Cantors Mission to Germany Day 7
Our morning begins with a trip to Dachau, not more than a 30 minute drive from downtown Munich. Dachau Concentration camp was the first to open in Germany in 1933, the only fully functioning camp for the 12 yrs of the Holocaust. While the site had a crematoria and gas chamber, the majority of those who perished in the camp (some 40,000) died of disease and malnutrition. Hundreds of individuals would be crammed in a barrack like sardines. What is interesting about the camp is the staging- two barracks were “recreated” since the original barracks were destroyed (they had been in poor condition following the war and they did not create the museum until 1965.) Having visited places like Majdanek, where barracks/gas chamber/crematoria remain intact, it’s difficult to visit a camp where it seems like there was some form of coverup (where intentional or not). The platforms remain from each barrack, stones fill the roads and the barrack platforms.
We daven Shaharit and hold a memorial service, filled with songs and texts recognizing those were lost. Following a tour of the rest of the camp, we convene again for a moving el malei rechamim, a prayer in memory of those who perished in the Shoah. As the signs say throughout the camp, “never forget.” We opened with an important reading written by reuven Hammer:
The ark of the Torah, of faith, of learning stands empty and bereft.
WE have come here to remember those who cannot be forgotten.
WE have come to speak of that which cannot be spoken; but cannot be left unsaid.
WE know how to remember the dead we have known.
WE know how to commemorate the death of one person.
But all of us are mourners; all of us recall not one but six million ones.
Not only those we have known, but those no one can know, the names that are forever lost…
Our next event takes place at the Jewish Museum/Community Center in the heart of historic Munich. The fact that this building is here, in such a central location, is a testament to the Jewish community’s revival. Hazzan Elliot Vogel conducts a moving memorial to the 11 victims of the ’72 olympics- Rabbi Laura Metzger reads a biography of each victim as a member of the Cantors Assembly holds a poster-sized photograph of each of them. It is pointed out that 20 million minutes have passed since the ’72 olympics, yet all we ask for is one minute of silence to recognize the innocence that was lost. Again, the ceremony is filled with musical renditions that enhance the moment. This is a different moment than the one we experienced at the memorial site the day before, and yet it is just as important.
Finally, we have our 2nd to last lecture by Professor Berke. Some food for thought:
1) It is estimated that there were over 20,000 concentration camps during the Holocaust, some that held 4 or 5 prisoners, others that held 500,000. While some may have been more gruesome than others, each was inhumane, each was an abomination, each destroyed innocent lives.
2) During the Euthanasia campagain from ’38 on, 300,000 handicapped were murdered. While the Catholic church was silent when it came to the Jewish plight, they did help stop the Euthanasia campaign.
So two questions- why didn’t the German Jews pick up on the changing of the times and why did Germans do very little to stop these atrocities?
Part 1: German Jews. If you want to understand the Jewish behavior at the beginning of the Holocaust, it is the fundamental inability to believe. As stated earlier, this was the century that was supposed to be Germany’s century. Anti-semitism always existed…This perspective was met with a large group of German Jews who fled Germany before and during the difficult years.
Part 2: Germans. It’s difficult to see how the population can go from anti-semitic bullying to torture and unthinkable acts against other human beings. One of the most salient aspects of the Shoah is that Hitler transforms from “settling accounts with the jews” in his pre-war rhetoric to “we must deal with jews for what they are doing to us now” (autumn of ’41). Everything was blamed on someone else, and everyone marched towards their fuhrer. There’s an assimtry between those who focused on destroying the Jewish population vs. focusing on the war efforts. It seems illogical when fighting a war to focus your efforts on everything but your front line.
In any event, even for those who wanted to save Jews (righteous gentiles not withstanding), it was not their first or second priority. How can the Germans do this?
1) Ideology from 1933 changed
2) Battalion 101- An order is an order? They felt it was better to be a policeman in Poland rather than die on the eastern front.
3) Downright anti-semitism. Berke brings up two examples – one quote that Jews were the gangrene of society, and that it was important to remove the limb…The other is a story by Primo Levi: In 1945, Levi had been collecting ice from outside his barrack so he would have some water to drink. A guard knocked the cup over, spilling all of the water on the ground. Levi asked “Why did you do that?” The guard replied, “Here there is no why!”
With all these backdrop from Professor Berke, it makes it more and more difficult to see how this can magically disappear overnight with one or two generations. That’s for tomorrow’s blog. Here’s a clip from the Cantor at the adjacent Ohel Jakob synagogue