Archive for ‘Germany’

May 21, 2012

Even Nazis have mamas.

Ich bin kein Nazi, Riko kept repeating. I am not a Nazi. But his tattoos showed otherwise and above all, when he asked me, a dog-park conversation, where I’m from and I said, Tel Aviv and he didn’t know anything about Tel Aviv, so I said Israel and then he hugged me and said – ein mensch ist ein mensch – a man is a man, a sure thing for showing you’re racist. and I laughed out loud and said – obwohl ich Juden bin, ah? – even though I’m Jewish, and he said no, no I am not a Nazi.

It’s been a long time since the German railway reminded me of Concentration Camps and water was preferably served without gas. The train is now more of a romantic adventure, picturing myself traveling with a weekend suitcase and a round hat case, being served Alpen mineral water. I’ve been back in Israel for four long years, experiencing the Middle Eastern jungle. Adding to that some history studies made me look at the world in a different, less naive way, eventually leaving me no other choice by to cancel the newspaper subscription, piling up on my table, not wanting to read more news, more realities of rape, murder, corruption and general unfairness. And above all – blindness to the pain of other animals, non-human animals.  I realized more than ever that people are just monsters, no matter where they are or where they come from. It is my proof to Nilse and to myself that I am not a racist – for me all people deserve the same amount of contempt and dislike. Sure, some might be more inclined towards violence, or killing, some may be more corrupt, but at the end of the day, people are selfish, cruel animals, not deserving protection, not deserving fighting for.

On his arm, just where my grandma had been marked with a number, Riko has a Swastika. Old and sun-faded, but it’s there. And I asked what does it mean for him and Riko said Adolf Hitler and saluted to the dead Führer. And I said na ja, well I don’t like it. And he said, yeah I know, I was 14, it was against the DDR, these were hard times, you know. And I said, trozdem and asked what it means for him. He said, it means I am German. I asked, against others and he said no, not against others, people say ich bin ein Nazi Schwein, I am a Nazi pig, but I’m not. And I said Adolf Hitler murdered my family and he said yeah, Adolf Hitler was dumb, that’s why. Just dumb. And I laughed and felt sorry for that man, drunk already so early in the evening, so used up. Speaks not a word of English for the Russians toughed them all Russian. And Riko went down on his knees and took my hands in his and he had long, skinny fingers and repeated, ich bin kein Nazi. I will remove the tattoo. Versprochen. Promise. Then his phone rang and he answered hallo mama and told me she’s sick. He sounded worried and caring and I thought, even Nazis have mamas.

And he said his family were all in the SS and I thought, my family was murdered by the SS. And he said his Father sent Juden to Russia, to Stalingrad and I said it wasn’t to Russia it was to death. And he said the soldiers didn’t know, don’t blame the soldiers, the soldiers are not responsible, they did what they were told and I thought, what a cliché, and I said soldiers took my family to the forest and shot them. He said nothing.

He said no one knew what was happening. I said everyone knew and had to think of different kinds of trains and trucks, today, at this very moment, carrying different kinds of animals, to death and people, they say, we didn’t know, it’s not like that. But everyone knows. It’s easier to not believe.

And I went home to my German Nilse and locked the door, a double lock, and felt nauseated, weak. Felt afraid. As if these monsters I saw in films or read about in books, became three dimensional. Alive. That damn Swastika has so much power. Is it the movies or my family’s history that give me fear? Does the Swastika have extra strength because humans gave it more power through art and stories? So many times I have heard Israelis send each other to be burnt or gassed, sent me, a damn lefty Askenazi, Hitler should have finished the job. Is it less frightening because Israelis wouldn’t actually get up and do it, because they are not so motivated, don’t have the organizational skills that Nazis had? Just too lazy, perhaps. That’s our luck, my Mother always says about the Arabs who surround Israel and don’t necessarily like this Jewish state. That’s our luck, that they are not so.. well, efficient. I’ve seen many neo Nazis in Berlin, while living there years ago, but never really conversed with one. Not knowingly, that is. Riko asked me to marry him five or six times during that talk and said that in Merseurg you don’t meet such people like me, so eine schoene Frau, and that made me think that with all our complexities, we are such simple beings. And remember what my sister always says – that a dick is still a dick. Racist, Nazi, Xenophobic – a hard-on is still a hard-on.

