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,

As an American Jew who lost family to the Holocaust, I found your program incredibly valuable and of course sad. As I watched the museum where Jews are reduced to rituals and clothes and looked at the overgrown graveyard where no one is left to care for the dead who were lucky enough to have a stone, I couldn't help but think that nearly became all that was left of us. I thought about the millions of people who will never exist and so much good that's gone from the world.

I've dated a German girl whose grandfather died resisting the Nazis, so I don't hate all Germans or forget they are born with an equal capacity for good and evil. ...

There's room in remembering the past for many emotions: guilt, hope, fear, anger, love, etc. Germans as a culture seem to be obsessed with denying irrational emotions, but it is exactly this avoidance of feeling that played a large role in their capacity to commit such terrible crimes.

There are so many reasons to remember. It might be that this unpleasant collective guilt and forced memory have prevented a resurgence of neo-Nazis in Germany. Only 60 years ago, Nazi Germany almost succeeded in killing every Jew in the world, but it was about more than just Jews. Russians, Gypsies, gays, intellectuals, and handicapped among others were slaughtered with ruthless efficiency. This genocide was organized in a "civilized" industrial Christian democracy and was carried out by millions of Europeans often against their own countrymen. The situation was not so different between Japan and its neighbors. The final solution of the Axis powers was about eliminating "inferior" people, and who can believe we won't face such a problem again in a world of genetic engineering and where Kosovo and Rwanda have already happened and genocides continue. There are so many strong lessons here, not just for Germans, but for the world.

Germans want forgiveness and hope for reconciliation. Jews might forgive them and believe the world can move on if Germans led the world in humanitarian aid but they don't, if they had contributed billions to reconstruction of Israel but they didn't, if there were no more Neo-Nazi demonstrations but they persist, and if Germans had led the world sending thousands of peacekeeping troops under UN control to Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan etc. but they didn't.

Germany has reunited and rebuilt their economy and institutions. They are capable of greater military force than ever before. I don't think Germans are being unfairly singled out. They have been a central cause of the last two global conflicts. After visiting Germany, seeing the documentary, and reading the responses viewers have left on your site I know there's still a lot of work for this generation to do.

Joseph Gordon
Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched Marian Marzynski's story "A Jew Among the Germans" with rapt attention. This docmentary is unique amony Holocaust stories Marzynski asks a series of inner questions and shares thoughts in voiceover as we look at grey muddy images of the site for the Holocaust memorial. He raises essential questions in the documentary: "What is good guilt or bad guilt?" "Why do none of the Third Generation mention the word 'guilt.' ?" Most chilling and telling is the reticence in the faces of the young Germans interviewed. They have pat answers to grave questions.

I had not seen Third Generation faces respond to these questions before, and this documentary gave me the opportunity to look into their puzzled eyes and hear their tentative voices, to see the discomfort in their bodies. Their body language is more telling than what they say in their book "No One Asked Us." Their body language said, "We are angry at being burdened with this discussion: let it be over!" This film is nothing if not a testament to reaction formation to guilt. I was chilled by the images of the academic gatherings and their distancing effects upon the events that have dragged Marzynski back to the place he hates and fears.

He is right: we cannot depend upon individuals to confront and process memory. And yet, can institutions be trusted to do so in a series of endless art competitions? The film shows us that the discussion must continue so that we do not fall into forgetfulness. The terrifying narratives like Marzynski's must stand as testaments against the eroding tide of time and forgetfulness.

I recently asked a freshman college class, "What is it that compels some young people to attack and humiliate their gay and lesbian neighbors?" Most did not respond, and then one young woman felt emboldened to speak, "Because their parents told them that these gay people are sinners and bad. So they know that they can get away with it." Watching this documentary, I was reminded of that moment in an ordinary American college classroom.

Fergal O'Doherty
San Diego, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a 33 year old second generation Roman Catholic German American. I would like Marian Marzynski to know the following: Not all Germans in Germany went along with the Nazi regime and two of my German (Catholic) relatives were dragged to death behind trucks with chains for not agreeing to Hitler's evil doings. I do not know all the details as our older family members would not talk about it.

My parents took me to Dacau concentration camp when I was 15, and I was forever changed from that experience. I will not let my children forget, and will certainly supplement their American education. I loved your approach and applaud your efforts.

JoAnne Race
Syracuse, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

There is a question I would like to ask all Jews who are reading this. It has been seriously bothering me for a long time. It is not easy to ask. Please bear with me.

