For decades, my father would give me a minute by minute accounting of the day the Gestapo woke him from his bed in Augsburg on November 10, 1938 until he fell asleep on the floor in Dachau at midnight. Every year I also say Kaddish for Leopold Rieser, the attorney, who was beaten to death in earshot of my father as he got off the bus at the entrance of Dachau a few days after Kristallnacht. But these days I can remember the atrocities, while also acknowledging the centuries of pre-Hitler German Judaism. Jews were full citizens in Germany from 1871-1933, unlike in America after the 1896 segregation laws which included Jews, Catholics as well as African-Americans.
This year my Synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), didn’t just focus on the horrors of the Nazi era, but also commemorated the hundred years of rich Jewish culture in Germany. Since our Synagogue prays in Holy Apostles Church every Friday night, we were able to use their organ for the Shabbat prayers during the Kristallnacht Commemoration with the melodies of German composers such as Louis Lewandowski, Salomon Sulzer and Kurt Weill.
The chorus from St. Columba Catholic Church joined the CBST chorus, and the service took on the feeling and atmosphere of what my father would describe when he talked about his Synagogue in Augsburg. Remember pre-Hitler Liberal Jewish Congregations had organs with Christian chorus members singing the prayers too.
Since I was at the re-dedication of the Augsburg Synagogue in 1985, I was able to close my eyes and listen to the prayers as if I was sitting in one of the beautiful German Synagogues that existed before November 9, 1938. It was then that I realized that a series of my own anniversaries would be coming up in the next few years. This reflects another part of the German Jewish story; namely the re-growth of today’s German Jewish communities.
2014 will be the tenth anniversary of my donating the Torah that my Opa gave me to Congregation Beth Shalom in Munich. Then in 2015 will be the tenth anniversary of the Shavuos ceremony when I went to Munich for the acceptance ceremony, and finally in 2017 it will be my tenth anniversary of becoming a German citizen.
Delving into my German heritage really started in earnest about a decade ago. At that time, Congregation Beth Shalom had no Torah at all, and now it has several Torahs and is planning to build its own new sanctuary (with Daniel Libeskind as the architect). So when we remember November 9th as the beginning of the violence of the Holocaust, we can now also remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-birth of a new diverse Judaism growing in Germany today.