Advertisements
April 1, 2008

– Part I: From Dachau With Love: Tales of an Israeli girl in Berlin –

New Tradition:

G-

Ghetto, Gestapo, Gas, Goering, Goebbels, Galicia hmm… Germany?

One fine night, just before I was to fly to Munich and meet my German boyfriend, a selected group was sitting at a smoky bar: my trusted sister, some good friends and two Germans I met in Ramallah during a demonstration some two days earlier. According to the tradition we started playing our favorite game: The Holocaust-Alpha-Bet. The idea is to choose a letter and find as many Holocaust-related words starting with that letter. Urs and Hans, who were not yet familiar with the game, drank their Israeli beers politely and sent disturbed looks at one another. A few letters later, we found ourselves very disturbed when the two young Germans started to cooperate efficiently and even had an astounding array of associations which even we, so well trained, couldn’t come up with.

Admittedly, Holocaust-Alpha-Bet is a twisted invention. The intention of the game is not to mock the survivors or the Holocaust. The truth is that this darker than dark humor is a form of protection for us – the Third Generation. It’s a way for those of us who as children grew up immersed in tales we couldn’t ever really comprehend, to deal and cope with life, death and the Holocaust in particular.

And what makes one a ‘Third Generation’? My case is a simple one: My Mother was born in Poland, and immigrated to Israel in 56’. Her parents (who fled Poland just in time, but left family, friends and loved ones behind, later to come back and discover they were murdered) force-fed her mashed potatoes and gefilte fish in order to be strong so she’d be able to escape the Nazis. One time she managed to visit Bochum for a work related trip. She spent her time at an art exhibition in a Gasometer. That was quite enough for her and she decided never to return. My Grandmother on my Father’s side had survived many camps and was not shy about showing her numbered arm. I am not sure if my fixation is really because of my family’s personal past or my attraction to all things morbid. But maybe it will help explain why going to Germany in the first place was a difficult task to take on.

So there I was, after a wild night, in which we went through most letters (and didn’t neglect a single holocaust joke, as well as talk about the Israeli occupation, which, as usual, got nowhere), I finally felt myself able to separate between Nazi Germany and Germany of the third millennium and that I was truly prepared to visit the cold land of monuments, where rusty railways send shivers down my spine; that the protective wall in my heart was fully built. But arriving in Munich, I chose to sit silently in the basement (where my boyfriend and I stayed at his parents’ house), and to read ‘The Seventh Million – Jews after the Holocaust’ a book by the Israeli writer and journalist Tom Segev. As I read through adventures from Auschwitz, I realized just how I was trapped in feelings of hate for a whole nation: in their straight and punctual way, so successful, cold & harsh; Hate for that sexy language that attracts me so and yet makes me quiver. For that beautiful, clean countryside, and that tasty beer which felt sour in my Jewish mouth, which sought revenge.

Hiding in the cold basement, alone, I couldn’t even find comfort in my boyfriend: a German version of Nilse Olgerson, who didn’t imagine for a minute that our retreat would become a Holocaust debate-room, and most certainly did no find it amusing when I announced dramatically that I am on my way to the shower and look forward to making it out alive. We had long and exhausting holocaust conversations, especially together with his father (who speaks no English) who said he does feel somehow guilty, although he knows it’s really without a just cause. A few wine glasses later, while discussing the (then new) Berlin monument, he was outraged that the monument was making the Germans feel guilty, and said it was enough already with the holocaust memorabilia. Nilse argued that it is very important to remind people of their history, and the two of them quarreled until morning.

