Remarks from Dedication at Memorial to German Resistance with Christian Schmidt, member of the Bundestag and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense
Secretary Schmidt, Prof. Tuchel, revered rabbinic colleagues and friends, it is an honor to represent the Central Conference of American Rabbis at this ceremony of commemoration today. We are a group of rabbis and spouses from across North America, here to explore this wonderful city and to learn about Jewish renewal in Berlin. In our few days here, we have visited cemeteries and museums, memorials and monuments. We have stumbled over Stolpersteine, read and heard the stories, and seen the signs and landmarks that record the dark history of the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of those who ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. Some of us are descendants of Jewish refugees from Germany and other parts of Europe, and all of us have known survivors of the death camps and the Nazi terror. For some, this is their first trip to Germany, which they anticipated with trepidation and at best mixed feelings.
We have also visited Jewish schools and synagogues, seen children at play and students engrossed in learning. We have witnessed a rebirth of creativity by rabbis and lay leaders and volunteers who, despite tremendous obstacles, are rebuilding Jewish life in this scarred and wounded land and society. They have taken up the challenge of the phoenix rising from the ashes of a destroyed community, and what they create will be something new and different, but we hope and pray, something worthwhile and a solid successor of the glorious history of German Jewish life.
Now, in this difficult week, we remember with our sisters and brothers around the world, the 75th anniversary of the November pogroms of 1938, which marked the beginning of the end for German Jewry. From the 9th of November and on, Jews knew in a way they may not have acknowledged before, that the government that they had defended, paid taxes to, and served as proud citizens; that government would no longer defend them, their persons or their property. Whatever illusions Jews might have held, that this was just another wave of anti-Semitism to be endured like those of the past; that this civilized country could not possibly follow the ravings of a maniac; that this, too, would pass and quiet would return – those illusions were shattered like breaking glass, as government and its forces became the enemy of Jewish people.
There were as well those few who spoke out, who resisted, who attempted to stop the bulldozers that crushed human rights and human decency and civilized behavior. There were those Christians and other people of faith, who at great risk to themselves, defied the inhumane rules, saved Jews, and tried to stop the madness. Today we commemorate that courageous resistance. They were too few and too late; their voices and their actions drowned out by the thunder of absolute power. Had they spoken up in 1933 or 1938 instead of 1944, we might have seen a different course of history. Hindsight is 20/20, and we regret what might have been. But still, we honor those who tried, who resisted, and who paid for it with their lives. They, among the righteous of all nations, are the sparks of light amid the darkness.
It is tremendously moving for us, American rabbis, to see the extent to which Germans have taken responsibility for their past, and devoted themselves to educating the populace of the dangers of repeating history. May these memorials serve as witness to future generations, of the human potential for evil, and the human potential for goodness. We pray that goodness will prevail.
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus is a Past President of the CCAR, and is the Rabbi Emerita of B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, IL