Arbeitskreis Internationale Jugendarbeit
mit Israel im Kreis Wesel e. V.

Arbeitskreis Internationale Jugendarbeit mit Israel e. V.

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Aus der US-Presse


Germans Moved By Shoah Exhibit

A video of a Nazi rally was being shown on a television monitor on the second floor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust one morning last week. About a dozen German visitors stood in front of the screen, transfixed by the black-and-white images. Krista Schmitz stood the longest.

Alone with his thoughts: Member of visiting German
group watches video at Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Finally Schmitz, a grammar school teacher in the town of Moers, returned to her group.

She had seen such films before, she says, but still doesn't understand how it happened, "how people could become" foUowers of Hitler.

Schmitz, 43, is a member of Arbeitskreis Internationale Jugendarbeit mit Israel im Kreis Wesel (Association for International Youth Exshanges with Israel in the County of Wesel), a 20-year-old educational group based in Moers, near Dusseldorf in westem Germany. She and 36 other members ofthe group, mosdy middle-aged Catholics, Protestants and non- believers, spent a week here.

They attended Services at B'nai Jeshurun, toured the Lower East Side, visited Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, met the editors of the German-language Aufbau, took part in a Jewish Community.

Relations Council dialogue conducted by psychologist-Holocaust survivor lsaac Zieman, and went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

For the visitors, most in this country for the first time, the museum, which includes exhibits on pre-Holocaust and post-Holocaust Jewish life, was the most poignant experience. Especially the guides, or "gallery educators," who led the Germans through the halls.

Inge Oppenheimer, a German-born survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz who lives in Forest l Hills, Queens, was one of the guides.

"l told them from the beginning that l am a survivor," she says. "They were very receptive."

"She affected us very much," Schmitz says. "It was good to see how friendly she was."

It was the first time that Oppenheimer, a retired teacher and librarian who has served as a volunteer at the museum three years, led a tour in her native language. "My husband" - also a Holocaust survivor - "and l never speak it at hörne. Just hearing that language spoken gives me a jolt.

"Two of the people" in her group "asked, me how l feit doing this, and l told them," she says.

Oppenheimer shared details of her life. She and the Germans .discussed mutual feelings of national identity. They, teachers and politicians and youth workers, heard another perspective on their country's past that they first learned in school. "Anti-Semitism," Oppenheimer declared, "did not start with Hitler."

"This topic," says Harald Benthin, a 47- year-old sales engineer, "was never discussed" in his childhood home. His father and uncle served in the German Army. "They were ordinary soldiers.

"Everyone claimed they did not know" what was happening to the Jews, Benthin says.

Does he believe them? "Not really. l can not imagine how one could not know. It is a question of interest."

Benthm's interest motivates him, as part of the German organization, to visit Israel and establish ties with Ramie.

Schmitz, who has "many friends in Israel," says "our experience" at Yad Vashem "was stronger" than at the museum here. "I had more silence" at Yad Vashem, she says.

At the New York Museum, survivors' oral histories and historical films and the strains of Richard Strauss' "Blue Danube" vie for a visitor's attention.

"l would like to come again," Schmitz says, "Alone. And look at the pictures."

The Jewish Week, 13.10.2000