A Jew Among the Germans
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Marian Marzynski
A Jew Among the Germans

 

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE:

MARIAN MARZYNSKI, Filmmaker: [voice-over] I decided to visit the land of my enemy.

ANNOUNCER: Filmmaker Marian Marzynski has spent his life remembering.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: My family was wiped out by the Germans.

ANNOUNCER: But for most Germans born during or just after the war, the reality of the Holocaust is still unspoken.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Is that true that in German families, you cannot ask how many people you killed?

DIETER RONTE: No.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You cannot.

DIETER RONTE: There will be no answer.

ANNOUNCER: But how does the new generation of Germans live with the crimes of the past?

GESINE WEINMILLER: People my age don't meet any Jews. They have no problem with the Holocaust because it doesn't exist in their life.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, a personal journey, A Jew Among the Germans.

 

MARIAN MARZYNSKI, Filmmaker: [voice-over] Sixty years after the end of World War II, European trains still mark memories: good trains, bad trains, nightmarish trains with a destination marked "death." My train to Berlin is about to cross the Polish-German border. It was here where the war began in 1939.

I was 8 when the war was over. A Jewish child in Poland, I was among the few members of my family who survived the Holocaust. For all the years after the war, I've been avoiding Germany. Now I find myself in the land of the enemy. I carry with me the baggage of bad memories. The German language alone strikes discord to my ear.

Germany has fully recovered from the horror of the war, at least economically. Berlin, destroyed by the Allies, has become again the capital of united Germany, and a huge construction site. I have come after learning that a memorial to the six million murdered Jews of Europe will be built here. On this no-man's-land, where circus troops pitch their tents, the German government wants to erect its ultimate apology for the crimes against the Jews. Hitler's government once stood on this site.

I am staying in a small hotel run by a Jewish woman my age who escaped Nazi Germany and hid in Denmark. Her uncle, who owned this apartment, was killed in the Holocaust. When I told her about my quest, she warned me to stay away from this subject. "Anti-Semitism is still alive in Germany," she said.

Looking at the entries to the architectural competition for the memorial, I am frightened of how cold they are, their sharp edges resembling Nazi-era architecture, and their abstract symbols, like the German swastika and the Star of David.

I called the city architect coordinating the project. His name is Guenther Schlusche.

[on camera] Where is the front of the monument? Not the side.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE, Memorial Competition Coordinator: The front is open to the artist's design.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] He is a German Baby Boomer. His father was too young to be in the war. That's comforting.

[on camera] But the surrounding of this monument gives at the same time a message of vitality, of power, that will be one of the most modern parts of Europe. So being here— won't you have these conflicting things in your head? If you put this monument in the forest, then the reflection will be there, but here you are distracted. Are you distracted by the vibrating life around?

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: Urban life is not distractive.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Well, distracted from the monument.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: No, I won't think so. I think it can deal with all of that. I think it can make it. Perhaps my expectations are too high. I don't know. But I think it's possible. I have some experience with what monuments can evoke and what not, you know? And they shouldn't, let's say, produce a feeling of guilt.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Of anxiety. Anxiety. Shouldn't—

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: They should not do that.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Guilt, yes? No?

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: Yes, but not too much of that because I think guiltiness, you know, belongs to that, but not forming the only part of that— what this memorial should do.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] The winner of the competition was Christina Jacob-Marks, a painter. She lives in a suburban villa which once belonged to a Nazi officer who was executed for trying to assassinate Hitler.

[on camera] Is this is a Jewish home?

CHRISTINA JACOB-MARKS: It was a Jewish home, but my husband died. This is my colleague.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Hello.

[voice-over] Her idea was to engrave on a monumental plate of black granite the names of as many millions of murdered Jews as could be found. My first reaction is that no Jew would want to be again on a German roster.

[on camera] Every name accuses a German or a visitor or public of killing. It is extremely strong things that may lead people to avoid this place.

COLLEAGUE: Maybe, but our intention was to give this feeling, to make— to give the chance to feel like that.

CHRISTINA JACOB-MARKS: Maybe the shock is so big that they have the intention these things should never happen in any case whatever.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: It's a perpetuation of guilt. Is that what you want?

