Minutes of Monthly Meeting

Back ] Home ] Up ]

September 10, 1995

Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: German-Jewish Dialogue; Is it Time for Reconciliation?

Speaker: Prof. Herbert Immenkoetter, Department of Catholic Theology, University of Augsburg

Host: Phyllis Duckwall

PRESENT: Lou Ryterband, Cochair; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Diana Bachert, Ruth Bachert, P. T. Bapu, Phyllis Duckwall, Eric Friedland, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Jack Hickey, Irmgard Hoffman, John Hoffman, Robert B. Kahn, Sophie Kahn-Ttee, Jack Kelley, John Magee, Robert Mass, Arch McMillan, Martha C. Poiry, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Robert J. Ryan, Joan Seymour, Robin Smith, Lou Vera, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk.

Lou Ryterband called the meeting to order at about 7:50 PM. Phyllis delivered the devotional which included two beautiful and poetic prayers, Meditation for Night Watches and Meditation for Bedtime, from a book by Frances Folkes. Father Kelley suggested that the Dialogue Program be placed in the University of Dayton campus newspaper, Campus Report, so that people from the UD community might be persuaded to attend. He also distributed copies of the National Dialogue Newsletter to interested attendees.

Lou Vera from the Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati announced that the Archdiocese has revived the Interfaith Commission. There will be a southern and a northern committee of this commission. The northern committee will meet in Dayton, and Lou requested that the Dialogue nominate a Catholic to be a member of this committee. The nomination should be accomplished within the next two to three months.

Lou then introduced the three speakers. Herbert Immenkoetter, Visiting Professor of Catholic Theology from the University of Augsburg delivered his talk first.

Herbert Immenkoetter's Remarks

Herbert's talk focused on the activities and thinking of Jewish-Christian dialogue groups in Germany, particularly one that he is active in, a discussion group sponsored by the Central Committee of German Catholics. This group meets several times a year and includes theologians, historians, philosophers and scholars of political science from East and West Germany and Switzerland. About two-thirds of the group are Catholic, and the rest are Jews.

Discussions in the group focus on questions of guilt (both group guilt and individual guilt), forgiveness, and reconciliation. Herbert discussed the prevailing thinking that all Germans are responsible for what happened during the Shoah (Holocaust). Forgiveness for ones sins must be obtained first from ones fellow man who has been sinned against and only then from God. However, forgiveness from one who has been sinned against cannot be demanded. Furthermore, forgiveness can only be obtained from the affected people. No one may forgive the sins against people who are dead or absent (perhaps due to emigration). These requirements for forgiveness are essentially the same in the Catholic and the Jewish traditions.

Looking to the future, Herbert suggested that wounds will not be healed by time or by forgetting. Therefore, both Jews and Christians must talk with each other in order to hope to accomplish a reconciliation. Remembrance of what happened is not a call to enmity. The wounds can only be healed by steps taken together by Germans and Jews.

Robin Smith's Remarks

Robin Smith lived in Germany for several years. She distributed to the attendees a translation into English that she prepared of the newsletter of the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation of Augsburg & Schwaben.

Robin began her presentation by stating that she is a World War I history buff. While living in Germany, she visited many World War I cemeteries and was amazed at the number of graves that had Stars of David on them. She emphasized the tragedy that the descendants of these World War I heroes were persecuted and killed by the German Nazi government. While visiting Israel on a trip from Germany, Robin talked with a German tourist who expressed his reservation that because he was German he had to support the State of Israel. While Robin lived in Germany, there were a number of desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. After these unfortunate events, Germans generally volunteered to repair the damage. Also while she was in Germany, the American miniseries, Holocaust, appeared on television. Germans were generally very affected by the miniseries, but she heard that Austrians did not like it.

Robin raised another controversial issue between Catholics and Jews, the movement toward beatification of Edith Stein. Edith Stein was born Jewish, converted to Catholicism, and became a Carmelite nun. She was killed by the Nazis, and consequently the Catholic Church is moving to beatify her (make her a saint). However, she was killed because the Nazis considered her a Jew. Another interesting fact is that East Germans were taught by the formerly communist government that they had no responsibility for the Holocaust since they were communists fighting the fascist Nazi government. This is quite different from West Germans who had generally been educated about German responsibility for the Holocaust.

Ken Rosenzweig's Remarks

Ken began by discussing the creative tension that he has always felt between his feelings about Germany and those about being Jewish. He studied the German language in high school and college in the late 50's and early 60's. This study developed in him a great respect for German culture. On the other hand, he was brought up with an extensive Jewish education in the Conservative Branch of Judaism. Like many Jews of this era, he feels the central events affecting his Jewish identity are the Holocaust and the formation of the State of Israel. As a result of the Holocaust, the prevailing feeling of most Jews was anti-German. For example, Jews often resisted buying German products (like Volkswagens). Ken perceives that Germans were seen by many Jews as enemies of the Jewish people. And so, Ken has had to attempt to resolve the conflict between these two fundamental influences on his life.

