A recent trip to Germany made queer Jewish woman Becca Israel more understanding of her Jewish responsibility.
The week after Thanksgiving, I had the privilege to be a participant on the Germany Close Up trip. The program gives American Jewish students and young professionals the opportunity to see and experience modern Germany and to better understand the political history and cultural landscape.
Two weeks before I left for Germany, Donald Trump won, and American Jews began to see a rise in anti-Semitic crimes, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The same, of course, goes for Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans and black and brown people. The alt-right was gaining visibility and popularity, and I couldn’t help but find it all mildly analogous to Nazi Germany. I started feeling the same sense of anxieties I had felt as a child when learning about the Holocaust in school. Like so many of my friends, I went through the cycle of denial, anger and now complete sadness.
The thing I was most anxious about prior to going on this trip was seeing a concentration camp. Of course, I read and saw pictures in Hebrew school, but I knew visiting one in person would be much different.
On the third day of our trip we went to Sachsenhausen. The all-male camp was used to detain Jews, homosexuals and political prisoners. Just about all of the barracks had been burned down by the Nazis before the camp was liberated in 1945, and all that remains is a large brick wall with barbed wire surrounding the camp, three watchtowers, a few restored barracks — and the ovens.
It was eerie and terrifying walking around the camp. I think we as Jews equate all deaths in the Holocaust to the Jewish people, which is understandable. However, being at the camp was a strong reminder that all minority groups were in danger.
Later that week, we met with a member of the Christian Democratic Union, the center-right party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shared that Germany has one of the highest populations of Syrian refugees. I held on to this fact for the remainder of the trip as I walked around Berlin and observed the various populations represented. Here I was in a country that at one time committed genocide against all people who were not Aryan, and now has intentionally rebranded itself to be one of the most welcoming places to immigrants. I thought about what welcoming others to a country actually means. What were the experiences of refugees who came to Germany?