It’s a mystery that I’m sure will always be with us. Less than 48 hours ago I shared my frustration about our adopted son Sam’s moribund German citizenship application. Today I received the following communication from the San Francisco Consul General:
Dear Mrs. Swarthout,
I’m glad to inform you that the Federal Office of Administration notified the Consulate today, that the Certificate of Citizenship for your son Samuel is now ready to be shipped to San Francisco.
We will inform you as soon as it arrives here, for you to pick it up at your earliest convenience.
Consul, German Consulate General
We are still so stunned that our long wait has come to an end. Sam was also quite surprised when we told him the news at dinner tonight. His first reaction was to ask why it took so long and then he quickly added that he thought it was pretty awesome. Now that we are moving back to Berlin, Sam’s plans are to begin training for FC Bayern München and to eat lots of döner kebaps with his brother and sister and his friend Noah.
I’m grateful for the support of so many people who read this blog. And I remain determined to support others who seek to have their German citizenship restored.
Since I’ve spent so much tine venting about German bureaucrats on my blog, I thought I’d share the latest official missive that landed in my inbox.
Dear Ms. Swarthout,
Thank you for your message.
I regret to have to inform you that this Consulate General has no way to influence the FAO’s processing time.
Herr Zeiller works in the German Consulate office in San Francisco, the office where we filed our Article 116 German citizenship applications just under two years ago. We are still waiting for Sam, the youngest (and adopted) member of our family, to receive his citizenship. Sam’s application was transferred from the City of Berlin to the FAO (Federal Office of Administration) last summer when we returned to the States.
We have never received a single official item of correspondence about Sam’s application (see More Bureaucratic Sludge at the Finish Line). I know I should be staging a protest on the steps of the FAO in Köln, but it would be so much better if the authorities would just communicate with us! And now that the rest of the family has been granted German citizenship, shouldn’t the German Consulate at least try to help us?
I don’t think Herr Zeiller had any regrets at all about declaring his inability to be of assistance. He’s politely put us back in the informational void where we will continue to languish. And his bureaucratic niceties do nothing to alleviate our frustration.
After countless emails, Skype calls, headaches, stomach aches, marital strategy sessions, and sleepless nights, Brian has accepted a job with the Freie Schule Anne Sophie in Berlin. Our house is a stew of emotions right now as each member of the family contemplates our second move from Bozeman to Berlin. Sam is very excited to see his friend Fintan, Avery exhibits wild swings between distress and enthusiasm, and Olivia is rather melancholy about leaving her friends. It will take me a while to unravel my own mix of emotions so I’ll have to return to that topic at a later time.
This move to Berlin will be different in many ways from our move in 2010. Berlin is already a second home for us, we have a few favorite neighborhoods where we would like to live, we are all reasonably good German speakers, and Brian will be working for a small private German bilingual school rather than a large public international school. I plan to continue poking into the many corners of Jewish life in Berlin, but also hope to settle in a bit more as a city resident this time. But the most important difference from the last move is that this time we’re not sure when we will return to the States.
Here’s a crazy diagram from www.upworthy.com that shows one of the many reasons we want to return to Berlin. Teachers in Germany make significantly more money and work fewer hours than teachers in the U.S.! Brian’s job offer reflects this difference and ensures that our family will enjoy a good standard of living.
Now if we could only get Sam’s German citizenship approved (after nearly two years since our application was filed!), we could also ensure that all five members of the family will have the same legal status when we return.
Just about three years ago at this time we were skipping with joy over the news that we would be moving to Berlin for two years. At the end of those two years we wanted to stay put, but family responsibilities tugged us back to Bozeman. We’ve been back in Bozeman for almost eight months now….and during those eight months we’ve never lost sight of our goal: to return to Berlin in the summer of 2013.
It’s hard to say if we are making any progress towards our goal. After lots of job applications and a few interviews, we still have no idea if we’ll be moving to Berlin this summer. If we stay in Bozeman we’ll be remodeling our house, buying a bigger car that fits our growing teenagers, and planning our next road trip. We will lead a typical American lifestyle. But if we move back to Berlin, we’ll return to a lifestyle that suits us better: no car ownership, lots of international travel and ethnic food consumption, and immersion in the varied cultural and recreational offerings of a European cosmopolis.
