The Non-Inherited Inheritance

A few short years ago, a German Christian friend of mine from Marburg passed away after a lengthy illness. She and I had been in communication for several years earlier when we first met.

In the 1950s I had written a lengthy article in English about the life of Pfarrer Hermann Maas, a German pastor in Heidelberg, an anti-Nazi renowned cleric, a professor of Hebrew and a fluent speaker of Hebrew, a follower of Martin Buber, devoted friend to Jews ,who suffered imprisonment under the Nazi regime for condemning anti-Semitism and for helping Jews wherever he could.

In 1903, he attended the Zionist Congress in Basle under the leadership of Theodor Herzl and he became in that year a converted disciple of Herzlian Zionism.

In his second visit to Jewish Palestine in 1938 he was offered a position in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in order to save his life from further Nazi persecution and torture. Jewish friends and former Jewish German colleagues had made arrangements for him to the British mandatory authorities to provide him and subsequently his wife who had remained in Germany with promises of residency permits.

But the good pastor declined and felt that he was needed in Germany to save more Jewish lives and to condemn from his pulpit the Nazi terrorism which had engulfed Germany.

Subsequently he was arrested by the SS, imprisoned and badly beaten but by a miracle he survived the war. In 1970 prior to his death, the beloved leader of the Christian clergy in all of Nazi Germany was awarded a medal of honor as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem.

I first learned of the heroic Pfarrer when I was a student in 1951 and began a brief but devoted friendship with him by our written letters. Everyone of his letters to me was in a beautiful Hebrew handscript, a hand that had been extended all his life to his Jewish friends.

Almost 30 years after I had written an article about the fantastic life of this fantastic man, I received a letter partially in German and partially in English from the chairperson of a German organization called the Gesellschaft fur Deutsche Christlich-Judische Zuusammenarbeit, translated as the Society for German Christian and Jewish Working Together, a post-war German society whose preamble declared them “gegen Antijudaismus, Antisemitismus und Antzionismus.”

What the differentiation between being anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic means is not clear to me to this day.

But in the letter, postmarked from Berlin, I was invited to be a guest at their conference in the early 1980s at a hotel in New York. It was there that I first met Heike, then working in the German parliment in Berlin. We instantly became good friends, understanding friends, and she shared with me memories… happy memories.. of six visits in Israel, looking forward to more.

She was a single middle-aged woman, highly cultured and mistress of five languages. Three days before Pesach of that year I introduced her to my old friend and former classmate at Havat Halimud, Moshe, who was at the time serving in a diplomatic position in the Israeli Consulate-General.

Heike was never married and Moshe was divorced so their’s was a happy togetherness. A real “zusammenarbeit”.

It lasted a few years until Moshe’s death. Heike returned to Germany and never forgot her Israeli lover.

Some years after her death in Berlin I was contacted by a German lawyer who informed me that Heike had left me a substantial gift in her Will. I was required to appear in the attorney’s office in Germany to sign documents which could release her gift to me.

First of all I was stunned by the notice. Second, I had never set foot on German soil and had sworn to myself that I never would, and third my beloved wife was opposed to my traveling alone and she made a wise decision for me.

She suggested that I decline the gift and instead have it transferred to Yad Vashem Holocaust Center in Jerusalem in Heike’s memory.

There was no doubt in our minds that due to her age, her father must have been in a Nazi military unit, although Heike was never comfortable about speaking of her family.

I notified the lawyer’s office in Berlin that I would not travel to Germany and requested that he transfer the inheritance which I did not want to inherit . An arrangement was made for me, instead, to appear at the local German consulate and to sign a waiver in front of a consular official.

The funds were then transferred to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in Heike’s memory as I had requested.

Case closed. Not a mitzvah (good deed). Only a sign of respect for a non-Jewish German woman who loved Jews.

I have still not been in Germany. Maybe one day in the United Arab Emirates.

Who knows? But I need my Rahel to advise me what to do. Sadly she passed away from me. Tomorrow is the 4th anniversary of her death. A candle will be lit followed by a trip to the cemetery.

T’hi zichrona baruch. May her memory be forever a blessing. Tehi nishmata tzrura b’tzrur ha chayim. May her soul be bound up in the bonds of everlasting love. Amen.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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