- We were born in Miltenberg on July 2nd1988. Miltenberg is a little village in the Southern part of Germany. Both of our parents grew up there. We moved to Hannover when we were 9 years old. After high school we entered med school (there is no college in Germany) We’re in the third year now. Medical education is six years in total.
- We are glad to be able to participate in courses at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Med School at Yale.
- We both were thrilled, when Jess told us about her idea to visit your school and to meet you guys. It’s important for us to talk with you and we will try to answer all your questions as well and as accurately as we can. You can ask us everything you want, there should be no limitations. We will try to give you an idea how Jewish life was during the war, directly after the war and in the time we live. We hope to be able to show you how Germans in all of the three generations after the war (our grandparents, parents and us) deal with the guilt that arises because of the crimes Germans did to the Jews.
- All German school kids are confronted with the Nazi time very early in school. Usually we first hear about it in class in fifth grade. Nevertheless many pupils had heard about it before mainly by watching TV history channels. We don´t really remember if we were informed before the topic came to class, because our parents didn’t want us to watch so much TV and they didn’t tell us before, mainly because our mum wanted us to have a childhood without any sorrows. In this time we did our homework after school in 15 minutes and then headed over to the soccer field for the rest of the afternoon.
- To see the pictures of mass graves, of children our age, reduced to skeletons, fear and pain in their eyes, the pictures of selection ramps, barbed wire and crematories, was a shock for all of us. Of course we first didn’t want to believe that people could do that to other people. But in our history books were printed many reports of Jews surviving the concentration camps and their experiments there. There were as many reports as there were pupils in our class. Everyone read one. Reports by men and women who went through hell and wanted to tell their story, so that it will never happen again. Many of these survivors were in our age in that time. It was a very deep and a very personal experience. We remember that our teacher didn’t behave like usual. She didn’t ask questions all the time, trying to find out if we have learned our stuff. She gave us time to understand, to accept. We could feel that she was nervous and uncertain. Those hours really touched all of us in the class. The war and soldier games we young boys used to play in the breaks, stopped during this time. We didn’t take an exam about that topic. The class hours were full of discussion. As we went to higher grades in school the topic Nazi time and Holocaust returned several times. We learned much about the political and economic background on which the Hitler regime could grow, about the war and the post war time, but the first confrontation always remained the most important.
Our maternal grandparents:
- Our grandmother is born in Darmstadt in 1935. She started with school 1941. Darmstadt was a town with around 100000 inhabitants. There was a lot of Jewish life and culture in everyday life. Her father was a doctor and a lot of his colleagues were Jewish.
- Our grandma’s home was located directly at the main street and as a kid the saw the marches of the Hitlerjugend (the Nazi organization for teenagers). They marched with a lot of music down to the main station. However, she also recognized that one day a lot of people, little children and very old people, walked down on the rail track to the station. She remembered that scene because there was no music and no joy. It was deadly silent. As she asked her parents she didn’t receive an answer. Later she found out that was when most of the Jewish people of Darmstadt were transported to the concentration camps.
- She also recognized a lot of placards at the entrance to common places in the town like the park always posting the message: Forbidden for Jews!! Her two brothers (born 1928 and 1929) reported that suddenly some of their classmates disappeared from one day to the other. Both brothers remember the synagogue fires on Reichkristallnacht 1938.
- My Grandpa, born 1927 was a member of the Hitlerjugend (HJ). That was not because he was interested in Nazi ideas (he was never interested in military and was always a pacifist) but rather because the HJ was his opportunity to get out of his small village. In fact, the HJ organized ski trips and a lot of other sport events. In 1945 he had to join the Wehrmacht (German armed forces of the Third Reich). He was too young to fight with the regular troops but he joined air defense of the City of Schweinfurth that was heavily bombed during the war. In the last days of the war he left the troops without being told to do so. That was dangerous since the punishment for that was death sentence.