In 1919-20, Ukrainian irregular troops under Simon Petlyura killed about 500,000 Ukrainian Jews. I wonder whether in 1936 of 37 some German Jews discussed with the same earnestness and seriousness as displayed on your program the massacres perpetrated by Petlyura against the Jews of Ukraine, yet completely refused to see the fate that awaits them?

From my own ancestry: My great grandfather was killed by Petlyura's people. My grandfather, uncle, aunts and other relatives were killed by the Nazis.

I now observe with complete dismay the situation in Israel, the weakness of Jews there, and continuing obsession with the German-perpetrated Holocaust, while being blind to the threat hanging over Israel, the new antisemitism rooted in Israel's weakness yet spreading all over the world, and the threat of Islamofascism about to destroy the entire planet or to convert it to their version of Islam. Can we let go, at least for a moment, of the genocide in our past in order to see and try to prevent the new coming one?

It also confuses me to hear that the Holocaust is a unique case in human history, and immediately afterwards hear calls "Never Again!" If it is unique, it cannot happen again. And if it can happen again, then it is not truly that unique. I believe the second. Please wake up, my Jewish brothers and sisters, stop looking at the horrible past (horrible, but safe from this distance) and look at the horror about to overtake us! It is not yet too late!


I have complex feelings about the program and Marian Marzynski. I have no problems with all the good German people shown on the program. But I wonder about the not-so-good people not shown (like the ones who destroyed graves in the cemetery). They are the ones who scare me. They live and do their ugly deeds right now, so perhaps we should be more concerned about them.

And I don't believe in any "good guilt" or "honorable guilt". We Jews have had too much guilt already for things we have not done. Both from the outside, imposed on us by other peoples, and from the inside, imposed by some of our own rabbis, and currently by our own leftist self-righteous "moralists". I have had enough of this nonsense. I don't wish it on any peoples: not Jews, not Germans, not anyone.

David Tsal
Anaheim, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

What makes Marian Marzinsky's reflections invaluable is precisely his honesty. The fact that his journey is neither tidy nor easy strikes me as extremely unsettling. As an American youth for whom the Holocaust is far removed from being something personal, I humbly appreciate the perspective which he lends to the Frontline audience for about the course of an hour.

For those audience member who feel that Marzinsky's views were unfair, unrealistic, or unappreciative of what present-day Germans have accomplished, I express my disappointment. I am dear friends with a 3rd generation German who is nothing like the youth who were reflected in Marzinsky's piece. Am I going to get bent out of shape for that discrepancy? No, of course not! Likewise, my best friend is the son of a Holocaust survivor, and his experience is not reflected in Marzinsky's film. So what? This was Marian's story... to be taken for what it's worth.

Y. Verdes
Miami, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am an American of German descent and have always found the subject of the Holocast extremely uncomfortable. It pains me to be related to a people who could have done such atrocities. My own grandfather would probably have been killed because he "looked Jewish". It amazes me sometimes to look at old photos of him and know we are not Jewish.

It also pains me to remember how prejudiced my grandfather was about any one who wasn't like him, and to think that had our family remained in Germany and not emigrated (in thevery late 1800's) he would more than likely been a stout Nazi. I found in my youth this was something I could not reconcile, and even today I feel compelled to watch programs like this.

I believe that the stories of the Holocast should be told just as they are told. It is the Truth of this that will set us free of it, not the glossing over of it.

Bonnie Covey
Tumwater, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched your broadcast with the general uncomfortable nervousness I feel around the subject of Jews and Germans. I am a child of a holocaust survivor who married a non-Jewish German that I met on a kibbutz in Israel. I lived, studied, and worked in Germany for 5 years during the 1970's.

I went there with an open and curious mind. I did not meet the human animals that I imagined all Germans to be nor did I feel hate for the murder of my entire family. I experienced a people trying to cope with a past that is impossible to grasp and will always be part of it's history. Perhaps this is the bond Jews and Germans share. My time in Germany was important and very positive. I believe my husband and myself are a part of the healing that must take place. Our daughter, also a Fullbright scholar is living in Berlin doing a documentary on Jewish youth in Berlin. Though it was not stressed in your program, the Jewish community is thriving and full of hope. The seeds to recreate Jewish life is a stronger force than one of destruction.

Leslie Starus
malibu, Ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found Mr. Marzynski's personal journey compelling. Toward the end of the show Mr. Marzynski asks the Germans to not erect a memorial, but keep a responsible guilt alive. I agree with this idea, but I think we need to significantly widen the perspective to look at Holocaust mentality and the many forms it has taken before and since the Jewish holocaust.