Behind enemy lines, listening to two Germans debating in, well, German, about this most tender of subjects, and what felt for some reason so personal, like it’s my own private pain and how could they discuss it so callously, my already fragile spirit broke completely and Munich seemed colder and meaner than any other European city I ever visited before. Nilse, miserably trying to salvage things took me around green Bavaria, where the flowers bloomed and painted the fields with color on that perfect spring day… But all that pastoral ambiance depressed me even more and reminded me of my small country back home, which we were driven off to so many years ago. I felt that it wasn’t fair for the Germans to have all this beauty. Later he took me to his former elementary school, with its well-groomed gardens, manicured grass, sparkling clean classrooms and Jesus firmly nailed into a wall. And as I stood and listened to that stillness, a stillness that could never be found back Home, I knew this was no place for a Tel-Aviv girl like myself. Even when my sweet gentleman dragged me to the magical Neuschwanstein, my sarcastic tongue lashed out at him mercilessly.

Entangled In Denial:

When we met, two years ago, Nilse and I would walk around Berlin and have long conversations about the world. He then asked me if I had already visited the Jewish museum or gone to see one monument or another. I simply answered, in simulated nonchalance, that these things don’t interest me at all. He just stared at me with his blue eyes and kept his polite silence. He did not (and could not) realize that my way of dealing with things was to deny them. That I was feeling especially uncomfortable discussing it with him. Only while visiting Israel he realized how entangled I am with the Holocaust, which is a part of me, of the family, of the Israeli world.

When I first came to Germany I wished to ignore “that part” of the country’s history, to rise above it and certainly not to discuss it with the locals. To try not to make them feel as if I am reminding them of their history which they would rather forget, not to make them think that I am judging them, or even worse: blaming. But denial can’t work in Berlin. Everything pressed the Jewish-Past-Button: Taking the train-line, final destination: Wansee or Oraniunburger, or even getting on a train. Some of those old stations, with the old German font, someone yelling ‘Raus’, or of course – ‘Achtung’.

And even while indulging myself on a visit to the KADEWE: leaving the place cheery and delighted, holding on to my recent purchases, almost forgetting to remember. As I was making my way to the U-Bahn in the wicked cold of May, I lifted my eyes off the sidewalk just like some foolish tourist. And there it was: a monstrous sign reminding me – a betrayer to my grandparents, and the whole Jewish nation, walking in the street of the Diaspora, purchasing from these Goys, and worst of all, enjoying myself (!) – never to forget those who were taken to the concentration camps. Indeed, Berlin is a strict teacher who will not allow me to simply ignore my history lesson.


Nilse in Palestine:

Nilse is 30. He told me how he always wanted to visit Israel.The first time he actually visited Israel was March 2006.

‘But why did you want to visit Israel,’ I tested him, ‘because of the German history?’

‘Because of the connection between Germany’s past and the situation in the Middle East today.’ he answered bluntly.

On his first day in the divided city of Jerusalem he insisted on going to Yad-Vashem (the Israeli holocaust museum), while I decided to take advantage of the time to walk around the beautiful German colony.

I remember being mad with him. I wanted him to feel guilty, to take some of the pain which I have. He came back and didn’t say much for a while. Finally he concluded that the Yad-Vashem experience was so overwhelming it has left him stunned.

The cynical jokes and the perverse associations, which simple words bring up, surprised and shocked him. On his last day of his first visit, while standing on the bus line, we overheard a young guy saying something like: ‘Oh man, it’s just like Treblinka here’. Nilse did not understand the Hebrew, but after two intensive weeks with me and after long conversations with my mother (who feels much more anger and has better Holocaust anecdotes), understood perfectly well the connection of the packed line of people along with the word ‘Treblinka’, and sighed wearily.

