A Jew Among the Germans
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join the discussion: What are your reactions to this film about Marian Marzynski's  journey to the land of the enemy? And what are your own thoughts about  the relationship between Jews and Germany in the 21st century?

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for this moving story. I have always wondered why Germany does not show more sympathy towards the people they exterminated. As a Catholic growing up in NYC we were blended with many faiths, especially Jews. I grew up in a family ruined by the British rule in Ireland, and my family emigrated to NY with no place to go home to...We were not murdered though, not outright. God bless Marion Marzynski and his family in their quest to find peace and make a country accountable for their sins...

Mary Martin
Boca Raton, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for the thoughtful program that seems to have already sparked a much needed dialogue in the US.

I participated in graduate courses with one of the filmed, young German authors in the Germanic Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago where I was an MA student ad she was one of many German exchange students. I, too, was shocked at what seemed to be a disconnect between third generation Germans and their past. However, that they are encouraged to participate in the post-Shoah dialogue as intellectual observers with valued experience by their education system in Germany, does encourage dialogue, which is lacking in the US, especially among German Americans. I am first generation American and third generation German perpetrator, and this is how I define a huge part of my identity, only recently finding the words to describe this guilt thanks to my graduate school experience and professors dedicated to engaging German and Austrian Jewish literature and film. A combination of experiencing post-Shoah literature and film, hearing German exchange students negotiating their own experiences as post-Shoah participants in Germany, along with the Germanic Studies professors expertise and encouragement helped me to begin to understand my own identity and guilt as a first generation German American.

There is a compulsory studying of the Holocaust in the German education system and society called Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung, meaning literally, coming to terms with the past, and I do think it engages students, especially, to dialogue, a process from which our society might greatly benefit, one in which I would be very interested in participating and documenting.

Adrianne Dost
,

Dear FRONTLINE,

WHAT CAN WE DO?
I learned about the Holocaust in school in Germany. They really told us what happened, we went to the concentration camp Dachau and also to Berlin. I knew what happened and always thaught it was horrible. But when I came to the United States as an exchange student nine month ago I really started to think more about it and try to understand it.
I have probably have a diffrent perspective then others, growing up in Germany and also having the opportunity to spend a school year in the U.S.
One thing that I realized is that the only thing most Americans know about Germany is Hitler. I often got to hear the questions, also from some of my teachers "Are you are Nazi? Are your parents Nazis? Do you hate Jews?" It made me often sad and also embarrassed me! This is Germans and I can't change it, I know that. But how can I feel guilty for something that is NOT MY FAULT? I can't change what happened in the past, but I can make sure that IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! And I agree with Mr. Marzynski that you can never teach enough about the Holocaust to make sure it will never happen again.
I went together with my friend, also German, to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. It is a great museum and we met an American soldier who was station in Germany and a young Jewish girl, whose family escaped the Holocaust. The museum is not a place where you can be proud to be german. I felt embarrassed and depressed, but it helped me that both the soldier and the Jewish girl treated me very friendly, nice and with respect, because they understand that it is not our fault. They were both intressted how Germany and especially the youth handels their sad history.
In school they teach us waht really happened, but still I believe you can never know enough to make sure it will NEVER happen again.
I am only 17 and my grandma would say "so, what do you know about life?" I really enjoyed my last year here in the United States and I hope that at least the Americans I met during the year now don't think that all Germans are Nazis and think bad about Germany.
I aprecciate it so much that Mr. Marzynski didn't give up the hope in Germany. I only watched him on Frontline for one hour but I felt like I knew him my whole life! A really nice man!
I don't care if you are JEWISH or CHRISTIAN or MOSLEM. I don't care if you are BLACK or WHITE. EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD THERE ARE NICE PEOPLE AND NOT SO NICE PEOPLE!

Julia Leibold
Muenchen, Germany

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am german, born 1967, my father was born 1945 and both my grandfathers fought in the war. My father's father died in Russia.

In school we were taught a lot about the war as well as the holocaust. We made a visit to Dachau and revisited the ultimate place of horror. Overall we were taught to feel the national guilt about the holocaust. We were germans - therefore we were guily. Period.

My generation is sick and tired of still being responsible of the holocaust as well as the nazi stereotype. But I guess that is our legacy for a long time.

Yes, we accept the historical responsibility of our country. But - we aspire to built a better Europe. We aspire to be part of the global community. There is no future without a past - but we modern germans can't change the past.

Mr Marzynski is so fixated on guilt - he should have talked to people from the war generation who were part of his life's story - not to the younger generation.