Many forms of genocide have occured but they have neither the benefit of a highly motivated diaspora or the rare kind of responsibility Germans have borne as a society to keep the holocaust alive to the German people. I think of the American Indians, Armenians, Rwandans, Sri Lankans and most recently, the Sudanese in Darfour amoung the many who have suffered horrific, systematic persecution.

It is a very tall order to examine genocide across time and cultures, but the emphasis on the Jewish holocaust tends to blot out other past and present genocidal occurences that are still happening beneath our noses. Mr. Marzynski is understandably focused on his personal and his people's past, but what happened to the Jewish people of Europe is not an isolated horror, it is still happening and merits our concern and examination.

Emilio Verdugo
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

If there was any racism identified by the show it was not that of Germans who correctly had no sense of "collective guilt", but by that of Mr. Marzynski, who faulted a whole "race" of people based solely upon the sins of those who were members of the same "race" (or more corectly, ethnic group). In so doing, Mr. Marzynski provided a classic example of how racism, hatred, and bigotry get started and are perpetuated - by the extrapolations of the sins of some to all those who happen to share a similar characteristic. Many Jews were thus similarly disparaged because of the actions of some greedy Jewish bankers, merchants, etc. Serbs, Croats, Jews, Arabs...no group is spared the ignorance of those who extend the sins of individuals to the innocents who happen to share the same race, religion, gender, language, or ethnicity with the guilty but are no more likely to share the culpability than the bigot.

By extending the guilt of the Nazis to all Germans Marzynski slanders the scores of Germans who died fighting, or simply as victims of, the Nazis. More Germans were socialists than were Nazis, and many died because of it. They share no more guilt than any other victims of the Nazis. German trade unionists, homosexuals, progressives, artists, communists, Christian opponents of Hitler's "Positive Christianity", etc., all were German victims of fascism and their millions of living descendants certainly owe no one any apologies and should harbor only pride. Mr. Marzynski, owes them an apology and should, however, feel very guilty.

The guilty were and are right wing extremists. Not just German ones but those in Europe and America that supported their fellow right wing nutjobs in Germany both politically and financially. Only fascists should be made to feel guilty, because they were and ARE guilty. Being fascists, of course, means that they will feel none. The philosophy of elitism, or fascism, is the evil behind the Holocaust, not Germans or any other ethnic group that racists may hide behind, and is alive and well today. If Mr. Marzynski wants to truly make the guilty feel guilty, then he should confine his attacks to those who deserve it: right wingers. Hatred of minorities is a common theme among right wing extremists. If their hated minority of choice isn't Jewish, should they be given a pass? Mr. Marzynski's assigning a "collective guilt" to all Germans is dangerously close to the very racism he professes to despise.

Michael Richardson
Albuquerque, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

It seems clear that Germans of today do not identify with their ancestors who were responsible for the tragedy of the holocaust.

One can only guess at the reason for this mental division. Perhaps their ideals and sentiments have indeed changed, and they acknowledge the evil of their past, while recognizing that their own values are not in accordance with those former evils.

In the same way, I, as an American, find it difficult to identify with my ancestors who obliterated the Native American nation, or with the slave-owners of pre-civil war Americans. In this dynamic era, I find it difficult even to identify with my parents, much less with my grandparents or great-grandparents. So I am hardly surprised that Germans feel no guilt over the holocaust.

Perhaps this lack of national identity is in fact a positive sign, an indication that Germany is no longer filled with that strong patriotic passion which was at least partly responsible for World Wars I & II.

But this idea of national identity raises an interesting question regarding Mr. Marzynski himself. Why is it that he so strongly identifies with the victims of the holocaust?

I was puzzled by Mr. Marzynski's question over what the holocaust means to him personally, given that he is not religious. Does he not realize that the Jewish nation is a religious entity? Does he not understand that the one thing that divides the Jew from the Gentile is their unique relationship with their God? They are the chosen people.

So, in answer to Mr. Marzynski's question, "What does the holocaust mean for me?" The answer is, "nothing". His father died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because he looked like a Jew. A great many Americans were also killed as a result of Hitler's Germany, and we could just as well ask why Germans feel no guilt over the death of my grandfather, a veteran of the US Army.

There were many innocent people caught up in the hatred of Nazi Germany, people of various races and religions. But it was no coincidence that the Jews were the focal point of this hatred. To deny the religious aspect of this hatred is naive. The nation of Israel has had a history of standing apart from their surrounding community, a history of strife and war, primarily because of their religious identity.

If Mr. Marzynski does not follow the God of the Jewish people, then there is no sensible reason for him to share in their sufferings, or to identify with them as "his people."

Which is more remarkable? The failure of Germans to identify with the evils of their ancestors, or the propensity of Mr. Marzynski to identify with the suffering of his?