CHRISTINA JACOB-MARKS: No, no, no. It's not a question of feeling guilty. Not at all. It's a question of taking responsibility.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] I was not the only one with misgivings about this design. The German chancellor decided against it and announced a second competition, this time limited to a few invited artists.

[www.pbs.org: More debate about the memorial]

Dr. James Young, who studied Holocaust memorials around the world, came to Berlin to be a judge of the second competition.

JAMES YOUNG, Memorial Competition Judge: The government moving back to Berlin can't move here innocently. It has to move back with the reminder of what happened the last time the German government was located in Berlin. The last time being the Nazi Reich.

Countries don't build monuments to their crimes. In America, we have not built monuments to the genocide of the Native Americans.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Exactly.

JAMES YOUNG: We don't— that's not how countries rebuild themselves. I mean, that's why these two questions come up over and over again. How do perpetrators, former perpetrators, mourn their victims? It doesn't happen. And how do you reunite a divided country, in this case a divided city, on the bedrock memory of national crimes?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Who said that they should never build a monument but discuss it forever? You did?

JAMES YOUNG: Yeah.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You said that? You still think so?

JAMES YOUNG: In some ways, I do. And I'm— it's a terrible thing to say now that I'm inside the process, but I'm still not sure that there should be a single, you know, German Holocaust memorial.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] James Young takes me to the place where, a few years before I was born, the Holocaust started. Here the Nazis burned Jewish books. He wanted to show me how an artist commemorated it: underground, a library with empty bookshelves. He likes small memorials that people encounter by chance, forcing reflection.

There are many such sites in Germany built by communities, and they are deeply moving, like this one, empty benches where a synagogue once stood. But the memorial ground is anonymous. It is political ground.

I am meeting Dani Karavan, an Israeli sculptor, invited to be part of the second memorial design competition.

DANI KARAVAN: Look. You see here? Those people will look from the window when I will come here to stay here and to meditate with my feelings. Here the embassy will be. Here will be another bank.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [on camera] They will be too comfortable. You don't want to— because they will be too comfortable.

DANI KARAVAN: I don't know what they will be. I don't care about them, because I will not buy apartment there. That's not my problem, it's their problem. I will stay here. I will come here, to see here— I will come with my children and I will come with my friends and I'll stay here, and somebody is looking at me from the window, how I behave.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And say, "Look at this Jew here. Look at look at him."

DANI KARAVAN: Maybe with—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Binoculars, right?

DANI KARAVAN: —to see exactly how I'm crying, or not crying, if I'm laughing or not laughing. So I said to myself, "OK, so it's not for me."

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] At first, he didn't want to build anything.

DANI KARAVAN: The site is kind of a very strange form. So I look at this site, and I said, "OK, look. There is a Magen David here. It's there. So I said, "I have a Magen David, so what should I do with Magen David? Oh, maybe I will put flowers inside, yellow flowers." And the moment I had the yellow flowers, everything was clear for me. And I said, "This should be"— and then I had to find a way. Will I cut it here, and I cut it here., i make the possibility for people to go around, to come here. The flowers will be here.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Very soon, the image of flowers will be shattered. The security guard interrupts our filming, telling us that the city could not have given us permission because he had received no orders.

SECURITY GUARD: Raussen!

DANI KARAVAN: You see, because of those people, they will not let it to be built because they don't want it to be built. It will be another discussion, another competition. There always will be somebody who will be against it, and this will happen.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I suddenly realized this is Germany. We are the Jews.

The decision to come on this journey to Berlin had started back in my home in Chicago, when my children came to visit my wife and me. They had come to cheer me on. I was about to be interviewed for the Holocaust Survivors Project.

[on camera] The philosophical question is, should I wear the— should I wear something like this, or like this? Or generally, should I tell the story of my life? There are historical consequences.

ANYA, Daughter: The interview is in your home. You're supposed to be relaxed. I don't think you should wear a marynarka.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] My children had heard bits and pieces of my survival story. Now I was going to tell it all, and I was worrying about my legacy. But I also found myself wondering if, for my children, the word "German" would always be associated with the word "murderer."

INTERVIEWER: The survivor is Marian Marzynski. The interview is being conducted in Chicago, Illinois, the United States of America, and we are conducting the interview in English.