The main purpose of Ken's 5-week trip to Augsburg, Germany this summer was to develop a research project involving comparison of ethical standards of accountants in Germany and the US. However, he went with a broader goal in mind. He wanted to get to know contemporary Germans and to learn more about how they think, especially about Jews and the Jewish people. As a result, he made a point of disclosing his Jewishness to many people in order to be able to talk to them about Jewish issues. Ken had had a number of German exchange students in his MBA level classes at the University of Dayton. While in Augsburg, he looked up a number of these former students who had since returned to Germany. He found these former students as well as many other Germans he met to be extremely hospitable and helpful. Ken's impression is that most Germans that he met were very sensitive to issues of the Holocaust and German culpability for it. Study of the Holocaust is extensively integrated into the German educational system. However, as a result of the small population of Jews in Germany, most Germans do not know any Jews. Most of the Germans Ken met were not born until well after the end of World War II.

Ken regularly went to services at the synagogue in Augsburg while he was there. The Jewish population of Augsburg is very small and is composed almost entirely of eastern European and Russian Jews. The synagogue is beautiful. Destroyed during the Nazi period, it was restored by the German government to the same architecture it had before World War II.

Following are Ken's feelings about the future of German-Jewish relations. Germany is an economically powerful state, destined to play an extremely influential role in world affairs in the 21st Century. The Jewish People constitute a fraction of one percent of the world's population. As a result of its minority status, Jewish survival throughout the ages has been obtained by means of alliances with more powerful groups. Consequently, the Jewish People have an important interest in establishing or reestablishing a conversation and dialogue with Germans and the German people. Attempted ostracization of Germans by Jews is dysfunctional for Jews and is harmful to the prospects for Jewish survival. Dialogue of Germans and Jews must be in an atmosphere of full knowledge and feeling for the horrors of past German-Jewish relations. Germans and Jews must deal with the question of "corporate" or group guilt vs. individual responsibility. Germans must deal with the question of whether and to what extent there is a German national responsibility for the horrible acts committed in the Holocaust even for those Germans who were not involved or were born after the Nazi period. Jews must deal with the question of whether Germans who were not involved in the Holocaust are to be blamed for it. Both groups should think about the comparison between the "corporate guilt" historically placed on Jews for their rejection of the Christian message and the "corporate guilt" placed on all Germans for the Holocaust. The painting of all members of any group with preconceived characteristics is an evil that all people should avoid.

Questions and Discussion

Erica expressed her lack of sympathy for the concept of "collective guilt." For her, reconciliation with those who were involved in the Holocaust is not possible and reconciliation with those who were not involved is not necessary. Erica also expressed her concern that Herbert had portrayed the current Jewish community in Germany as a group apart from Germans.

Bob Kahn complimented Herbert for approaching a very difficult subject. Bob is a Holocaust survivor and recently returned to his hometown of Mannheim, Germany. He has written a book about the experiences of the Jewish survivors of Mannheim. Bob had a number of contacts with the Jewish-Christian dialogue groups in Germany. He expressed the view that these groups are handicapped by lack of information. The groups are predominantly Christian since there are few Jews left in Germany. Many Germans (including some people from the University of Mannheim) were very interested in Bob's knowledge of the experiences of Holocaust survivors from Mannheim. While in Germany, Bob also visited some beerhalls. He heard a lot of hate propaganda there; this was generally directed at foreigners and other minorities. Bob also expressed concern that the current German government, while expressing grief for the victims of the Holocaust, also calls for fair treatment of Germans who were duped by the Nazi government. Thus the government desires to portray Germans as victims also. In this way, the German government attempts to mitigate the responsibility of Germans who lived in that time to stand up against a totalitarian and genocidal government.

Felix pointed out that most of the Jewish deaths were in Eastern Europe where Jews were caught by surprise by the Nazi invasion. About half of German Jews actually escaped by leaving Germany. Jack discussed the role of the Passion Plays during the Nazi period in stirring anti-Semitism.

Lou Vera reported that she lived in Wurzberg, Germany for a number of years in the early 80's. Her experience was that Germans were generally unaware of or insensitive to the history of the Holocaust. On the other hand, citizens of Wurzberg were extremely sensitive about the firebombing of Wurzberg during World War II in which 50,000 people died in a single night.

