I departed the Weston A. Price Foundation conference early to travel to Germany and attend special ceremonies in my deceased mother’s hometown, commemorating the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht–the night Germany burned nearly all the country’s synagogues to the ground and officially launched the Holocaust.
I had been to the city of Darmstadt a few times before, in researching a book I co-authored with my aunt about my family’s experiences during the Holocaust (Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe) and thought I knew most everything I could learn related to my family’s history. But after I arrived yesterday, I learned something else–a bizarre tale– that made me think about the current struggles over raw milk in Canada and the U.S.
Germany has handled the aftermath of the Holocaust as admirably as anyone could imagine, paying hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution to survivors and befriending Israel. Even now, it brings survivors back to ceremonies like the ones yesterday, and the city of Darmstadt actually paid my travel expenses and hotel in Darmstadt (along with those of about 50 other survivors and relatives who also attended).
In another sign of its commitment to healing, it has taken to marking the sites of synagogues and other important Jewish community structures. Sometimes, it’s gone to extraordinary lengths in allowing the marking of such sites.
I learned yesterday that when the city of Darmstadt was constructing a major medical center in the middle of the city five years ago, workers came upon some remains of the Liberale Synagogue. The remains look like something archaeologists might find in Jerusalem or Damascus–some support structures and a few charred remains.
But unlike the remains that might be found in the Middle East, these are only seventy years old. A few of the city’s remaining Jews heard of the discovery, and pushed the city to preserve the remains.
The Liberale Synagogue was a huge synagogue, which my mother and aunt had attended as children. When they were expelled from public school in 1937, this place became their school, run by the Jewish community, until the Germans burned it down during the night of madness in late 1938.
In response to the campaign by the Jewish residents, the town’s elders halted construction of the medical center, and ordered the builder to preserve the few hundred square feet of remains by building around them, and creating space for a small museum, complete with an artistic replication and digital history of the synagogue.
The change in plans forced a three-year delay in completion of the huge medical center, and cost millions of extra dollars. At the ceremonies held yesterday at a new synagogue a mile or two away, hundreds of non-Jewish Darmstadt residents joined with the few hundred Jews who now live in Darmstadt to pack the place.
Several town officials addressed the attendees, and essentially said the same thing: “This anniversary is a reminder of how totally deranged our country once was.”
I don’t like to make comparisons between the Holocaust and events in our modern lives, since the Holocaust was so extreme compared to anything we have ever seen, and hopefully will ever see.
But as I heard the story of the Liberale Synagogue being turned into an archeological find so quickly after the fact, I couldn’t help think about the Michael Schmidt documentary–and how in both Germany and Canada, the governments had succeeded in demonizing certain groups as enemies.
I found myself wondering if some day in seventy years, should Canada succeed in its campaign to eliminate Michael, his farm could be uncovered by construction workers, and ceremonies held, with the same admonition: “This anniversary is a reminder of how totally deranged our country once was.”