Would you tell us what your name at birth was?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [on camera] My name was Marian Kushner, K-U-S-H-N-E-R.

My grandfather was killed almost the day the Germans invaded Leczyca, and they were pointed out by neighbors, that he was a wealthy Jew who has gold. He was a dentist, and he had gold, of course, gold teeth. He was killed on the market square, and his wife died of a heart attack within two weeks. They were the very first casualties of Holocaust.

And this is really a point of view of a little boy. It's mainly the feelings of bodies and legs and shoes, and Germans and dogs and shouts. It's really very fragmented. And the hours of waiting and waiting and fear and fear— you see, I was part of a dangerous game. And I knew there would be the moment of joy in the house, and the new danger will come. The anticipation of danger, that's what I learned. And until today, I think it's in me.

[www.pbs.org: More on Marzynski's personal story]

[voice-over] In 1942, hiding on the Christian side of Warsaw. I was riding a trolley with my Polish guardian. A German officer sat me on his lap and said, "Nice boy." I was choked by fear. Today I would like to achieve what my lost relatives could not, to feel safe among the Germans. This is what my father would wish for me, as my only possible revenge for his senseless death.

Dieter Ronte, director of the art museum in Bonn, is one of the five judges for the second competition.

DIETER RONTE: I believe that these things can be transported only by an artwork as a vehicle,

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] In Germany, he is what's called the second generation.

[on camera] Is that true, that in German families, you cannot ask father, "Daddy, how many people you killed?"

DIETER RONTE: No.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You cannot.

DIETER RONTE: There will be no answer.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Or the kids will not ask, or the parents will not answer?

DIETER RONTE: The parents will not answer.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: The kids ask always nasty questions.

DIETER RONTE: Yes, yes. But the parents go a way to glorifying the very bad time they had because this time is a problem for them.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: So you recall, actually, you asking those questions?

DIETER RONTE: Yes, but I never heard an answer from my father. I remember that we once went to Greece, and I said, "Let's go over there." He said, "No, I don't go there." And he never said more. Something what happened in the war. I don't know what.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: But you knew. You know now.

DIETER RONTE: No, he never told me.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I think it's mind-blowing to me that— that you love your father, and yet you know he did something that you will never do, you are so violently opposed to, right?

DIETER RONTE: Yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And that you have to separate the two.

DIETER RONTE: Yes. This is what we learn in all during our life, to separate things to survive.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Another participant in the competition is Gesine Weinmiller, a young star architect who has drawn many corporate highrises in Germany but never designed a monument.

GESINE WEINMILLER: The problem is that we have no more Jews here in Germany. And we don't have the possibility, nearly— there are a few here in Berlin, a lot of in Berlin who speaks Russian, and when you go to the synagogue, there are very few German-spoken Jews. And there— I think people who have my age, they don't meet any Jews. And so they— they have no problem with the Holocaust because it doesn't exist in their life.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Gesine is 34 and part of what is known as the third generation, the children of Germans born after the War. During the '60s, the second generation attacked their own parents and grandparents for their Nazi past. But Gesine's childhood was protected. There were no family horror stories told. For her, the Holocaust has to be experienced through symbols.

[on camera] [pointing to model] So draw me with your finger the Star of David.

GESINE WEINMILLER: Here. No. Here, here, here, here. That's one.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] For my children, her peers, the Holocaust is nothing but personal.

I've heard of a newly published book, a kind of Holocaust manifesto of the German third generation. It was written by a group of students from the prestigious Humboldt University and called "Nobody Asked Us."

[panel discussion]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [subtitles] What are you saying by the title, "Nobody Asked Us"?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: They say that nobody asked them how the Holocaust should be remembered. "Our understanding of the Holocaust," I've read in the book, "should not be a forced confrontation with pictures from Auschwitz. It must be based on our personal questions about morality, ethics, and the human condition."

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Wolfgang Thierse disagrees. He's the president of the German parliament and the driving force behind the Berlin memorial. He says you cannot entrust memory simply to individuals. There has to be an institutional response in the name of all Germans. But the children argue back to their parents, "Force it on us, and you run the risk of generations forgetting the Holocaust altogether."

On the campus of Humboldt University, I am meeting the editor of the book. He is a 24-year old philosophy major, Jens Peiper.