- Our grandfather was an impressive man. We both were very close with him. In our childhood we spent most of the holidays at his home in Miltenberg. Miltenberg has a long history and the people are proud of that. Hence, the 750th anniversary in 1987 was a big celebration. Miltenberg was a town with a high percentage of Jews. The mayor thought it would be an important gesture to invite a few former Jewish inhabitants of Miltenberg who survived the Holocaust. They invited two Jewish women who left Germany to England in 1939. Jewish kids were separated from their parents and sent to England. The rest of their family (the Moritz family: parents and the two older brothers ) was killed in a concentration camp. Both married English Jews and started families there. The city paid for the accommodation at the anniversary. However, when the two couples decided to stay longer, none of the Miltenberg folks wanted to host them. Even, my grandfather’s sister (who was an old school friend of both visitors) didn’t want to welcome them!
- I think that’s a good example that anti-Semitism is still alive in Germany. When my grandfather heard of that, he immediately invited the two couples to stay with him. Thus, it was more a coincidence than really planned that my grandparents and those two couples became close friends.
- Both couples came back five years later to visit our grandparents. My grandfather and one of the husbands had the idea to erect a monument in the honor of the Jews of Miltenberg. First, he tried to get money from the city. However, his brother Hans (he managed the budget of Miltenberg) did not support him. My grandpa and his brother always had arguments about the Holocaust. His brother denied the holocaust like so many Germans after the war. That drove my grandpa crazy. A lot of family celebrations ended up in a disaster because of their arguments. Anyway, he finally found private sponsors so that they could erect a stone to remember the Jewish life before the holocaust. My grandfather was deeply disappointed by his folks who did not only never supported him but also let him know that they didn’t like his relations to Jews. When the city recommended him for the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany he refused this honor because he thought nothing had changed in Germany after the war.
Our paternal grandparents:
- Our paternal grandparents are a perfect example how a lot of Germans acted during the war and after the war. Our grandfather was in his early twenties during the war. He was trained to become a fighter pilot but was very lucky never to be sent to a mission. That was most likely since his father was very influential. He was one of the managers of the most important weapons concerns in Germany during the war. A lot of Jews had to work for him so that it was impossible for him to look away while all these crimes were done. Nevertheless, he always denied the Holocaust.
- Our grandmother was 22 at the end of the war. She never wanted to talk about this time. When our father was in our age he wanted to find out if his parents knew something about the holocaust and asked them if they had recognized something. As in many German families he always received the same answer: That was a bad time but we didn’t know or recognize anything.
- Our grandparents always told us about the war as a great adventure, sometimes they even said it was the best time of their life. When we very young those stories were exciting, our grandpa was an excellent story teller. But when we grew older we wanted to know about the crimes Germans did on Jewish people. “We didn´t know that, nobody did know that this time”, they said always. We never could believe that. “How can over 6 million people be killed and nobody knows about it”, we would ask again and again. When we were around fourteen and spend our vacation once we got the movie “Schindler’s list” from the public library and went with it to our grandparents. When we began to watch it and the first executions were shown, our grandpa first said, it never happened this way and not much later he left the room. Our grandma stayed but said no word, the rest of the movie, she said not a single word.
- We want to finish this essay with a story that happened in Buergstadt (village where our paternal grandparents live) in 1970. The mayor of Buergstadt, Mr. Heinrichson, was a very popular guy. Everyone liked him and respected his service. In 1970 Beate Klaasfelt showed up in Buergstadt and accused Heinrichson of working in a concentration camp in France during WW II. He selected the children who were going to live and work for the Nazis from those who were sent to the gas chambers immediately.
- The case got a lot of attention by the press and for a short time everyone in Germany and also a lot of other people in other countries knew about a village in the middle of nowhere. All people of Buerggstadt supported Heinrichson. Our grandparents even invited him to dinner to show officially their support. Well, Beate Klaasfelt finally proved everything and Heinrichson was sent to jail. Our grandparents never wanted to talk with me about that story.
- All that shows that we did not find a solution yet how to deal with the guilt and unfortunately anti Semitism is not completely defeated.
- We both look forward to meet you guys and to answer all the questions that you have.
Jews in Germany
Nazi Party Established
German Students learning about the Holocaust