May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bad Homburg memorial where the shul once stood: “To the murdered Jewish citizens of our town and all victims of National Socialist injustice in memory—To the living as a warning.”

Gravestone in Frankfurt cemetery of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, z”l.

The departure for the next morning had been well organized, with the group split into three subgroups depending on the particular departure of each flight. Ninety percent were in the first group that left the hotel at 6:45 a.m. with special early breakfast arranged for them by the hotel. We were in the second group leaving at 10:00 consisting of only four couples with destinations of Edinburgh, London, Newark and Philadelphia, each couple on a different flight. The eight of us were accompanied by six representatives from the Stadt, to make sure that we had everything we needed, and to make all arrangements for us. Just like when we arrived two weeks earlier, we did not have to handle the luggage, did not have to stand on any lines, had no body or hand luggage inspection and no passport control.

We did have to wait about 10 minutes before entering the ticket control, but it was worthwhile since when the Stadt representative came back she brought with her a Lufthansa representative who informed us that we had been upgraded to business class. Although we had more comfortable seats and leg room, the frozen food packages were the same as we would have had in economy class. They were also made by Sohar and I must say, one of the best I had ever eaten.

During the trip home, I had the opportunity to review in my mind what the trip now meant to me, as against my negative attitude with which it started. I came because I had become convinced that it was the right thing to do, and I followed the urging of many who had been there before. I had been told that it was my duty as a representative of the last generation that can speak from firsthand experience about what we had seen and had experienced. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Rabbi Genack’s confirming that to me when I consulted with him about what others already had told me.

Opa, when talking about his life, had always emphasized two important principles—duty and responsibility—as well as Shem Tov, a good name. I have tried to follow in his footsteps in many ways, including a strong belief in these principles.

Therefore, I had then agreed to accept the invitation, but reluctantly. Even then I tried to make it difficult by insisting that, since the Stadt could/would not pay for our air tickets, some one else would have to if they wanted me to come. In other words, I did not go because I wanted to go, but I went because they wanted me to come and speak to students and teachers. And they did raise the money to pay for the tickets.

I had decided to go and told the Gesellschaft, who made the speaking arrangements, that I wanted to speak the maximum number of times possible, even every day, if I am wanted. As it turned out I spoke four times, which I was told is more than anyone else had ever spoken. I had no interest in bus tours, boat rides or listening to speeches, but if necessary I would join the group—I did not want to be antisocial.

Day after day of speaking to students and teachers, listening to their questions and getting a feeling as to where they were coming from, my attitude started to change. My closed mind started to open and I really started to hear what those that I was in contact with were trying to make us former Frankfurters understand. This was not the Germany we had left, not the Germany we remembered, but a new country. Nobody that I spoke to wanted to forget what had happened, nobody urged the drawing of a line under the past, although no doubt there are those also in today’s Germany. They wanted to hear what we had to say, what we had experienced; they wanted to understand and they wanted us to understand. They wanted us to understand what? That they are the new Germans, that they and their parents (everyone was careful not to refer to grandparents) were not alive during the war and that they should not be held responsible for what happened then.

It was also satisfying to read their school books and see what was being taught about the Holocaust. The books did not pull any punches, they taught the true story, with pictures, statistics and graphs. I wonder whether the school books in the U.S. go into such descriptive detail.

By the time I had been there for 10 days and spent the afternoon in Schmitten with a wonderful person—Pfarrer Hoffmann—my attitude had changed. What had started as a negative had turned into a positive. I was happy that I had come and I can only urge others to do the same. In fact, I told the representatives of the Stadt as well as the Gesellschaft that, if I would receive another invitation (which I know is not possible), I would gladly and without hesitancy come again.

The reader might not agree with my change of heart; in fact, I am sure some will criticize that I even went, and that is all right. I would have done the same prior to my trip. I can now understand why others feel as they do, as I felt before, but I hope that others will also try to understand what I have said and why I changed my attitude. And I am convinced that if those who are critical of my action would ever have the opportunity to experience what I have experienced, they would also maybe change their attitude a little.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

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