During the two years we’ve known each other, my German man has withstood much Jewish sarcasm and plain mean observations. A couple of months ago I was truly determined to try and put an end to my bad manners, seeing as I was really creating an unpleasant atmosphere. But sometimes I just find myself in the most irresistible situations, like the time he asked me what to bring for my mother from Germany and I instantly replied: ‘Her family back’. He ignored this fine comment and I had turned from a victim to a victimizer.

So though there is such an immense gap between the past and the present and us Third Generation Germans and Jews (and especially Israelis), could a relationship between us work? A different German would probably not endure or put up with my behavior.

The truth is that our characters and genetic codes do play a primary role: Those who live in the shadow of the past and those who don’t. Although the DNA argument is not particularly a healthy one in a place where people were murdered over it, I can’t help but to examine my own gene pool: My mother, who will not visit me in Berlin and my sister, who does not carry this Judenschmerz on her shoulders: ‘When I was in Japan,’ she conveys to me in hope to put a stop to my suffering, ‘I met this hot German guy, who immediately began to apologize once I told him I’m Israeli. He asked if I could ever forgive him… I just stared at his lips – moving in such sexy perfection – and at his strong, tattooed arms; but he continued! Just Holocaust talks until I finally said “it’s not really a turn-on for me, so you better stop it!” your German man,’ she continued, ‘is interested politically and historically while you just like to torture yourself.’

Is that the genuine reason I chose to conspire with him? Or is it the other way around: even though he is German I still chose to be with him? And how can a future be build with someone who’s not quite sure where his grandfather was in 39’? Why do I have such a strong attraction to this culture and language, this stubbornness to study in order to read books and poetry, to understand films and music? And Berlin, am I in love with this incredible city because of its past or is it its promising future?

As I walk down the broad streets of Berlin, in an attempt to feel a bit at home maybe, I am haunted by Fania Oz-Zelzberger’s lines from her book ‘Israelis, Berlin’: ‘The riddle, in my mind,’ she writes, ‘is the ability to be an Israeli in Berlin without always hearing, at each and every moment, the joint cry of hundreds of mothers at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, who just realized the children transport is leaving for Auschwitz; Without hearing, past all the sounds of Berlin, the silence around the dead baby at the Majdanek station.

Zelzberger’s words do not only haunt me, they reproach me. And to me there is no riddle: I can’t. But maybe by studying others, as well as myself, and by trying to actually live here, I will find a way to juggle between the two worlds. Never to forget the past but perhaps to see a brighter future.

First written Spring 2006, partly in Hebrew and then translated and sewn together, piece by piece.

-Ikey Green

April 1, 2008

-Part III: Only fifteen minutes from Buchenwald –

Two summers ago, while visiting a gray place called Belfast I have managed to encounter an astounding array of antisemitic observations. As far as I could gather, the excuse for this maddening racism is Catholic Irish solidarity with the Palestinians as occupied people. Since those who chose to inflict their racism upon me were Catholic and not Protestant, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would the antisemitic stop if the government of Israel works to establish a free Palestinian state? The sad truth is that the answer is no. After all, throughout history Catholics were those who gave Jewish people trouble everywhere in Europe (and, in fact, also to Gypsies in Prussia, Muslims in medieval Spain and witches in Victorian Massachusetts). Solving the issues between Israel and Palestine will not have a great affect on the fundamental beliefs of religious extremists. It will not change the basic hate some have for those who do not follow the same messiah.

Taking the ferry back to Liverpool I have to admit feeling relieved to go back to ‘safety’. Maybe other Israeli tourists just come around, enjoy the greenery and the beer and disregard the insane amount of anti-Israeli graffiti. As a visitor to the West Bank and an appreciator of anti-occupation graffiti, it was quite moving to see how some are active for others on such a far corner of the world.
But there was one in particular, which read: “Palestine – the largest concentration camp in the world”. Since it is a direct comparison to the Nazi Concentration Camps I must protest: in Palestine there are no gas chambers and there are no medical experiences conducted on the inhabitants. I am willing to accept the ‘Ghetto’ comparison, taking into account that Ghettos existed long before WW2, even during the Middle Ages. I am also aware that it wasn’t the Germans who invented the term “concentration camps”, it was actually invented by the Brits. In any case, I am in awe when people use this term to describe Palestine and even more so, when these people are using Palestine as an excuse for antisemitism.

