Like other Baby Boomers, I grew up hating Germans from watching black & white war movies and hearing about the Nazi atrocities. However, I was the child of two German Holocaust Survivors, with parts of my family living in Germany since the 1500’s. I heard beautiful stories of Jewish life in pre-Nazi Germany and learned how Jews had more civil rights in Germany than in America from 1896 until 1933. Remember, segregation and discrimination were legal in America not only for African-Americans, but also for Jews, Catholics, Asians, etc.; while Jews in Germany were full citizens from 1871 until the Nazi era.
As I got older I began to not only reconcile the parts of my own life; but also world history. Being gay, I felt the frustrations of being a second class citizen struggling to obtain my equal rights in America. I also understand how most countries go through periods where they discriminate, oppress or even kill their minorities. Remember even the USA had horrific periods of oppressing and removing its native population and supported slavery. The important thing is to move towards equality and liberty for all people now.
In 2005 I returned a German Torah (that my grandfather brought to NYC) back to Congregation Beth Shalom in Munich, and started to deeply explore Jewish history in Germany and German-Jewish history in America. By 2007, I learned that children of German or Austrian Holocaust Survivors could re-instate their right to citizenship while keeping one’s American citizenship. I filled out the forms with mixed emotions.
This was an emotional journey for me, and one that many of my Jewish friends still don’t understand. My parents were ambivalent, but I became a dual citizen. I even started a Jewish contingent to march in the New York German American Steuben Parade as a public way of showing that the world has changed since 1933. We must not only know about the Nazi era, but should also remember the centuries of German Jewish life before the Holocaust, and the new Jewish communities that exist now.
Finally, I even started speaking about my life in both colleges and synagogues and started a walking tour of Lower Manhattan for German tourists where we do the usual sightseeing, but I tell them about what it was like growing up with a pre-war German Jewish culture. You can read about the tour at www.infotrue.com/tourgerman.html