JENS PEIPER: My parents were born in '45, so I couldn't ask them what happened. And my grandmother was 25 when the war was over, and she was just a nurse in the countryside. And my grandfather died when I was 12 or so. He was in the war, in the Wehrmacht, and he was totally against it, but he couldn't help but do it. And now, in the last years, after I started working on the subject, people tell me— like, relatives and people close to me, tell me other stories, so when I was in school, I wouldn't feel about it like there was a big, big thing. I mean, there were no Jews in my class. There were no foreigners in my class. There were not even some in my—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] So it was, in a sense, a horror fiction story.

JENS PEIPER: It was—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: It was horror fiction story. It wasn't a reality story. It wasn't like that, that you said, "How come that people who are German like myself could do it?" I mean, it wasn't this in your head. It wasn't that—

JENS PEIPER: Oh, no.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: —people of your DNA could do it, right?

JENS PEIPER: Yes. That's what we talked about, and that was what makes bad dreams at night, that I, because I am German, I imagined myself, and I couldn't help but do it and others boys in my class, too— but think, well, I could be the Capo or I could be— I could be the chief of the Katzet. I could be Mr. Hess.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Coming to Germany still is for me a kind of a catharsis. You know, I want to be here, but I don't want to be here, so I usually am here enthusiastic, and then I run away after two days. I've never been in Germany for more than three days. I have an aversion to the language, which I am overcoming now because I would like to learn. I would like to— you know, I have to do something for myself, also, to liberate myself from the phobia because this phobia is not good, in order for me to understand. You know, you cannot understand. So I would like to be relaxed, and— but I'm working on it.

[voice-over] I learned a few things about his family. His father, a general in the German army, is proud that today's soldiers can refuse to follow orders that seem morally wrong to them. But when I asked Jens if I could film his parents, he checked with them and they said no.

There are eight authors of the book, ages 23 to 33.

[on camera] I am listening to you, and I do not hear the word "guilt." And I know that everything that has been associated with Germans and Germany was always around guilt. Why are you not using the word?

[www.pbs.org: More on the third generation's story]

LOTTE: You can't really feel for your grandparents' guilt. You can't really feel responsible for that type of thing because those are different people, even though maybe they are Germans, and even though they belong to your family. It's something that you might negotiate with them in terms of, "Why did you do this," or something. But it's not— it has just not been you yourself who actually did this.

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ, Co-Author, "Nobody Asked Us": We don't use the word "guilt," but we talk about feeling awkward going abroad as a German. And you're also referring to the Holocaust.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: So if this book is not a question of guilt— what would be in German, Eine Frage—

AUTHORS: Schuld.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI:Schuld— this book is Eine Frage of what?

MEIKE: We're replacing the meaning of guilt in society by memories, saying guilt is just a constant feeling that you have. It's giving attention to something that's in your head. It's a feeling. And the way we're thinking about the Holocaust is by memory, remembering it.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Johannes Schwartz, one of the authors, is not Jewish, but he's getting a doctorate in Jewish studies. He brings me to the suburban villa in Wannsee where Adolph Eichmann and his Nazi bosses formulated their plan for the extermination of the Jews. Schoolteachers hold workshops here. The students are in the room called the Warsaw Ghetto. I will tell them I was there.

[on camera] I was— in 1941, I was 4 years old, and I was brought with my family to the Warsaw ghetto. We lived about 12 people in one room from all the family around, because we left our apartment on the other side of Warsaw. What I remember as a child is that we had to continuously move from one apartment to another. So we would be going on the street with a wooden wagon with our belongings, and I was walking behind it.

STUDENT: I have a question. Was it the same scene, like in these pictures? You have—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Well, obviously, you know, those are very poor children.

[voice-over] I tell them that my family had some means to survive in the ghetto, but when all Jewish children were rounded up to be sent to the death camps, my father had me smuggled to the Christian side of the city to hide there. At the age of 5, my survival depended on me keeping the secret of my Jewishness.

The next day, the teacher invited me to visit her classroom.

[on camera] How is in German "circumcision?"

TEACHER: Schneidung.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Do you know what circumcision is?

STUDENTS: Yes. Yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Are those boys circumcised? [laughter] Are you? Are you? You are— why are you circumcised?

