Johannes Weissingers Vortrag zum 9. November

Shame about the Guilt and Sorrow about the Loss

On this day I participated in the memorial hours we have in Germany. Today I am here with you. In more than the last twenty years I did so. Today I am here with you and may speak to you. I thank you for your coming and listening and I hope for your questions.

1938, 74 years ago, in the night from the 9th of November to the 10th over 1000 synagogues were burned in the whole area of Germany, and over 7.000 businesses owned by Jewish people were destroyed. Over hundred people were murdered and over 30.000 men were prisoned to so called concentration camps, mostly to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. The Nazis named this pogrom “Crystal Night” to mock the Jews. What should be indeed memorable was the sheer quantity of broken glass. The Nazis indemnified the Jewish community to pay for the damages in order that the insurancies won´t need to announce their insolvency.

This night was a turning point. In the five years before the Jews were increasingly discriminated, humiliated, violated, restricted in their rights and properties and excluded from the social and political life. What was following was they were totally deprived and at last murdered. This night was the beginning of the end.

Let me remark something to using the name “Crystal Night”. The using of words is not innocent. Firstly I am going to quote Walter Pehle, a German editor of many well informing books: “It is clear that the term Crystal Night serves to foster a vicious minimalizing of its memory, a discounting of a grave reality: such cynical appellations function to reinterpret manslaughter and murder, arson, robbery, plunder and massive property damage, transforming this into a glistening event marked by sparkle and gleam. Of course, such terms reveal one thing in stark clarity – the lack of any sense in involvement of feeling of sympathy on the part of those who had stuck their heads in the sand before the violent night.” On the other side Paul Lawrence Rose teaching at Penn State University agrees with the retention of the term Kristallnacht: “Of course, Kristallnacht was a pogrom of sorts, but it was a German event and more specifically still, a Nazi event. Replacing t with pogrom certainly sets in the larger context of anti-Semitic massacre in European history, but it loses the German and Nazi contexts.” The observation of Paul Lawrence Rose makes me reluctant to say here in the United States: Please don´t use the word Kristallnacht.

I will tell you what we have done to research the history and to memorize. I will give four examples from the city respectively the towns we have worked and I am working till now. I will use the word “we have done” in order to say that it was not only me who has done but also friends and especially my wife, too.

First: In the big city Dortmund there was a Reverend Hans Tribukait. He served at the representative church of the city. He founded the society of defense of Antisemitism. He did it at the end of the 1920er years, also before the Nazis captured the power. The Councel of his congregation did not support him. It brought forward the argument that it was only in charge of issues concerning the church and Jews are not members of the church. After Hitler had captured the power the board of the Church of Westphalia which Dortmund belonged to retired Hans Tribukait after six months. The board said that he would be an obstacle for good cooperation between the church and the new government. The big synagogue of Dortmund was destroyed already before the Crystal Night. Its place was directly opposite to the headquarter of the Nazi police “Gestapo”. Probably the Gestapo didn´t want to see the synagogue every day, especially the label above the entrance door: My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations, says the Lord. Hans Tribukait warned in time. His name was forgotten a long time. We have memorized to him.

Second: In the town Luenen near Dortmund three men were murdered in this night. One of them was pushed into the river and pushed back every time he tried to come out of the river. The other two men were shot lying in bed in front of their wives. Each of them had have a draper´s shop. Fifty years later we invited the residents of this part of the town to tell about that what had happened. Several elder people told that these Jewish tradesmen gave clothes to poor children from the neighborhood as a gift in order, that these boys and girls could celebrate the day of first communion, if they were catholic, or the day of the confirmation, if they were protestant in the same way like the other well situated children. With the one daughter of the one of the two murdered tradesmen we could make an video interview. She could escape with her mother to at that time named British mandated territory Palestine. She was lucky. Too many Jews did not have the opportunity to escape like Chaim Weizman wrote already 1936: “The world seemed to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter.”

At the crossing road, where the murders happened, we established a memorial stone. There is engraved a scripture from the prophet Zechariah (2,8): For thus said the Lord: Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye. One who is able to read the Hebrew letters can discover that the Hebrew letter means: One who touches you touches the apple of his eye. The explanation that “his eye” means “God´s eye” is not the only one which is possible. There is another possibility for understanding too: One who destroys the right of another person destroys his own right too, because the right is a common ground for living together. “The measure of justice is always its application to the few,” wrote Leo Baeck in his book The Essence of Judaism.

