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Reflections on Walking Jewish Berlin

By Karen Castellon.

Twenty members attended this tour on Sept 5, 2018. Our guide, Tamar, introduced us to several key Jewish figures and monuments. This reflection focuses on one of those locations.   

“Die Kraft Des Zivilen ungehorsams die Kraft der Liebe bezwingern die Gewalt der Diktatur.”  “The power of civil disobedience, the power of love conquer the power of dictatorship.”  1943

This quote is on one of the Block of Women Memorial to the Rosenstraße protest. It’s located, along with other statues and memorials of Jewish life, in the area where the Old Synagogue once stood near Hackescher Mrkt. These words give some hope (even today!) to what was surely a hopeless situation in the midst of the Nazi reign of 1933-1945 in Berlin. It is difficult to fathom the depths of despair suffered by a vibrant community of approximately 170,000 Jews that lived in this capital city in 1933. While standing near this monument to families who were torn apart, Tamar described what the Jews did over the years to fit into Christian-German culture. But in the end, even converting to Christianity or being married to a Christian was not enough.

So, is there hope in the power of civil disobedience and love?

Our guide, Tamar, told us a bit of her family history. In 1933, the Nazis deported Jews who were not German citizens, including Tamar’s grandmother. They were the lucky ones! She was jailed in Palestine, and was released on the condition of marrying Tamar’s grandfather, who was a German citizen living and working in Egypt. They survived. AWC member, Laura, shared that her grandmother also survived. She was hidden in the Belgian countryside by nuns during the war.

There were many others who did what they could to help, such as Otto Weidt, who employed blind people in his brush workshop. We visited the workshop during the tour to learn more about his quiet, but determined resistance. He courageously fought to help his workers avoid the Nazi regime for many years by making them valuable to the war effort. He also falsifying documents and hid some workers behind his workshop.

Could more resistance have conquered the power of dictatorship?

This is the question raised by the statue that impacted me the most during the tour. The statue is of a man sitting on a bench looking off in the distance. You might see him and want to pose for a photo, daydreaming beside him. A visitor was doing just that as we approached. Alas, he is meant to symbolize the people who looked away and did nothing while the Nazis reigned their terror on the Jews (who were not allowed to sit on benches at the time of the Rosenstraße protest), as well as the marginalized, the handicapped, the disabled, the homosexuals, and all those who were considered “other.” This statue is a call to us today to speak up and advocate for those who do not have a voice. One of my favorite sayings from Father Greg Boyle, Jesuit priest and author, is, “There is no us and them, there is only us.”

Man on bench at sight of Old Synagogue, Berlin.
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