TEACHER: [translating for student] Hygienic reasons.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: So this is only one boy that is circumcised. OK. Now, you should know that all the Jews in the world are circumcised, and I'm not. That's why I'm alive. I'm alive because I'm not circumcised.

TEACHER: And why not?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Because circumcision was a proof to Germans that I am a Jew. No Polish man is circumcised.

TEACHER: [translating student's question] Why did you not have yourself circumcised after everything? Because it's a symbol for Judaism.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I'm not religious. I'm Jewish, but I'm not religious.

[voice-over] To this daughter of Turkish immigrants in Germany, racism is still around in the world. She asks me if I hate Germans.

[on camera] Hate is a non-creative concept. Hate means that these things are frozen, that you don't believe in any change. If you don't believe in change in human, what it makes sense to live, even?

[voice-over] "What is your understanding of the Holocaust?" I asked the students.

1st STUDENT: [subtitles] We should be taught about it, so something bad like that will never happen again.

2nd STUDENT: [subtitles] How about Vietnam? Americans did as many bad things as the Germans.

3rd STUDENT: [subtitles] I guess we should talk about it, but not emphasize it so much.

4th STUDENT: [subtitles] Everything has been said already. I have nothing to say.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: My mother and I survived the Holocaust, but my father could not make it on the Christian side. He looked too Jewish. And just for his face, he was killed.

[www.pbs.org: Holocaust education in Germany]

Johannes has invited me to his home.

[on camera] Let me tell you what's on my mind. On my mind, at the age of 65, is still the idea how it was possible that my family was wiped out and killed by the culture of civilized people called Germans. I think that my family was fantastic, that they were great people, that they were honest. And I would— I don't want to punish anybody for this, but I would like to find in Germany people that are equally outraged by this.

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ, Co-Author, "Nobody Asked Us": What doesn't work today in schools, in Holocaust education, really, is building your pedagogic concepts on the concepts of guilt, or the feeling of guilt at least, that somehow, as a German, you— also in the following generations, you're still somehow a little bit guilty for what has happened, that at least you've got to cope with this heritage.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Young generation needs to be told that you are not guilty boys and girls. You think so?

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: Yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And this way, they will be more interested in studying history and understanding everything, yes?

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: Simply put, yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] I wanted to hear a lullaby in German.

As I join a neighborhood rally against a neo-Nazi politician, I think of Johannes. His intentions are good, but can he and his generation preserve the memory? I understand their discomfort with guilt, but without that emotion, isn't the story of German evil likely to be forgotten?. Or could there be such a thing as good guilt? It would make it easier for everyone.

The German government has taken the business of memory into its own hands. Professor James Young shows me the new competition's entries. He starts with the acclaimed architect from New York, Peter Eisenman.

JAMES YOUNG, Memorial Competition Judge: There will never be another memorial like this. It's truly unique. And in addition, it will be dangerous. Literally dangerous.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [on camera] So now I'm walking. Your project is built.

PETER EISENMAN, Architect: Yes, yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: What am I seeing? What am I feeling?

PETER EISENMAN: You're seeing nothing. That's the interesting thing.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: It's all in the ground?

PETER EISENMAN: No, no. It starts— like, in the sidewalk, there are little slabs. Each slab is 92 centimeters. There are 4,000. They're all lined up in rows, like the Nazis.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Yes.

PETER EISENMAN: The whole idea is rationality gone mad, entropy entering rationality. You go and walk in it, and you will feel uncertain, you know? These things are tilting. I don't know where I'm going. Am I going to get lost? I'm alone. I can't hold anybody's hand. And that, when they get done, was what it felt like to be a Jew in Germany in the '30s. That all. Basta. That's the monument.

We want to get over this idea of the Jew as Other. So my monument is both a memory and a hope for the future. And it's to bring the Jewish cemetery into the everyday experience of the German, in the middle of the city. But also, it could be a series of— if you look at them, they're foundation stones for a new society.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Are you saying that through this monument, the Germans will accept Jews as living—

PETER EISENMAN: Yeah, yeah.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: —among them? But they will be dead Jews.

PETER EISENMAN: No, no, no, no, no!.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You are not bothered— dead Jews.