Third: Bad Berleburg is a town with ten thousand residents in the central part of the town. My wife and I live in this town now. In May 2000 a memorial for the former Jewish citizens is established. The impuls came from a surviving women from your country. As a child Lucie Weinstein could escape to America. Her aunt Adele Krebs is forced to remain. She had not got a permission to enter, because she was ill – her illness was caused by loosing her good job as a leader of a trade society. As a well aged woman Lucie visited her native town and found no memorial in it. She became angry and wrote a letter to the newspaper. While the dedication of the memorial Lucie hold a speech. At the end of her speech she appealed: Don´t forget the gypsies. The rabbi of North-Rhine Westphalia did the same. The background of this appeal is the following: From Berleburg 134 Sinti , the half of them were children, were deportated to the extermination camp Auschwitz. At now there is not any Jew living in Berleburg, but a couple of Sinti. They are discriminated in some way till now.

Four months after the dedication the memorial was defiled. Supposed Neo Nazis scratched a swastika in the surface. The memorial must be removed and renovated. The place of standing the memorial was empty, when one thousand persons gathered at the 9th of November in this year 2000. We had called these people together under the slogan: “There is no injustice which would concern only one individual.” That´s a sentence rabbi Leo Baeck has written 1922 in his book “The Essence of Judaism”. We were deeply moved: The empty place is a sign for the absence of Jewish citizens. We feel: This absence is not only a guilt and a shame, but also a loss. We lost our neighbors, the singing which the former residents of Berleburg could hear from outside the synagogue. On the memorial the scripture of the Bible is engraved: “For theses things I weep; my eyes flow with tears.” This sentence is taken from the Lamentations, in Hebrew called echah. In Hebrew it is possible to read a special word in different ways, because the words are originally written only with the consonant, without the vowels. The word echah which means a complaining sorrow you could read it as ajecha which means the interrogative “where”, used in God´s question to Kain: Where is your brother Abel? And in the same way you can find in the word jarad, which means “flow”, an echo of the name “Jarden”. The river Jarden is the lifeline in the waterpoor country Israel. I think: the tears we weep could, help us not to solidify, not to freeze. They could be signs of our ability to compassion, to take steps in the way of justice. The memorial is rebuilt and is on its place. The names of 46 persons are written. One name is Ludwig Gonsenhäuser. I will visit the son Roy Gonsenhäuser in Cleveland in three weeks. His father could escape to South Africa 1935. His last wish was to be buried in his native town Berleburg. This will could be fulfilled.

Fourth: Bad Laasphe is a town in the neighborhood of Bad Berleburg. There I work as a minister and my wife is the chairwoman of a fellowship for the jewish-christian dialogue. 1934 there were 127 Jews in Laasphe, 1938 were yet 92. 76 of them were deportated and murdered. For all these victims and for – by the way – 8 Sinti and Roma so called stumble stones were laid down on the pavements in front of the houses which they had lived at last by their own will. A stumble stone is a stone of concrete 10 cubic centimeter big with a surface of brass which the name and the fate is written on. I have not time enough to tell about many persons and their fates. I will tell about only one. Max Hony was 18 years old when the Nazis bullied him in the autumn 1933, because he had a non jewish girl friend. The Nazis forced him to go through the main street of the town with a poster around his neck: shame on me! Max escaped to his uncle who lived in Zwolle, Netherlands. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands and began to deport the Jews from there to Auschwitz Max and his wife were kept secret by a courageous flower trader. In the basement Max busied himself with making marqueterie arts. Max and his wife survived, also their two Years old son Arnold who was given to a christian farmer who protected him by saying that Arnold was his own son. After the end of the war 1945 it was a shock for Arnold to hear that the friendly man who protected him was not his father. The relationsship to his father remain difficult his whole life long. Arnolds fatherMax came back to his native town, when the major of Laasphe invited the surviving former Jewish citizens of Laasphe to the 50th anniversary of the pogrom night. Max was depressed to see that in Laasphe the former Nazis hold yet the influent positions in the town. Arnold, his son, came to Laasphe 2006, when the stumble stones for his family were lay down. We visited him in his house in Zwolle in Netherlands many times. He needed a long time to find the courage to open an envelop with photos of his family from the time in Laasphe. While we were visting him he did it, supported by his wife, a woman from Prague.

The former synagogue was not burned in 1938 because other houses were nearly around. The building was used after the pogrom as locksmithery. The fellowship tried to buy the building back without success. The owner was not ready to sell. The robbers benefits from their robbery till today, although they had to pay compensation in the past.

