I was full of curiosity and anticipation last week when I attended a lecture by Rolf Schuette, the City of Berlin’s Director of Protocol, on the relationship between Germany, American Jews and Israel. Among other interesting themes, Schuette spoke about why Germany’s relationship with Israel is different from its relationship with American Jews. Germany and Israel enjoy very warm relations and cross cultural contacts between the two countries, mainly through tourism, have skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, Israel had the second largest number of tourists to visit Germany of any country outside Europe. Schuette also cited various polls which reveal the surprisingly positive attitudes that Israelis hold towards Germans.
In contrast, Schuette claimed that American Jews have shown little interest in Germany in the post-Holocaust years. In the absence of contact, attitudes are likely to remain negative and friction even erupts in families (as it did in my own) when the American descendant of someone who fled the Nazis wants to return to a parent’s or grandparent’s birthplace. But even more significant was Schuette’s assertion that American Jews lack a “realistic image” of today’s Germany due to this lack of contact.
Schuette’s comments reaffirmed my desire to document our experiences as a Jewish family living in Berlin. It is not that I think American Jews must visit Germany, but that 65 years after the Holocaust there may be some basis for updating our image of Germany. We must find a way to both honor our tragic history and move forward with an open mind. This is why I say that the door is open and it is our choice whether to step inside.