I had absolutely no desire to set foot in Germany, until 1989 when like so many Israelis, I watched on my TV screen the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a surrealistic scene reminiscent of the destruction by allied bombers of Berlin, and yet, there was no violence only joy and hope.
My granddaughter suggested a trip to Berlin during her semester break. I was interested to see for myself the hype which draws so many Israelis to Berlin. Having hosted German tourists in my home in Tel Aviv, I welcomed the idea. However, I was apprehensive at the thought of face to face contact with Germans not as tourists to my country, but as my hosts.
As a child who grew up in London during the Blitz, like so many German children, I had spent the early years of the war sleeping in deep concrete shelters. Hanging tough with a minimum of creature comforts and a maximum of fear of what the night would bring. The morning brought trepidation as the doors to the shelters were opened and the natural light almost blinded us from the devastation all around.
We arrived at my friend’s apartment which I later found out was situated in East Berlin, a neighbourhood which is the process of gentrification. I had imagined that Berlin would be the stereotype of German order and discipline, so I was surprised at the plethora of aggressive graffiti and the grubbiness of the streets around me.
On the first day, I took The Berlin Citysightseeing Tour and almost immediately with a shock I realised that I recalled all the names and places we were passing. The demons that I had tried to suppress in anticipation of the trip jumped to the fore. When we reached the Reichstag, I realized that the red banner with a Swastika I was seeing in my mind’s eye was merely a figment of my imagination, and I burst into tears.
Every time I climbed the stairs to my friend’s apartment I looked on the mantels of the doors to see if there was a sign that once a Mezuza had been there.
I met with a range of people including some like myself who had lived in England and Israel though were happily spending their last years in the place from where their parents had fled. Also, Israelis for whom life in Berlin gave them the opportunity to advance their professional careers, especially those in the arts.
In general, I found friendliness, a willingness to help me find my way, a buzz, an almost hedonistic lifestyle for some and many children and parents enjoying each other and the facilities available.
I was caught off guard as I arrived home in the early hours of Erev Zichron HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). The emotional rollercoaster I had experienced in Berlin was still with me. Our Prime Minister’s address aggravated my feeling of frustration by concentrating on our suffering rather than our responsibility towards the other.
As a Jew, an Israeli, a child of WW2, I know that we more than any other nation have the ability to survive. And we alone can make it possible for another nation almost umbilically dependent on us to realize their national aspiration as we have done.