In Berlin, a city that at some dark time in history, allowed Jewish people entry only through the garbage gates, how could it be that in these dark times of today, it served as a safe place for them?
It does indeed seem that Germany has become Israel’s best friend (after the US, that is). Secretly selling us weapons and openly apologizing for Germany’s gruesome history: Only a week ago did Angela Merkel give a speech in the Knesset saying that Germans feel ashamed of their past.
But Germany’s past cannot protect me from the present. Back at the language school in Schöneberg, I sat in class with some Irish teenagers who were eagerly checking me out. But when my turn came to introduce myself and say where I was from, they all turned away and never spoke to me again.

During this last year in Berlin, the past haunts me as well, and when my dear man wants to take me around Germany, I am reluctant. I want to see Germany, for her mountains, cultured cities, rivers, lakes and beer gardens, but these names on the map bring up harsh associations. Weimar is where I wanted to go, the home of Goethe (even though he did send Heine away when the last came to visit his hero). Making trip plans I checked out http://www.weimar.de and was instantly given recommendations to come and visit Buchenwald. This reminded me of a good friend of my Mother’s, who was invited by a German man to participate in a theater festival he was managing. “Only fifteen minutes from Buchenwald!”, he promised repeatedly.

The town of Weimar we never got around to visit.

March 15, 2008

– Part II: Signs – More of being an Israeli Girl in Berlin –

This is the second part for “From Dachau With Love”:

Mesmerized by the spectacular views passing by as bus number 48 drove on an early Monday morning from Alexander Platz, I was determined to observe Berlin as a new inhabitant, and not as a mistrustful sightseer. My heart was singing while looking at all that beauty. That precise European elegance while passing Fischerinsel, the decorated bridge over the vast river, the immense Rathaus, the blue-glass skyscrapers in Potsdamer Platz, and gorgeous businesswomen in Stadtmitte. The way everything is so well planned and not half-way done. The Double-Decker buses and trams and the metallic smell at the U-Bahn; the recording informing me what the next stop will be in such a scrumptious accent. These are the things that remind me: I now live in Europe. The reason for this untimely 9am expedition was to inspect a language school in the remote Schöneberg area. Remote being in Tel-Aviv distances, of course. As I took my place in the classroom, I was pleased to look out of the large windows. But while gazing into the busy Hauptstrasse, I inevitably noticed something familiar. Identical to what caught me so unprepared right across from the KaDeWe a lifetime ago, stands firm yet isolated on a traffic island, yellow letters on black metal. ‘From here they were transported, men, women and children to the following concentration camps…’ The sign kindly informed me.

The thing is, that I wasn’t really surprised, I already was acquainted with one of its relatives. I simply smiled empathetically. I could tell it was smiling back at me wearily, while I tried to focus on Dative & Accusative. But my mind wandered off and I couldn’t help but thinking: Who are the owners of the company that produced these signs and profited from this whole deal? Where were their grandparents or where were they when people were transported to another world? Going home from school I found that I must pass by this memorial every day on my way to the bus. Was this Berlin’s way of telling me I should pack my bags and head on home, to the familiar anti-occupation graffiti we’ve gotten too used to?

When I told my mother about all this she asked how could someone ever live in Berlin. I replied that if she would ever bother coming here she would understand. She changed the subject.

In a city, which takes pride in preserving its history, how can one expect not to run into some “unpleasant” memorials? Indeed, when decided to follow my man to Berlin I predicted this would happen. But after all, even at war there are rules of engagement. I’ve only been back a week, and hoped Berlin would give me a fair start.