Brian Larson
Los Angeles, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

If I can't feel emotionaly guilty for slavery or how we treated the American Indians since I didn't partipate in either outrage, how can we expect Germans who were not born during WW II to FEEL guilty? But guilt is the wrong word. Outrage and a determination to never let that happen again would be better.. An understanding of what happened would help too. That's obviously lacking in the German kid who said that America did the say thing in Viet Nam. What an ignorant statement!

Matt Lynch
Deming, New Mexico

Dear FRONTLINE,

Our American heritage began in the late 1800's when our German forebears came to America. Although, we are clearly American by birth and heritage, we feel some shame because of our relationship to Germany and the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. Im sure that Germans in our age group also feel this shame and likely, more intensely than we do. But we are clearly guiltless for these sins, not so much because we are American, but because we were simply not there and were incapable of carrying out these hate crimes, either directly or indirectly. It is certain that the vast majority of Germans today were also not there.

You mentioned German DNA. If there is something in German genes and DNA that makes Germans capable of such atrocities then many Americans, including the two of us, should feel the same guilt you were seeking on your trip to Berlin. Again, we werent there, but if one is punitively responsible for ones potential actions then I suppose we are guilty of crimes against humanity.

From David:

I visited some family members in Northern Germany in 1986. There I found a normal, well-mannered, rural family not unlike those found all over the U.S. Tante Tina told me her memories of the war and the quick passing of the American troops on their way to Berlin. They hid in the basement and felt the same fear and angst we would feel if American soil was invaded in such a way.

I learned in Germany that one of our grandmother's cousins hanged herself in her attic on the news that her second son had died in battle. This was after she had already learned of the death of her husband and first son, both of whom also died in battle. We believe that if you could speak to her, it would not be guilt that would be paramount in her experience but grief. It certainly wasnt her decision to invade Poland, seek lebensraum or ethnically clean the population of Europe.

As a homosexual male in America, I understand the need to "hide" and I have experienced irrational hatred because of who I am. I cant point to, nor name an enemy as you can. But I can justify in my mind, if I so choose, to call the entire American public my enemy because of its desire to limit my rights, protections and social benefits. We can all agree that the Nazis were to blame for the blood on their hands. But I simply dont think its right to blame an entire countrys population for the actions, or lack of actions because, again, the vast majority of this population wasnt there when these sins were committed.

From Kim:
All religions, countries, races and families lost something in WWII. Instead of demanding some kind of guilt, good or bad, how about we demand tolerance and understanding for others. The youth of Germany cannot give back to you what you have lost. They cannot say anything that will assuage your pain. But we can all forgive and remember. Forgive, so that you can tolerate yourself as well as others. Will an expression of guilt from anyone help you find peace with your loss? Remember, as in not to settle old scores and debts, but for the simple reason that in remembrance there is hope that change will come.

-------------------------------

We think we can agree that the Holocaust is not unique in the annals of history. The Catholic Church has reasons for guilt from its part in the Spanish Inquisition. Are you going to ask the Spaniards about their guilt and whether its good or bad. Experience is a very potent teacher, but too often, it seems, the lesson doesnt hit its mark. Stalin killed millions of Russians. The Japanese killed and assaulted millions of Chinese. Pol Pot killed millions of Southeast Asians. More recently millions have died in Bosnia, Rwanda and today in the Sudan. Would our time be better spent working towards the saving of all citizens in all nations of the world?

Finally, what is Good Guilt. In discussing the nature of guilt, we both agree that guilt occurs when a person wrongs another. Many Germans have reason to feel guilt for their actions under the Nazi banner. Guilt can be softened by an act of atonement. Maybe thats what Good Guilt is: guilt that has been atoned. But how does one atone for the sins committed by ones ancestors? Guilt that cannot be atoned for cannot be Good Guilt. In not too many more years everyone with memories of the horrors of World War II will all have passed on. Not long after that these horrors will sit emotionless on the pages of history books the same as those of World War I, the American expansion into the West, the Hundred Years War, the Crusades and the Thirty Years War. Then the Germans can be free of their World War II stigma just as the citizens of so many other countries have sloughed off the ugly memories of sins committed in their pasts.

David and Kim Lessmann
Oklahoma City, OK

Dear FRONTLINE,

Marian Marzynski's journey to Germany, is his personal search for healing. His religious identity, life view and life choices are all shaped by his experiences of the Holocaust. What I hope the viewers of his documentary will see is how the Holocaust has shaped their own lives.