As long as people nurture the culture of guilt it will create a powerful taboo that can be exploited and have been - either by jewish groups or by neo nazis. Yes, there are neo nazis in Germany, anti-semitism is a disease that can be found everywhere. We do our part to keep it down - like every nation does.

The problem with the guilt is, that germans often try to be extra tolerant and extra supportive of foreigners - since as a good german you have to be. Otherwise you can be called a nazi or ignorant of our 'burden'. Even my generation has great problems evern with being just a little bit proud of our nation or culture - once again because of the bad legacy. This vacuum has already caused a backlash, because you can't neither be extra guilty or extra tolerant forever.

People like Willy Brandt and many others of the war generation have done a lot of hard work to face the true guilt and actual deeds of Hitler's germans. And this is still going on - and won't be forgotten. But we younger germans want to be part of the future and not condemned by the past of our grandparents. Even today there is hardly a week without some documentation or discussion about Hitler's Germany on tv, or lengthy articles in magazines or a new book about the topic. No we haven't forgotten the holocaust nor the war - it has become almost an obsession and a national neurosis.

All we hope for all this to become history - and that we germans can as proud of our heritage like Americans or the British. There is no nation without terrible spots in it's past. We neither won't deny it, neither do we won't to be paranoid about it.

I guess that with the passing of the war generation this will 'normalize'. And that there will be a strong german jewish community back in Germany - just like there is a big turkish one and many others.

On a personal note: I met my first jew when I lived in London and later in San Fancisco. Personally I think Germany lost many great jewish thinkers and artists - as well as a big aspect of it's own culture and I would love to see a stronger jewish community with all it's good and bad sides as well.

Dieter Mueller
Munich / Germany, Bavaria

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched the show last night, and having some German in my heritage I found the questions hard to answer. How does the grandson visit the sins of his grandparents? Not all Germans were Nazis. What troubles me about the guilt of the Germans is no matter what they do or say, it will never be enough at least to the survivors of the Holocaust. We should never forget but we should learn to forgive. It is old hatreds that have horrible consequences as learned in Rwanda, Kosovo and Darfur.

Christopher Reichl
Appleton, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

Speaking as a Jew and a great-grandnephew of Holocaust survivors, I understand completely the unwillingness of young Germans to be lectured about the Shoah. I say this for three reasons. First, it has been shown in recent years that people who admit guilt for the misdeeds od past generations WILL be taken advantage of for it. The children of the murdered or oppressed group--who are no more 'victims' than the children of the oppressors are 'murderers'--will use such admission of guilt to try and wring undeserved political concessions out of them.

Second, it has to be honestly admitted that there is a Holocaust Industry, particularly centered on my own country, the United States: A series of institutions and scholars that document and speak about the Holocaust not because they are genuinely concerned about the preservation of memory but because they are able to make a comfortable living and recieve great public respect by appearing to do so. Most aggravating, the Holocaust Industry is also a Holocaust Monopoly: many American Jews and their allies get very angry whenever anyone talks about the Holocaust in relationship to other genocides--Cambodia, Turkey, the Native Americans--as if recognizing the ubiquity of such evil somehow takes away from the evil of the Shoah. The fact is that is does take away: It takes away from the profitability of the Holocaust Industry.

Finally, a lot of non-Jewish (usually Evangelical) American politicians and religious ideologues get a great deal of mileage out of the Holocaust. To them, the Holocaust is interpreted as meaning that all people and all governments simply must be religious, or else they'll devolve into monsters, and so the more religion we codify into law, the better. They seem willfully ignorant that plenty of good, baptized, believing Christians signed on to and partcipated in Nazism.

J C
Madison, Wisconsin

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched your previous show, Memory of the Camps, and then A Jew Among the Germans the next night. Even though I've seen scores of Holocaust films from The Sorrow and the Pity to Shoah, the Memory of the Camps shook me to the core.

Mr. Marzynski is a brave man willing to explore his inner turmoil, and fortunately he has documented this exploration for all to see in his A Jew Among Germans. However, he frames his quest as if the Holocaust is an entirely Jewish thing and I can understand how the Jewishness of the Holocaust has become his central obsession, but it stops short of an objective historic characterization. His insistence on his "otherness" seems to disclude the other human victims of the Final Solution.

