife in Poland.
    Its a hard choice, but not as difficult as in the past.
    B'hatzlacha rabba

  4. Personally, I can't stand when people get all self-righteous and worked up about going to Germany because "the streets are soaked with Jewish blood". Relax, people! Find me a country in the world whose streets are NOT soaked with Jewish blood!!!

  5. The only way I'd say to go is it you think they'll get over it. I've been to Germany and back, and I didn't feel a lick of anti-semitism anywhere. Also, it's *extremely* taboo to talk about WWII and/or the holocaust in Germany (embarrassment). Also, you get investigated if you're a teacher that owns a copy of "Mein Kampf", unless you are teaching World War II history in relation to Germany.

    I hate to sound like such a smart alec, but it's truly not kosher to hate Jews in Germany nowadays, thank God. Actually, I know of a pretty large Frum community right in Berlin, so you should be fine!

  6. My family feels the same way- and they also weren't in the Holocaust persay, having immigrated generations earlier.
    I agree with earlier comments- the only real problem is how your family feels.
    And, almost EVERY country has been 'soaked by Jewish blood'.

  7. Never understood that. Name a country that hasn't made Jews feel miserable at one point, and I'll show you a country that hasn't had Jews yet. With a few very minor exceptions.

    They'll probably get over it. The first "rebellion" is always the worst, but when your little sister wants to go to Berlin, they won't give her nearly as much trouble.

  8. I am a grandchild of survivors (all of my grandparents).

    We buy German products. We have a German car (bought second hand).

    My reasoning is that we are loathed and despised by a good percentage of the world. Rome obliterated us. I buy "Made in Italy." Is there a restriction against Persian Rugs? England banned us for centuries. There were pogroms in various parts of Europe (not only Germany). Spain inquistioned us. Even America stood silently while we were being butchered.

    The generation of WWII is dying out. Many of the younger generation is eager to make amends. And keep in mind there were many willing executioners at Hitler's behest, not only Germans.

    Anyone ever used the Bosch to make challah?

  9. the closest my family got to the holocaust was my uncle who was shot down in a bomber. not the stuff to develop a hatred. Yet I was brought up never to buy German products. I still wont, but I have deliberatly NOT taught it to my children. Go. enjoy what you can. feel no guilts. no one can make you feel guilty without your cooperation

  10. My husband is in Munich and Berlin nearly every other week (coming from Israel). I think this is a uniquely American thing.

    Many Israelis (even survivors like my great uncle) even vacation in Germany. It's just not a big deal.

    And actually, Germany is one of Israel's best friends in Europe right now.

    Now, Austria is quite another thing. They wouldn't play Hatikva when an Israeli fencer won a gold medal at a competition there last week. That's the country you should avoid. Not Germany.

  11. I think you're family is being quite infair towards Germans ... Can you really judge people upon their ancestors ??? Germany is really a great country, they are one of the most ecologist country in the world and give a lot of money to research (so if you want to go for a conference, go for it, their scientist are among the most famous in the world). I live near the Germany border and we always go over there to shopping because there's a lot more of kosher food and it's also way cheaper (rather good for an antisemit country, don't you think ???). I've postulated for a PhD position over there and everyone is trying to make me feel guilty even if I might not be taken and the only ones who don't care is my family and the funniest thing is that most of them have been to Aushwitz.

  12. Is it a free trip???

    Then definitely go - screw all the naysayers - they obviously aren't that Jewish to tell you to give up a free trip

  13. If you have to go for work, you have to; I think that's pretty understandable.
    But I personally would never go there just for a vacation.

    My grandmother (who grew up there but fortunately was able to get to the U.S. in the very early 40's) has gone there a few times in the past several years to visit relatives' gravesites ( for those who actually do have burial sites) and whenever she got on the plane to come home to the U.S. she'd say it felt good to be leaving.

    I'm not saying I specifically go out of my way not to buy German goods but whenever I have, it always leaves me with a slight feeling of distaste. Sure, plenty of other countries have Jewish blood on their hands but not on such full scale genocide.

  14. Well, I wouldn't vacation in Germany, but would certainly go for work purposes, as would most people I know. There are also some great Jewish communities over there: I am actually not acquainted with the Berlin community, but do know Dresden, Hamburg, Hanover...Germany isn't 'Judenfrei' in any sense!

  15. When I went to Frankfurt, my cousin who was showing me around told me that Germans today go out of their way to be kind to Jews. They want to show that they feel that their grandparents' actions were despicable and they very much wish to dissociate themselves from their past and show that they are different.

    Go, and if you need a place to stay or eat, I have a friend who just moved to Berlin that I can put you in touch with.

  16. I recently went to Germany for a conference. It took me a while to agree to go (3 of my 4 grandparents are survivors). If you want to talk, shoot me an email - I can tell you what went into it, what it was like, etc.

  17. I am surprised that you make a difference between survivor families and other Jews. The Holocaust affects us all, including subsequent generations. If a gut-wrenching Holocaust story makes me cry, people ask me if I come from a survivor family, which I find a strange question. How can anyone not be affected by the Holocaust, and especially a Jew? My feelings are similar to your family's. It's not about blaming post-Holocaust Germans, but it is about feeling the history and the blood-soaked streets. I was in the Ukraine for a month on a mini-shlichut. The place made me ill, literally. Every village and town has its pit where they murdered Jews. I have no desire to go anywhere else where the Holocaust took place.

    One may then ask the question how far back does one go when deciding which countries, especially in Europe, have a Jew-friendly history. My rule is for as long as the unpunished perpetrators are still alive.

    Whilst at university, I attended an international program in Paris. I became friendly with a nice, young German girl. She told me that at her university in Germany, a former Nazi judge was the dean of her law faculty. This is not an isolated incident.

    Consider also the HUNDREDS of German companies that used Jewish slave labor. Many of them later changed their names, but they are the same countries. They are part of the powerhouse that is the modern German economy.

    There are also who knows how many hundreds of thousands older Germans who participated in the Holocaust who got off scot free, now enjoying their comfortable retirements. (see movie "the Nasty Girl" 1990)

    Furthermore, the argument that the trip is for work, is specious: you don't need to go for vital parnasa, you just want to go to get a kick out of it.

    I really like your blog, but from reading it, you seem to have an issue about rebelling against the frum world, which is fine. However your trip is not an issue about your family, conforming or rebelling, it is about visiting a country with thousands of murderers walking around unpunished. Do you really want to do this?