My Jewish identity was greatly altered as a young boy seeing the images of the concentration camps and what life for Jewish people was about. Why would I want to identify myself with a religion of people that have experienced such hatred and genocide? Doesn't it make survival sense to turn away from this identity? Why would I ever want to go to Germany as a Jew? How could such hatred towards Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsies, and people with dissabilities, just go away with the end of the war? Where will it show up next?

In 2002, I made my way to Germany taking couageous steps with a group of Jewish Americans seeking healing and reconciliation. I experienced that Jews and Germans need each other to heal from this horrific period in history. I was willing to listen to the life stories of Germans. I learned of their life and the suffering of Germans as individuals rather than as "Those Germans and what they did to the Jewish people". Now as co-director of the Jewish-German Reconciliation Project, I continue to work on reconciliation here and in Germany. I have experienced the incredible heart connection that came as we listen to each other with compassion. Healing and reconciliation is possible and can bring a greater peace to the world we live in.

I commend the film maker for his courage to heal and his vision that our children can meet one day without guilt or fear of each other.

Brian Berman
Indianola, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Mr Marzynski, I found your presentation very familiar. I was born in Germany and I am a year younger than you. I found out about about that we were Jewish until the early 60's. What I was wondering about was the fact that I was not circumcised like my father or my brother who was born in 1931. Later on, I found out that our survival took many convoluted ways and like you, I passed the drop-the pants-test unlike our parents and older sibling.

I see your film more as a personal statement that represents something that only we, the ones who are directly afffected by the horible events, can relate to. Especially the book by Epstein on children of Holocaust survivors can attest to what I am saying. Asking the generation of 2005 is looking more for redemption, because their "grandfather" would not admit his involvement and thus the answer reflects the only the current blank state of mind. Mr Gerz's input was great.- The memorial: Peter Eisenman's design will trigger Berlin's penchant for naming it "The Brickyard"(Ziegel Platz). It is uninspiring, because it expresses no obvious message to the uninitiated. Additionaly, I would suggest that a portion of the assemblage be represented by cutoff legs symbolizing the plight of Jews of Germany trying to leave Germany. It should be a reminder of the Evian Conference. Thank you very much.

Michael Zorn

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was born in 1957 and grew up in a small town in New Jersey, my father, George Schwend was a veteran of WWII in the 8th infantry, and a surviver of the Normandy Invasion.He kept a diary of his experiences from the day he entered the war on Feb.2nd 1942 until the day he came home.Many years after his death the exerpts from this diary were made into a book titled "Fighting in the Great Crusade" written by Gregory Daddis.
While I was growing up my father kept all his things from the war in one of several foot lockers in our basement. At young age (not being one for rules ) I managed to get into one of my fathers foot lockers and found his diary And a book of war photo's.As a young boy it was quite exiting toread of the exploits the men of the 8th infintries "Golden Arrow", until I came across an entry dated April 19th,1942! .."We uncovered a prisoner and cocentration campSeveral kilometers southwest of Schwerin at Ludwiglust and Wobblin.There were thousands upon thousands of bodiesof those who had been starved to death. Some were so weak the could not move. If it were not for eye movement or shallow breathing , you couldn't tell the living from the dead.It was a sight that my men and I will never forget the rest of our lives!..."I

About this time my father came upon me andf found me sitting there on the floor of the basement reading his journal.At first he appeared to be upset with me, he took the book from me and he began to read from the page it was opened to and started to read out loud. I could see the look on his face change as he read on, his voice cracked several times and he became visualy upsetas he read on. You would have to have know my father to know that he was not the type that was easily upset. For something that had happened almost twenty years prior, from his reaction it seemed as if it had happened only yesterday! He than said "The men who did this were Monsters so consumedwith hate that they murdered innocent women and children for no other reason then they were different!" We talked for almost two hours About the darkside of of mankind if allowed to be unleashed could be allowed to result in the horror of genicide as it did in WWII, and that if we didn't learn from history we would be doomed to repeat it. My father said there was aquote of the day that" For the first time we know for certain that any peace is not better then any war!"He and the boys of yesterday,and the ones whogavethere lives, wanted a better world for the children of tomorrow. But furthmore for the survivors of the Holocost I only wished that they could have ended the war sooner that so many did not have to die at the hands of madmen.

Ihave kept my father's words with me and have tried to live by their principles, I feel they have made me a better person, and my father made me a better man for being his son.

After listening to Marion Marzynski's story, which is just one of millions I think to myself, what a remarkable human being he must be to have shuch a positive attitude after all he has been through. I think he and the others like him are the real heros. I would like to be ale to correspond with him and learn more.

Mark Schwend
Wimberley, Texas

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posted may 31, 2005

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