Reflections on Traveling to Germany
As the child of German Jews (well, half-Jews…but we’ll leave that story for another time), I was raised in a home that had a complicated relationship with Germany. For many years my parents spoke German in the home, food was definitely inspired by my parents’ German roots, and my parents often told colorful stories about their German upbringing. But they didn’t long for their homeland. My father never made it back there, and my mother only visited years and years after coming to America, stating upon her return, “these are not my people, and this is not my home.” They were Americans.
Going to Germany wasn’t particularly high on my list. Unlike many of my friends, it wasn’t on my “never” list, but it wasn’t in the top ten, by any means. But, when Centropa offered me the opportunity to travel there as part of the 6th Annual Centropa Summer Academy, I wasn’t exactly going to turn it down.
In many ways, the trip was extraordinary. The most amazing parts have little to do with where you’re going, to be honest. It’s the opportunity to learn, share and travel with educators from US, Israel, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Serbia, Macedonia, Sweden, Lithuania and Poland. It’s the small conversations: the ones that happen over beers (which, being German ones, were pretty awesome), while sitting on the train, and while standing amidst ancient tombstones in Worms, that impact you. It’s hearing about how non-Jewish kids in Poland are learning about the Holocaust; how Jewish kids in Haifa are using 21st century technology to connect with non-Jewish kids in Mannheim and how non-Jewish public school students in Graz, Austria are honoring survivors that cause deep reflection and growth as an educator.
Having stated all that, however, the travel is amazing. When I reflect on what I saw, what I heard and what I learned in those 9 days – both about the locations I visited and about myself, I’m incredulous.
Briefly – a few highlights from visiting Mannheim (which we used as a base for visiting Heidelberg and Worms):
The Jewish community in Mannheim is minuscule, but mighty. We met Shoshana, who exuberantly told us about the synagogue and the people it serves. The congregation warmly welcomed us, fed us and even provided a few people who were willing to share their stories for us to interview and make movies. We saw Mannheim’s Holocaust Memorial (um…interesting) and were introduced to Stolpersteine – the stumbling blocks that are embedded in the stones under your feet and serve as memorials to Holocaust victims. Each block has the name and fate of one person and is placed in the street outside the victim’s last residence.
Mannehim was our base for spending the day in Heidelberg and then seeing Worms before moving on to Frankfurt. Heidelberg was adorable – it’s the quintessential German small town. Pretty roofs, the whole package. The highlight for me, though, in Heidelberg, was hearing from a small group of young men who have participated in a student exchange with a school in Haifa, Israel. Hearing these non-Jewish German men talk about visiting Yad Vashem with their Israeli friends brought tears to my eyes. That’s what international sharing is all about!
Next – Worms
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