by Pat Arnow
When my husband, who works in a nursing home, told a patient that we were about to visit Nuremberg, the old man said, “Yeah? Piss on Germany for me.” He has reason to be sore, having lost much of his family in the Holocaust.
A couple of Lower East Siders also have had a negative though more subdued reaction to the trip. They look at me skeptically and ask why I’d want to go to Germany. I ask myself the same thing. Germany makes me nervous. My sweet-natured Dad liked everyone but said Germans were no good. He served in the American occupation forces in post-war Germany, and being Jewish, already had a grudge. He effectively passed on his ill will.
But in the early 1970s, a family friend who had escaped Germany (in a dramatic way that included walking across Norway, taking the trans-Siberian railway, going to Panama where she waited and waited for a visa, and finally being sponsored to enter the U.S.) was returning for a visit. I could go along. I thought, if she can go after what she went through, I can spend a few days. But when I arrived in Cologne, the sight of middle-aged Germans unnerved me. I couldn’t help thinking about what they might have done—or not done–during the war.
The ex-German family friend seemed comfortable there, and our hosts, an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter, were gracious. I started to relax. Then, at a gas station, my hosts spotted several dark-skinned men—guest workers, probably from Turkey. The women tensed up. We don’t trust them, they explained, as we hurried away. I left Germany after a few days feeling not reassured.
Years later, I braved bad nerves to visit great friends who had moved there. As in my earlier visit, I thought about history constantly and eyed people suspiciously, holding them responsible.
Now, 10 years more, I am going back to visit the same friends, who now live in Nuremberg. People who were culpable in World War II for the demise of the Jews are now elderly. Younger people are not the same as their parents and grandparents. According to things I’ve read, Germans are generally thoughtful and aware of their history, determined not to repeat it.
I’m going to try not to repeat my history. No one under the age of 80 is going to get the hairy eyeball from me.