Cantors Mission to Germany Day 3
What a whirlwind of experiences and emotions these past 3 days. I’ll be posting each day’s activities and reflections in separate blog posts.
Day 3: We begin our day with the 2nd lecture by our scholar Stephen Berke. Professor Berke beautifully illustrates the timeline leading up to World War I, and will eventually tie in the years of the Nazi regime. The holocaust was not a moment without context, and German Jewry’s response to the rise of fascism must be viewed without the context of Germany’s history.
A few major points brought up by Berke:
1) Moses Mendelssohn, father of the Enlightenment and affiliated Jew, had only 4 of 56 descendants who identified as Jews by 1850 (most notably, his son Felix converted).
2) Similarly, Henirich Heiner converted to get a university position (non were offered to Jews at the time), to which he remarked “God will forgive me, it’s his job.”
3) So what was Germany like before WWI? To give context, we again think about the National Liberal Party- was it more “liberal” or more “national”? “National” meant the people wanted a constitution. Bismarck, the “blood and iron” chancellor, was the 1st conservative to play the national card by creating the 2nd Reich. For Jews, they had their bumps in the road in the late 19th century. It’s important not to romanticize, for while there were no legal restrictions for Jews in the 2nd Reich, they still had their limitations. Jews felt that anti-semitism was a vestige of the medieval period. Even in 1873, when a depression cripples the economy in large part to a Jewish financier’s ponzi scheme (sound familiar), there is no violent act against the Jewish population. They feel more German than Jewish. In 1890, they may have classified themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic personality- ours happens to be Jewish.”
4) Again, personalities- they are just as important to the historical narrative as any other factor. Often we minimize the role of the individual- saying that if Person A didn’t invent blank, Person B would have figured it out. This point, reiterated during Saturday night’s lecture, is a difficult one when we consider that if there was no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. To think if Hitler had been accepted into art school or had received a harsher punishment for his treasonous actions, he may not have been in a position to become Fuhrer of Germany. As Berke summed up, history is not mathematics, chemistry or physics. For as much as Germany was the pinnacle of a civilization at the turn of the 20th century, for Germans AND German Jews, as much as the 20th century may have appeared to be the century of the Germans (and not the Americans), history weaves its way in many directions because of unknown or alien forces.
This point is reiterated by our next presenter, Ms. Emily Haber, German State Secretary. Her first few minutes were heartfelt and emotional, as she put everything out on the table- no “one story for this group, another for another group”. As Germany looks to repair its image in the Jewish world, Ms. Haber pointed to individuals in government as forces of friendship. While she toed the party (or often the EU) line, Ms. Haber appeared a genuine friend of both the US and Israel (little known fact- her 50th birthday present was a trip to Israel).
Our next presenter, US Ambassador to Germany, spoke again of the friendship with Germany and its support of Israel. His ironic factoid of the morning is the fact that the Israeli Ambassador’s residence in Berlin is the former Nazi Affairs Clubhouse.
After a morning of politics we head to our day tour of the neighboring city of Potsdam. We cross the Glienicke Bridge, a famous exchange point for Soviet spies during the days of the Cold War. We visit the Cecilienhof Manor, site of the famous 1945 meeting between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin. We learn a little more about Federick the Great as we travel to the Sanssouci Palace and Gardens.
In the evening, we take over the Berlin Concert hall (a little factoid- since many of these halls/institutions were created during the Cold War, Berlin now has 3 opera houses, 2 concert halls, 2 national museums and 2 zoos- with each receiving 30% support by the government). This is chance to sing with a wonderful local choir, as well as utilize the wonderful organ. Cantors received many of the pieces beforehand to help bring the choral singing to the pews. We sang many pieces whose composers wrote specifically for the German population or were of German descent themselves. What a venue!
Services conclude close to midnight. A Shabbat Shalom- a peaceful shabbat, and what will become a Shabbat Shaleim, a complete day of rest and meaning.