PETER EISENMAN: No, not only dead Jews, but the idea for the potential for— what— you know what a gravestone is? It's the connection—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Jochen Gerz, a German living in Paris, wants to build an educational center under banners reading, "Warum?" — "Why?" — repeated in the 31 languages spoken by Jewish victims of World War II. The center would collect visitors' answers to "Why?" A robot would engrave them in the concrete ground, creating a public interaction with the subject of the Holocaust.

JOCHEN GERZ, Memorial Design Entrant: It is a place that relies on the quality of what every human being going there puts into the ground, and that means a place of democracy. It's a place that gives hold to democracy. And so the Shoah becomes a metaphor— not only for the Shoah, but for that you cannot rule without people.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Gerz is convinced his idea won't win.

[on camera] So you are angry.

JOCHEN GERZ: I'm kind of angry, which is my usual state. [laughs]

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You are angry because you think that they are not gutsy.

JOCHEN GERZ: They are not— no, they don't know what to do. They don't know. You know, they just want to read essays and they want to write essays, and they want to be on the good side, like in a museum. They don't want to get dirt on their fingers, and that's like it is.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: They seem to tell, "Show me"—

JOCHEN GERZ: In theory—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: "Show me irresponsibility. Show me guilt. Make me uncomfortable." Sometimes I think even that they want a masochistic monument, do they?

JOCHEN GERZ: Yes, but then they put a flowerpot because they say "Art is art." They say, "Whatever happens, Auschwitz made us terrible and has never left us since, but art is art." So they have a kind of aspirin that they throw into the water, and it must cure. And I don't believe in that.

The most remarkable thing about monuments is that nobody sees them, and that's in the best tradition of all that, you see? This is implosion, implosion—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Right.

JOCHEN GERZ: There's big masses—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: You build it, and you are through, right?

JOCHEN GERZ: Yeah, and nobody sees them anymore.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: We're honored.

JOCHEN GERZ: Yes.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Those two— who are those two guys?

JOCHEN GERZ: Well, we know, I guess.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Who are those two guys?

JOCHEN GERZ: This is Marx and Engels.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: This is Marx and Engels?

JOCHEN GERZ: Yeah, I would say so.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: That's right.

[voice-over] Gerz does not believe art can express the content of the Holocaust. What is needed is education. I wish he would win.

The other artists did what they were expected to do. They searched for a Holocaust metaphor: stone walls forming bookends to represent the Jewish devotion to learning; the Holocaust symbolized by the destruction of human habitat, by the entrapment of spirit, by the void in civilization and culture; and pure art, a huge figure of a Jewish mother with amputated hands.

The German Bundestag has returned to Berlin. In the restored Reichstag, where Hitler once had his parliament, they hold their annual session commemorating the Holocaust. Over the years, the German government has paid substantial reparations to Holocaust survivors. Now they want to settle their moral account with a memorial right outside the doors of their parliament.

Spring. The expression of free spirit on what remains of the Berlin wall, the memorial of the cold war. In the second half of the 20th century, it has not been easy to be German.

I am back.

[on camera] And what's this? [indicating dummy of German soldier]

GUIDE: That's a special. Former uniforms. We have had those—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Finally, I find a German soldier I can like.

My American friend, Thomas Mehrel, said he would stop in Berlin on the way to visit his mother in Munich. I told him I need an adviser to help me sort out my German experience. He's a doctor, not a therapist, but for me, he has all the right credentials. He's a Jew born in Germany after the war. His Jewish-Hungarian mother survived a concentration camp as a young girl. His father was a survivor who lost his first wife and two sons.

He is a true friend. I call him Tomaszek. He calls me Marys, my childhood name. He sees me as one of his older half-brothers he lost in the Holocaust. But unlike me, who by a sheer miracle survived the war and celebrated life in post-war Poland, he was a cynical Jewish boy growing up among perpetrators.

He tells me about the incident which was the last straw before his decision to leave Germany and go to America.

THOMAS MEHREL: We were all sitting in the clinic where I worked, which was at the university. There were about 30— between 20 and 30 physicians. And one of the days we had lunch, he said— "Oh"— let's say Dr. Rappaport from the United States was here. "He gave a speech about this and gave a talk. Can you imagine what his honorarium was?" "No." "Ten thousand dollars! Typical for those Hebrews."