Now I will tell something about my theologian development. I was born in 1948. Generally the 50th and 60th were a time of concealment of the past. In school I didn´t learn anything about the Nazi time. In my theologian study at the university and in church I learned next to nothing about Judaism. The times have changed since 30 years. I don´t have time enough to tell how I got the firm conviction I have now that it is necessary and full of promise that the ministers or the theologians would want to learn from the Jewish tradition, the Jewish way to read and explain the bible. I want to share some fundamental theologian insights.

First: God´s covenant with his people Israel is not broken. Holding the contrary is theologian Antijudaism. Think about: the Greek preposition “anti” has the original meaning “instead of”. If the Christians, the churches put themselves at the place of Israel, then there is no place for Israel, then the Christians can´t recognize the Jews as their elder brothers and sisters, then the Christians would always depreciate the Jews. But if they do that, they depreciate themselves because – as the German Jew Franz Rosenzweig has written - “Christianity is the tree that grows from the seed of Judaism”. (Franz Rosenzweig, His Life and Thoughts, Presented by Nahum N. Glatzer, Schocken Books 1970, S.346)

Second: To believe that God was in the Old Testament a God of vengeance, but in the New Testament a God of mercy, is the result of a theologian prejudice and missing philological knowledge. The hebrew word “zedaka” for example is translated in the dictionary firstly with “steadfast love” or solidarity and secondly with “justice”.

The command “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is cited by Jesus from the book Leviticus chapter 19, where this command is pointed to the command “you shall love the alien as yourself”.

The term “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21, 24) is not connected with a call to revenge, but to recompense or to repair. Read it: “you shall give eye for eye” and so on.

Third: Many terms and stories in the New Testament are better understandable when you read that as grounded on the Old Testament. The story of passion and Eastern, suffering, dying and raising of Jesus is grounded on Psalm 22. Jesus is not the first one in the bible who is called “son of God”. Read Exodus chapter 4: Moses is ordered to go to Pharaoh and to say to Pharaoh: “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you: Let my son go that he may worship me.” That´s the sense of Eastern: God liberates the righteous from the hand of the oppressor and the liberated is the witness for the liberating God among the nations. And Jesus is not the last one who is called “son of God”. Read the beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Fourth: What Paul has written in his letter to the Romans is not the answer to the individual question of Martin Luther: How do I get a gracious God? Paul wanted to encourage the people who gathered in the congregation in Rome to live together as Jews and Non Jews without practicing like observant Jews. Therefore it will be good to reformulate the doctrine of justification. The message of Paul is: Don´t segregate those God brought together through his giving his spirit. We all shall live together as different, but not segregated people in justice. (Don´t memorize the sentence “We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” - Rom. 3, 28 - only, but memorize the sentence “Do we overthrow the law by faith? By no means. On the contrary, we uphold the law” – Rom. 3, 31 – too.

Finally: Hear and think about the following scripture Psalm 119 verse 92: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery.” I will cite an experience of Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“In those months (in 1920th years) in Berlin I went through moments of profound bitterness. I felt very much alone with my own problems and anxieties. I walked alone in the evenings through the magnificent streets of Berlin. I admired the solidity of its architecture, the overwhelming drive and power of a dynamic civilization... Suddenly I noticed the sun had gone down, evening had arrived. From what time may one recite the Shema in the evening?” (that´s the first sentence of the Talmud) I had forgotten God – I had forgotten that sunset is my business – that my tasks “to restore the world to the kingship of the Lord.” So I began to utter the words of the evening prayer: Blessed art thou, Lord our God/ King of the universe, who by His word brings on the evenings...

I am not always in a mood to pray. I do not always have the vision and the strength to say a word in the presence of God. But when I am weak, it is the law that gives me strength; when my vision is dim, it is the duty that gives me insight.

Indeed, there is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God´s desire that I pray... How insignificant is my praying in the midst of a cosmic process! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, how ludicrous is it to pray.

On that evening in the streets of Berlin, I was not in a mood to pray. My heart was heavy, my soul was sad. It was difficult for the lofty words of prayer to break through the dark clouds of my inner life.

But how would I dare not to pry. How would I dare to miss an evening prayer? “.. out of fear of God do we read the Shema.” (Man´s Quest for God, New York 1954, S.96-98)

I close with a quotation: Leo Baeck wrote in The Essence of Judaism: “We don´t desire that man encounter us with benevolence but only that man get to know who we are and why we are it.” After we Christians have failed so much, we should begin to get to know.