Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger’s 14 year old son wanted to know his saba. For the first time Bernd shared the story of his life and his Nazi father. He was afraid of rejection but his son thought his story was cool. Three weeks later was Family History Day at his children’s school. Called into the office to meet with the principal and the Rabbi, he was worried that they would repudiate him. They suggested that his son was delusional and was making up a story about his grandfather the famous Nazi. Bernd related the whole story to the enraptured school leaders. Since that time he has been sharing the story regularly and finds a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
World War II was a verboten topic in the Wollschlaeger home. Any questions were met with silence, and yet Bernd’s father considered a hero by his buddies, was decorated with the Iron cross by Hitler himself. Bernd was 14 when the Munich Olympics, meant to reinstate Germany amongst the civilized world, were the scene of the massacre of the Israeli team. The headlines read “Jews Killed in Germany Again.” Young Bernd was confused, it happened before? Unable to get a response from his parents, the answers were forthcoming in school. Horrified by what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Germans, he needed to find out his father’s involvement. A raging alcoholic, his father could be tricked into opening up at that point of shikerness, before becoming totally drunk. Finally the truth came out, “We are German, representatives of a pure race, with a historic obligation to clear up the riff raff in the east. The only mistake was in using the train capacity to transport the Jews to the camps, instead of bringing supplies to our troops. The Jews made us lose the war.”
From that moment Bernd began his journey to get beyond the hatred, and learn more about Jews. He was helped on the way by a former Jesuit priest, and many Holocaust survivors, both on a trip to Israel and back in Bamberg where he completed medical school. The decision to convert led him on a long road, the Rabbi in Frankfurt he was sent to refuse to convert Germans. Eventually he succeeded in fulfilling his dream and left for Israel, and enlistment in the IDF as a medical officer.
Dr. Wollschlaeger concludes the fascinating story with this important rule: Hatred starts with a word uttered quietly, and then louder, if left unchallenged it is followed by deeds that become habits which lead to social norms where the entire group condones the attitudes, as in Nazi Germany.