I disagree with his idea about good guilt because the concept of guilt goes beyond the existential and enters into areas of legality and morality, etc. He believes that post WWII Germans should accept guilt for the Holocaust. Guilt for mass murder? Guilt for conspiracy to commit genocide? I think it is improper to impose such "good guilt" upon today's Germany. It would be something different if Germany collectively ignored the history, but I don't see that. The Holocaust is a painful horror story for anyone to comprehend in all its wretchedness, and it still fills my heart with dread and sorrow and pity. I do commend Mr. Marzynski for his endeavor, and once again,

Bravo to Frontline. This season has been absolutely amazing and I as an American feel that I cannot afford to miss one episode.

Fred Banta
Los Angeles, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

"Reduced to Rituals?"

The filmmaker and many commenters seem disturbed by the scene at the Jewish museum where visitors examine Jewish religious objects. I, on the other hand, found that scene to be a joyful moment in the film. Non-jews got a small glimpse of the richness, beauty and sacredness of Jewish life. Too bad the spark of Jewish life was not ignited in the soul of the filmmaker. That missed opportunity, I think, is the saddest part of the film.

The best response to the Holocaust is Jewish continuity; in lieu of a memorial, why not a Yeshiva?

Daniel Budofsky
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

This film has touched me deeply and as I read these responses, I feel compelled to tell my story.

Like Mr. Marzynski, I also was born in Poland on March 16, 1940. This day, I later learned, was the day that the Polish Jews were given 15 minutes to enter the Lodz ghetto or be shot. That had no affect on me as my folks were not Jewish but ethnic Germans.

When the war ended I was 5 years old and it was payback time. I was too young to understand and my memory is clouded but I spent a whole year among the Poles and Russians before my mother and I successfully fled to Berlin. Being a German "Monster", I was treated as one and suffered much abuse and horror in Poland and later in Germany as a refugee. Many of my family members were killed during the war and the survivors were busy surviving. My father was wounded on the Russian front and taken prisoner by the Americans and my grandfather spent 2 years in the gulag in Siberia. In 1952 through the Displaced Persons program we were allowed to immigrate to the USA.

I was sickly, despondent and frightened when we arrived in Columbus, Ohio. The first people that befriended us on the train were Jewish. It was the Jews that found work for my folks, invited us into their homes and helped us in so many ways. These wonderful Jews along with other Americans restored my faith in mankind and gave me hope to live. After I learned about the Holocaust in school, I understood why we Germans were hated and with reason but there was no reason to repay us with such kindness, was there? Shalom

Rosita Panetti
Watertown, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a German born adoptee of an American couple, I watched Marion Marzynski’s journey with great interest and trepidation. Although for differing reasons I had also felt the need to discover this place called Germany for myself. How German was I and what did it mean to be German?

In 1987 I visited Germany for the first time when I was 34, starting in a still divided Berlin. A few years earlier I had learned that my birth mother was a Berliner, although she was living in America, courtesy of my former German instructor, Roger, who is a French Jew. He was more interested in locating my mother than teaching me German. He also told me that my German family name of Knopf was quite often Jewish. So now I was saddled with a conundrum -was my family the victim or the persecutor? Did either scenario make me a better or worse person? This only fueled more questions and mixed emotions.

The trip was an important step for me, as I had a various times been told I was cursed at birth by my German heritage, called a Nazi as a child for being German and so on. When I spent these first four weeks in Germany alone, I soon realized how at home I felt in Germany and with Germans.

So when Mr. Marzynski, wanted the younger Germans to feel guilty for what there parents or grandparents may have done, I identified with their problem, situation and response. I still feel horrible and shameful about was purported not only against the Jews but mankind by the Nazis in the name of the Germans. However, guilt is more appropriately attributed to the perpetrators and those who stood by and did nothing both within and outside of Germany.

Although personal stories humanize this hideous time in history, they are deflect from the greater question or questions. The mantra has been – never forget. I do think it is important to remember and Germany has done more than any country, including America to deal honestly and openly with this shameful part of its past. The real question for me has been, have we really learned the lesson – ‘man’s in- humanity to man’ is something of which we are all capable either through action or passivity. It is not a single isolated incident in history and unfortunately is not regulated to the past.

And in the end I felt that Mr. Marzynski’s need for the young Germans to feel guilty represents the continuation of resentment which promotes fear, distrust and hatred --the very seeds of the Holocaust. I think the introspective nature of the national German dialogue regarding the Holocaust, its root causes and what was lost are very important for all us to consider.

I felt in my many visits back to Germany and particularly the last visit to Berlin and the Jewish Museum, not only were lives lost, but also a vital social piece of the social fabric was taken away forever. And in the end we all have to capability to hate or we can choose acceptance and understanding of people and peoples different than ourselves.

