Beautiful flowers arrived this morning, sent from Germany. They were sent with well-wishes to my very ill wife from a German Protestant woman whom I had met more than twenty-five years ago.
I had attended a meeting of a group of elderly German Christian men and women from an organization called the Gesellschaft fur Judische-Christlich Zussamenarbeit… the Society for Jewish-Christian Collaboration. The members of this group came from the city of Marburg, home of the famed Phillips University.
The purpose of the Society, in all of its branches, was to improve relations between Jews and German Christians. In this particular group, almost fifty percent had visited Israel, some more than once. And I found three who could converse in very simple Hebrew.
They were extremely friendly and cordial and received me, the lone Jew, very warmly.
We extended our conversations to deal with the Nazi persecution of German Jews leading up to the extermination of six million Jews from across the occupied European continent.
Because of their age, many over sixty years old, it was at once obvious that their youth had been spent in the Nazi groups, Hitler Jugend and Hitler Madchen. When I asked publicly how many of them had been members, most raised their hands.
Then there followed an explanation. “We were not members of the Nazi party but by German law in those years, every German boy and girl had to join and had to swear loyalty to our Fuhrer”.
It was also quite obvious to me that most of their parents had been members of and supporters for the Nazi party and that one of the purposes of their membership in the Gesellschaft was to seek amends for Germany’s past history and for family participation in Nazi life and society.
Among the group was a younger woman who was working in Bonn, then the capitol of Germany before the unity of Berlin. She was employed by the government to work in the office of a senator in the German Bundestag. She was very cordial, explained how impressed she had been on her second visit in Israel and her desire to learn Hebrew.
She seemed very sincere and we became good friends. Over the years we kept in touch by postal mail. The correspondence was delightful and she wrote in a very literary English. She had spent much time in Ireland and had a romantic affair with an Irish gentleman. Sadly for her, the affair did not materialize into a marriage
One year she was our guest at the Pesach seder and we invited my oldest friend, Moshe, who was an Israeli Consul in London, New York and Miami, to be her companion.
Not only did she drink the four cups of wine but she asked for more, finished a bottle, and then asked if we had any cold beer.
Since we told her that beer was not permitted on Pesach, she apologized and asked if we could open another bottle of wine. We were frankly astounded at how much alcohol she was able to consume and still remain clear-headed.
She told us that in Germany she was accustomed to drinking six beers every day. “es macht mich stark fuhlen”, she said. It makes me feel strong !
Her knowledge of Jewish history had depth and she could recount historical elements of Jewish life in Germany in the sixteenth century and then she immersed herself in describing life after emancipation in 1848.
She had read the works of Moses Mendelsohn and particularly enjoyed the Chassidic tales of Martin Buber. She was a modern German intellectual with a thirst for knowledge and especially for Jewish history and Zionism. I really admired her interest in things both Jewish and Israeli.
I never asked her about her parents’ role during the Nazi regime. She explained that the professors at Phillips University in her home city of Marburg were required to be members of the party. So it was during the Hitlerian years.
Over the past twenty-five years we have kept in touch. Gone are the days of postal mail. They have been overtaken by the computer and the e-mail.
When I had informed her in December of my wife’s terrible diagnosis, she was sympathetic and concerned and frequently sent e-mails inquiring of her health.
Early this morning a delivery man rang our door bell, holding in his two hands schone blumen aus Deutschland… a beautiful bouquet of flowers, sent with warm get-well wishes, from that lovely woman in Germany.
It brought a smile and a thanks from my wife’s lips and gratitude for friendship from my heart.