And I was just eating my soup, and I almost choked. And I was looking, "Did I hear this right?" And then it took also some courage because I was at the other end of the table. I said "What the hell do you mean?" This is the usual prejudice that I can't stand listening to.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And how did he know that you were a Jew?

THOMAS MEHREL: Everybody knew.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] When Thomas grew up in Germany, there were no more then 20,000 Holocaust survivors living here. Now they say 250,000 Jews live here, most of them in Berlin. In the past 25 years, waves of Jewish immigrants were coming from Russia. It is a well-known secret that to flee Soviet communism, some of them fabricated their Jewish origin.

Thomas blames this new Jewish community for what he calls "the syndrome of the unknown Jew." If young Germans want to look for a personal experience with Jews to understand the meaning of the Holocaust, these new German Jews are unlikely to give it to them. Their peace of mind depends on avoiding a confrontation.

We are visiting another institution of memory. The Jewish Museum of Berlin was designed by the son of Holocaust survivors, Daniel Libeskind. Libeskind has drawn a building which was reminiscent of the war, a wounded structure evoking German crimes against the Jews. The building was erected before the city decided what should be inside the museum. And then a controversy erupted: How to tell the story of the lives of German Jews under such a shadow of death? The safe solution was not to focus on the Holocaust.

In his spare time, Johannes Schwartz is a tour guide here. The idea was that Jews no longer live in Germany and their religion has been forgotten, so Johannes will explain the Torah, the way Jews behave in the synagogue, the way they celebrate Shabbat, what they do or do not eat, how they marry each other, and how they circumcise their boys.

I imagine myself stepping forward and saying, "I come from two generations of non-religious Jews. I don't do the rituals. So how do I fit your picture?" I won't embarrass Johannes. I will ask him later.

A labyrinth of granite columns is the only place to contemplate Jewish death. On the way out, some visitors stop by here, others don't.

Thomas, who was introduced to Judaism by his Orthodox father, worries that reducing Jewish life to its rituals runs the danger of reinforcing its stereotypes.

THOMAS MEHREL: [subtitles] But even if the stereotypes were true, would that justify our extermination?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [on camera] Both Thomas and I, we have a little obsession. This obsession is called anti-Semitism. When we talk about Jews, we really talk about anti-Semitism. So when we come to Germany to make friends with people who are obviously not anti-Semitic — they love Jews or they're knowledgeable about Jews — we worry if— if this, what they're saying or they disseminate or they teach at schools— will this remove anti-Semitism? And we are impatient. We would like to have effect now.

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: First of all, it's no Holocaust museum here. It tries to counterbalance the picture youngsters get in German schools today about Jews as the always persecuted and murdered, and so on. This one shows there's a much richer history and longer history, richer culture of Jewish life in Germany almost 2,000 years, although it's wrong that they write German-Jewish history.

THOMAS MEHREL: I have two children. They are 12 and 14. And there is compulsory Holocaust education in the United States, and it is something that is very unpleasant for them. But you need to be prepared for that, prepared for the culmination of the Holocaust. You have to prepare from a very early age on—

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: I agree. I agree.

THOMAS MEHREL: —to understand and to be— to graduate, to see the brutality and the annihilation that will ensue if certain steps are not taken in human education.

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: But don't overdo it. I mean—

THOMAS MEHREL: You cannot overdo it. I agree with him, you cannot overdo it. You have to do it right.

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: Any anti-Semite coming here won't be changed in a museum like this, and that was what we are told in our training, that you won't change anybody in here.

THOMAS MEHREL: Let me ask you—

JOHANNES SCHWARTZ: We can just offer some— some, well, knowledge.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I am truly moved by what you do here. I'm just asking myself, Is that enough? Is the wonderful museum enough to assure my children that this horrible nonsense of one people killing another will stop ever? Don't know.

[www.pbs.org: Read more of this discussion]

[voice-over] The results of the second competition for the Memorial to the Six Million Murdered Jews of Europe are in. Peter Eisenman is the winner.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE, Memorial Competition Coordinator: The whole thing looks, as Peter has put it, like a wave of the ocean.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: City architect Schlusche is ecstatic.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: You know, it's a waving field.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: The memorial is making headlines.

[on camera] What does that say, this article?