Thomas Jones
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

it seems to me too early to historicize the guilt question of the holocaust. it is not the time yet since the individuals who participated are still alive and in the family . these are still family narratives and as such the history is immediate. to speak of native americans or even slavery is not the point and i dont understand the immediate analogizing here. perhaps it is the american way to seek analogies for itself.

history is being lost because children dont know what happened and adults wont talk . this to me was the salient point here and the frightening point.
museums are silent objects.

milda newman

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was born in Germany in 1971 and I did ask questions about my family's history during the holocaust. It surprises me to hear such claims as "Germans should ask about the holocaust" like nobody does. Let me assure you that I know that younger generations do ask these questions and feel resentment for relatives with a nazi past.

I believe that we cannot afford to make the mistake of minimzing what happened by defining it as something that was somehow only possible because of "German nature". That being said does not mean that I want to push this past away from me. I am well aware of these horrible crimes. I have been at the concentration camp in Dachau.

When I put the holocaust into a broader picture I do see that humans still commit genocide based on prejudice. It is not a "one-time-only" phenomenon and the lack of understanding this is what frightens me most! As "modern" and "openminded" as we all like to consider us we still speak of "the Jews", "the Germans" etc. and therefore not considering ourselves to be one and the same with various cultural backrounds.

We need to gain a more global understanding of ourselves. Genocides of yesterday and today are not the sole responsibility of one nation. It will do no good for anyone to single out Germany and brandmark it as a nation full of natural born killers. This is in my opinion what young Germans want to be understood when they say "we are not guilty of the crimes of our ancestors". It is the fear of being brandmarked as a killer who may not have killed yesterday but will most likely tomorrow.

A more global understanding does not mean that we must forget where our ancestors came from and therefore our cultural identity which is most precious to each one of us. If we learn to appreciate our own cultures and see the beauty of uniqueness of each existing culture we are a step closer to preventing hate crimes based on prejudice - and also genocide.

I did not feel pride in being German for a long time. We get taught early on that Germans do not have a culture to be proud of. National flags are only displayed by either neonazis or soccer fans if not displayed at official places like the Reichstag in Berlin for example. Putting out a flag in front of your house means that you are a nazi.

What changed me was my stay in the US. I learned many different forms of national pride - not all of them good. But I did learn to appreciate and feel a pride in the uniqueness of my culture respecting others as well as my own - from Americans. But foremost I feel human and that is what connects me with other cultures that are not my own.

I see my responsibility to not tolerate violence against fellow human beings and teach that other cultures are not a threat to one's own. Not because I feel guilty as a German but because I feel responsibility as a human being.

As for Jewish victims of the holocaust - I do believe that you saw and experienced evil in it's purest and most vicious form. May you find a peace that is stronger than the harm that was done to you. This is my hope for you.

Simone Ruokonen
Waltham, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for a very stimulating program with no easy answers. I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and I also spent my high school years in Germany during the 1960's. While I loved many things about Germany, I never felt comfortable about telling anyone my mother was Jewish and I constantly counted back years to determine whether someone I met, even if it was just on a trolley, had been an adult during the war. At that time very little was discussed about the Holocaust among Germans.

I have problems with the implication the filmaker made about needing some guilt to really "get" the Holocaust. My experience has been that people often have a very difficult time learning when they are made to feel guilty. The parallel for me would be about slavery in the US or the genocide of the Native Americans. Guilt paralyzes me and a normal reaction is to back off from dealing with these events to not stir this up. I personally do not hold the younger generation of Germans responsible for what happened (in the same way I don't feel responsible for slavery in the US) but they are responsible for how their society deals with this awful legacy.

My experience is that for most people, show them the gruesome pictures of the camps, tell them about 6 million Jews, and they get overwhelmed and stop taking it in, and run from learning at all. Have them listen to one survivor tell her story - someone with a family and dreams like their own - and they are much more likely to get it. Like it or not, we get things easier when we find some common ground. Then perhaps you can get them interested in knowing more about the rest of the history. I also have problems with spending a lot of money on all these memorials. I have visited many in my travels around the world. I think people do something because they feel like they have to do something and it helps their guilt but I don't think most of them really educate well. The one I respect the most is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum because it does a good job of education and making links between other genocides, including those going on today.

