34 of us came together in Hamburg last week from Israel, the U.S., England, Brazil, and Germany. Ranging in age from 9 (my son Sam) to 86, our shared connection was that we belonged to Jewish families who fled or were deported from Hamburg during the Nazi years. As guests of the Senate of Hamburg, we were treated to a week of cultural and historical excursions and events. And we had time to explore what little traces were left of our families’ residency in this beautiful city that was home to more than 20,000 Jews in the 1920s. The oldest member of our group, who had been deported to Riga, is once again a resident of Hamburg, where he now spends his summers.
The visitor programs in cities across Germany have been part of the nation’s continuing efforts towards reconciliation. Hamburg’s program dates back to the 1970s and helped my mother come to terms with her disrupted childhood when she participated quite some years ago. But most of the programs have come to an end as the first generation of survivors has passed away. Hamburg and Frankfurt continue to invite the descendants of former residents to visit the places that so many of us learned so little about as we were growing up.
As my sister, Sam and I rode around in a Mercedes bus from one historical point of interest to another, I tried to connect this visit with my family’s decision to live in Germany today. I feel safe and welcome in Berlin and I respect Germany’s extensive efforts to confront its atrocious past. But I know that not all immigrants to Germany feel as comfortable here as I do. I worry less about the future of Jews in Germany than I do about the future of ethnic groups that have been the target of the latest Neo-Nazi activities. I worry that Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation efforts are too far removed from Germany’s current integration challenges.
As the descendants of Holocaust survivors make the choice to visit Germany, I hope they will have the opportunity to learn about the concerns of this era while delving into their family histories. The younger generations are uniquely situated to grasp the connections between past and present.