So as a new week begins I’m trying to keep doubt and angst about the future at bay. I draw inspiration from my husband Brian who approaches the most stressful of situations with the equanimity of a cow grazing in a Montana meadow. Life is actually pretty peaceful here in Bozeman at the moment….the kids are happy, winter is winding down, and we’ve been enjoying killer lemon drops with our friends. Still, if any of our Berlin friends know of any great writing, editing, or teaching opportunities for me, don’t hesitate to be in touch!
Posted in Inspiration
What is the role of the third generation in Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation? This is the question I am left with after reading Eva Hoffman’s thought-provoking book After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust. Hoffman tells us that the second generation is the hinge generation “in which received, transferred knowledge of events is transmuted into history, or into myth.” But as the connection to the Shoah becomes more tenuous for the grandchildren of survivors, and is less of a living connection, what is the third generation’s responsibility to grapple with this history and extract meaning from it?
Some of us feel a stronger desire to connect with our past than others. When my students were asked whether they would choose to time travel to the past or the future, most of them chose the future. I choose the past, still wanting to go back and learn more about my family’s pre-Holocaust history, even after nearly two years spent wading through the shadows of the past in Germany. I know there are many others like me. They even have their own organizations such as Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, which can be found on Facebook. There is also a growing body of literature on the third generation’s stories, reflections, and insights about the Shoah.
But despite the desire of many grandchildren of survivors to receive and interpret the memories and narratives of their parents and grandparents, my sense is that such sentiments are not the norm. Most of my cousins showed little interest in my own family research and discoveries. For those who do have interest, delving into such a distant past is not an easy undertaking. But as Hoffman stresses, it is our distance from the past that can be useful in developing perspectives and understandings that are not available to the victims. Far from indulging in victimhood, the third generation can still play an important role in reconciliation.
My hope is that the third generation will not be labeled the unhinged generation, the generation that has lost its connection to the past. Early in her book, Hoffman references an Israeli psychotherapist, Dina Wardi, who says that “in every survivor’s family, one child is chosen as a memorial candle….an instrument of commemoration, devotion, and mourning.” If this is the case for the second generation, I hope many of us who make up the third generation will continue to shine a light on our shared history in a way that will inform the present and benefit our future.
Last fall I attended my first PechaKucha Night in Bozeman. If you’re not familiar with PechaKucha, it’s a model for delivering presentations in a 20×20 format. The presenter shows 20 images for 2o seconds each, and gives remarks that are paced to match the length for each image on display. One of the presentations was on Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Amidst all the fascinating facts about Pirsig, I was stunned to learn that he got 121 rejections for Zen before William Morrow Publishers accepted it. I was awed by Pirsig’s perseverance and chided myself to be more vigilant in seeking new outlets for my writing.
Fast forward to the 2012 holiday season. I spent a good deal of my spare time crafting pitches to publications that seemed like a good fit for my work. Then I spent too much time checking my email for responses that never arrived. Perhaps publishers took more time to actually write rejections in Pirsig’s pre-electronic age. Nowadays we’re so bombarded with e-communications that the ease of sending a reply just may not be worth the bother. Zillions of online media sources do increase a writer’s chances of being published, but the difficulty of getting an editor’s attention in cyberspace is still an enormous challenge.
Eventually I did hear from both the Jewish Women’s Archive and Tikkun. The result is two short pieces about my search for a Jewish identity and sense of community in both the U.S. and Germany. Here are the links: Jewish Identity: A Round Trip Journey and Finding and Building Jewish Community in Germany.
Last year we rang in the new year with our good friends the Yagers (who now live in Kirchzarten) on a giant ferris wheel near Brandenburger Tor in Berlin. The experience was so exhilarating that my usual sense of claustrophobia in the midst of an enormous crowd quickly evaporated. Berlin has a way of doing that, transforming a fairly taciturn individual into a sensory sponge for the sights and sounds of humanity.
This year we’ll have a slightly less raucous New Year’s celebration with close friends in Bozeman. The contrast underscores the big picture differences between Bozeman and Berlin. Here in Bozeman we’ve had a quiet holiday filled with ping-pong, knitting, baking, reading, sledding, and so on. I’m itching to board a train and head in any direction that will take me to another country, but I probably won’t be going any farther than Billings or Helena any time soon.
But soon we will know if we are going to make another continental move, a move back to Germany. The decision hinges on getting the right type of job offer(s) and establishing that we are not unduly disrupting the lives of our three children. But these short-term considerations almost pale next to the benefits of living in a country with less gun violence, a stronger safety net, and free college education for the kids. Wherever we are next year, I’m grateful to have dual citizenship and the possibilities that come with it.