Karin Wandrei

Dear FRONTLINE,


As I was flipping through stations last night I came upon "A Jew Among Germans" and my interest in public monuments held my interest long enough to put down the remote. After a short while my disbelief at the conversations between Mr. Marzynski and the Germans he encountered held me rapt. But it was the heavy weight on my heart that is causing me to write.

As I watched the program progress it became clearer and clearer to me that there can be no "proper" or "perfect" monument in Germany that is dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. A monument such as this does not belong in Germany. No matter what materials were used, no matter what design was chosen it will always be an "in your face" reminder to all Germans, third and fourth and fifth generation post-Nazi era Germans about the horrible actions of their ancestors and their government. Everyone Mr. Marzynski encountered was well aware of what their ancestors did, it is obviously being taught to their children, a reminder isn't necessary.

Mr. Marzynski seemed to be searching for guilt, good or bad, within the hearts of the Germans and when he couldn't find it blatantly worn on their sleeves he seemed disturbed. While guilt didn't seem to be "apparent", it was there and so was sorrow. I believe the guilt he seeks is what may be causing the distance between present day Jews and Germans who live in Germany.

The time to blame and seek guilt has passed. To carry the need for answers and remorse will only eat away at what's left of the survivors and their children. Another monument to the holocaust will not provide answers that don't exist. It won't provide solace when solace can't be found. What it may create is the guilt that is sought, but it will also create a greater divide among the Germans and the Jewish. A greater divide at a time when healing is needed most of all. Healing for BOTH the Jews and the Germans.

I too believe that it is time to build a monument in Germany, but not the one that was built by the German Government as a reminder of the atrocities it committed. Is it accomplishing anything? Has it proved a point? Has it healed anyone?

According to God there is only one way to heal wounds, and that is by forgiveness. The existing monument in Germany should be razed and replaced with a monument that will not only change your heart, but the hearts of millions. A monument that will release everyone from their search for answers and a monument that will release German citizens from ANY hurt they may feel.

It should be a monument funded by and built by Jews. It should be the greatest of all monuments, one that could be seen from anywhere in the city. A monument that says "we forgive". The design and material won't be so important then. What will be important is that it will change people's hearts and more importantly it WILL change the world.

May God bless and heal your heart Mr Marzynski and also those who still live in the pain and guilt and sorrow that this has caused.

John Shannahan
Bennington, Vermont

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline -
Thank you for airing "A Jew Among the Germans." It was difficult to watch at times, but always thought provoking.

I am American, but also 3rd generation half Polish, half German. As a child, we lived in Europe for a while and my parents took me to see a concentration camp. Images from that trip are seared into my brain and will never leave me. Upon driving away from the camp,I questioned my parents about my last name; Sommer. German. How shameful.

The thought that it was possible my father's relatives could have put my mother's relatives in the gas chambers simply for being different horrified me. While the Jewish population was the primary target, the Nazi's did not only kill Jews in those camps. Anyone non-Aryan or non-cooperative to the Third Reicht was subject to extermination. My family raised me to be open-minded, and this history was shocking.

As an adult I've found a way to reconcile my German heritage and my Polish: I'm human. Period. Humans are capable of magnificent good, as well as horrific evil. This extends far beyond the titles of Nazi/Jew, German/Polish. Hatred of the "other," of anyone different is the enemy, not nationality, ethnicity or religion. Wonderful and horrible people live in every country and participate in every religion.

Unfortunately that hatred of the "other" continues even after the Holocaust: Stalin wiped out millions in Russia, PolPot with the Khmer Rouge, the genocide in Rwanda, the existing genocide in Darfur, and the Cultural Revolution in China. To this day, just being a woman in parts of this world is to be in danger.

While this documentary was personal, highly moving and making it required tremendous personal courage, I cannot but hope the lesson taken is not just about Germans and Jews. I hope it is about the horrors of any ethnic/national hatred. There can be no excuse for such behavior.


Tia Sommer
Portland, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

. I found the answers given from the Germans students troubling but if you asked a groupe of white american students to explain slavery or the murder or the Native Americans some might react in the same way. As an white American I feel a sadness when talking about slavery and the Holocaust even tho my ancesters were not involved in eightor. I dont feel guilt becouse I am not responsible and neightor are the German youth.

There will never be a answer to the Holocaust, those responsible are mostly gone. But to ask the 3rd or any generation to explain it becouse they are German is wrong. We should stop asking the Germans how it happened, we should teach them what happened without blaming them for their grandparents did just as we should not be blamed for the wrongs in Americas past.

tony torrez

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posted may 31, 2005

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