When classes are over and bags are packed, there’s really only one thing left to do: Eurotrip.
When I planned my trip to Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, I knew it was going to be fun. I knew it was going to be a new experience. I knew it would involve some Jewish sites. I didn’t know that it would get me thinking this much about my relationship with the European Jewish past.
My grandfather, who we affectionately called Papa, was a German Jew. He grew up in a small town called Eschau. He went to medical school in Heidelberg. He left the country and made it to America before the war started, which is likely the reason why I am here today.
My papa passed away when I was a kid, too young to understand his past or have a meaningful conversation about the Holocaust. But, as I travelled through Berlin, I was overcome with desire to talk to Papa Ludwig.
The questions would start pouring out:
How did you know to get out when you did?
Did you feel closely connected to your German identity before you left? What about your Jewish identity?
What happened when you got to the US? Did you know the extent of what was going on back home?
But even more, I would ask him how to deal with the fact that in all honesty, I loved Berlin.
Berlin is young, hip, cool, alt, and full of graffiti artists and cultural events and farmers’ markets and nightspots. It has a unique vibe and I loved every neighborhood more than the next. If I had to choose a second place to study abroad, it would be on top of my list.
At the same time, the history of World War II continues to sit heavily on the city’s shoulders. The Holocaust memorial, the free museum called Topography of Terror and the rowdy anti-fascist youth movement provide constant reminders that this cultural haven was once the capital of horror, of tragedy, and of the Final Solution.
So how would Papa feel about it now? Would he want me to embrace my German roots and reconnect? Should I apply for the German passport that the government offers to family members of the victims and those who left?
Or, would he prefer that I stay safe and sound in America and never look back?
One of the most bizarre things about Berlin is that I felt more comfortable wearing a Jewish star necklace there than I did in Spain. Has German guilt become a Jewish safeguard? Would Papa warn me to never really get too comfortable? Does the new generation of anti-fascist, punk, and hipster Germans help affirm the notion of “Never Again”?
I will never have the opportunity to hear Papa’s answers to my questions. Perhaps my mom knows, perhaps my aunt is aware–perhaps my older siblings know the answers. I suppose I will have to figure out my feelings about Berlin on my own. About the city’s cool vibe versus my uncertainty about its redemption.
And when I can be proud to call myself a German Jew.