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: The headline is, "The memorial will be a thorn in the flesh." ["Das Denkmal wird ein Stachel im Fleisch"]

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: So then, ideally, we should feel this?

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: Not necessarily. You can feel this. Of course, it is not a very pleasant to deal with—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Death—

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: —the murder—

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: —of six million Jews.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: —of people. Yeah. It cannot be pleasant. So in that way, it should be, in a way, a little bit of pain, you know?

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: A little pain. Not a big pain.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: No. Exactly.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: A little pain.

GUENTHER SCHLUSCHE: Exactly. A very little pain. And more, it should be— the memorial should be a piece of art.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] My problem with art, especially on this scale and on this location, is that it can easily create an abstraction out of memory. Eisenman's labyrinth of concrete pillars has begun its construction. The German parliament has passed a law forbidding neo-Nazi demonstrations on the streets surrounding the memorial. Art and politics, a difficult medley.

Thomas rented a car for our Sunday sightseeing of Berlin.

[on camera] [subtitles] [practicing his German] What do you do on a Sunday in Berlin?

Was machen Sie?

THOMAS MEHREL: Nicht viel.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Nicht—

THOMAS MEHREL: Viel.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Nicht viele?

THOMAS MEHREL: Nicht viel.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Nicht—

THOMAS MEHREL: Viel!

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Nicht viel?

THOMAS MEHREL: Nicht viel.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Nicht viel.

THOMAS MEHREL: Good. Good.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Which means nothing?

THOMAS MEHREL: Not much.

[voice-over] We stopped at the Luftwaffe building, Hitler's air force command, now a treasury department. This is the only relic of Nazi architecture that the East German government left intact. The other structures were destroyed. No building, no bad memory. The East German government painted over the past and created a new reality, socialism triumphant over Nazism. Like all propaganda, it didn't change old prejudices.

Weisensee, one of Europe's biggest Jewish cemeteries, was also in the former East Berlin. Recently, 27 Jewish headstones were toppled and vandalized here.

Thomas got me a map with the location of the grave of my stepfather's mother, the grandmother I never knew. Before the war, she visited the Jewish-German side of the Marzynski family in Berlin. She died of heart disease during her visit.

As I feared, the worst has happened. My grandmother's grave was vandalized, and the plate with her name is missing. Another memory erased.

[on camera] I think if we would achieve peace, if I would achieve peace, I wouldn't be sitting here, looking for my grandmother's grave. I don't know who we are, actually, if we are Hebrew, we are a religious people, or are we just the Others who were condemned to death? That to me is my religion. My religion is Holocaust. This is the only way that I can embrace it.

THOMAS MEHREL: But that's a very negative definition of who we are.

MARIAN MARZYNSKI: But that's what I associate with Jews. Believe me, if the Germans didn't want to leave my family, I probably would be forgetting about my past because the idea of my father was that we should be like anybody else. That's the whole idea. We're not the Other. We were Jewish, but we were not religious, so that Catholics who were not religious were making friends with us. So we thought that we had it both ways, you know? I mean, my father, he was a genius because he figured out the way for us to live in a better world. Bam! Then they started to kill us. So obviously, when I come today, this is why I am Jewish, because we were killed.

[voice-over] I set out on this journey to liberate my children from the prison of my Holocaust memories. I found among their peers, young Germans, a wish to be liberated from the sins of their grandparents. I hope for them both that they will find this freedom and that they will find each other.

As for myself, I wish there would be no German celebration of the end of World War II, no government-approved memorials, no finishing touches.

My request to the German people would be that they create for themselves a concept of good guilt, an honorable one, and within it a proud guardianship of memory. My father would like that.

 

A JEW AMONG THE GERMANS

WRITTEN, PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
Marian Marzynski

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A Marz Associates film for WGBH/FRONTLINE

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ANNOUNCER: Explore this story further at FRONTLINE's Web site. There is more on Marian Marzynski's conversations with young Germans and his struggle to reconcile his own relationship to the German people, video and photos of the new memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe and the reviews — Is the long debate about it finally over? — articles on the subject of Germans and Jews, teaching the Holocaust in German schools, and the young third generation and their views on the Holocaust, plus the chance to watch this program again on line at pbs.org.

 

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posted june 13, 2005

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