Arthur stated that he cannot recall a dialogue meeting that had such an interesting and important topic and he is very appreciative. He asked Herbert what other topics besides guilt and forgiveness are discussed by Herbert's Christian-Jewish dialogue group.

Sophie reported on a trip to Frankfurt with her husband Steve a number of years ago. During her visit to the Frankfurt Museum, she was amazed that there were no exhibits about the history of Jews in Germany. Yet, at that same museum, there were exhibits about Hitler and the Nazis. Sophie reported that she and Steve left Germany with a bad feeling. John Hoffman asked whether there were ways that Germany can help the Jewish People in order to atone for past sins.

Bob Maas reported that he was weeping during Herbert's presentation. Bob is of German background and has felt tormented by German treatment of Jews during the Nazi period. Arthur lamented that the Japanese had not confessed their war crimes as the Germans (as exemplefied by Herbert) have. Lou Ryterband noted that it took 500 years for Jews to reconcile with and return to Spain after the Spanish Expulsion of Jews in 1492. Thus, it may take many more years for there to be a full reconciliation of Jews with Germany.

Herbert then responded to a number of questions and comments. He stated that there is no such thing as "collective guilt." However, Herbert is a member of the German Community. The sins of members of that community bear on the whole community. Herbert then discussed the origins of his personal interest in Jewish-Christian dialogue. He came from a strong Catholic family. His father served in the German Army during the Second World War. Although it was hidden from him previously, he discovered later that his father was a member of the Nazi Party during the 1930's. This was a great surprise and disappointment to him and it impelled him to involve himself in attempting to rectify the evils his father may have caused.

Herbert apologized for giving the misimpression that he feels modern Jews in Germany are a group apart from other Germans. He does not feel this way. At this point, Herbert noted the large number of talented German Jewish professionals who left Germany between 1934 and 1939 for places such as the United States. He stated that Germany had never recovered from this drain of intellectual resources. For example, Herbert pointed out that Hollywood was developed by German Jews. Herbert is proud of the Jewish culture that existed in Germany prior to the Second World War and mourns its loss.

John Hoffman noted that a possible explanation of the prevailing focus on national or collective guilt that exists with respect to Germany is that Germany, in contrast to the United States, has predominantly a single culture. There is a sense that common responsibility and guilt comes from this common culture. Lou noted the comparison of this collective guilt of Germans to the feelings she felt growing up in the American South during the period of the crumbling of segregation (the American Apartheid). There was a feeling of responsibility that the white community owed to blacks for past sins even though individual whites may not have participated in oppression of blacks.

Herbert lamented the smallness of the population of Jews in Germany; this limits the number who are available to participate in Christian-Jewish dialogue. Herbert noted that there are significant numbers of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. These immigrants tend to be quite traditional in their Jewish observance. In reply to Lou Vera's observation that there was little consciousness of the Shoah in Germany twenty years ago, Herbert noted that the situation is better now. In response to Arthur's question about other activities of Herbert's Christian-Jewish dialogue group, he noted that the group had made statements on important issues such as the presence of the Carmelite Monastery in the grounds of the Auchwitz Death Camp. Other statements oppose any actions that suppress Jewish life in Germany. The Dialogue group also conducts a Judische Lehrhaus (Jewish School) to teach German Catholics about the Jewish way of life.

Arthur asked about the composition of Christians in Herbert's Dialogue group. Herbert replied that all the Christians in his group were Catholics. Arthur then asked what German Lutherans were doing in the way of dialogue. Herbert noted that two thirds of the population of Germany is Lutheran. Their activities in Christian-Jewish dialogue are more diverse. Dialogue groups exist in some Lutheran regions but not in others. Ken asked Herbert what are the implications for Jews and anti-Semitism of the prevailing lack of affiliation and involvement in religion that Ken observed among the Germans he met while he was in Germany. Herbert confirmed this prevailing lack of religious involvement of Germans, noting that history shows that religious groups often left Europe for places like America due to religious persecution in Europe. This may partially account for the generally higher level of religious observance in the United States than in Germany. However, Herbert did not express an opinion on the prospects for anti-Semitism in this less religious environment. Jack commented on Catholic Church statements on racism during the Nazi period.

Lou Vera asked Herbert about the controversy in Germany concerning crosses or crucifixes in school classrooms. Herbert replied that a German high court has ruled that there is no need for a cross in each classroom. Furthermore, if it is objectionable to him, a parent of a student may demand that the cross be removed from the student's classroom. In a humorous vein, Eric commented that when he teaches a class at the University of Dayton, he is always glad that the Crucifix is on the wall because then at least one other Jew is present in the classroom.

Erica commented that young students report to her that they learn anti-Semitism in their churches. Lou Vera replied that Pope John Paul has done far more than any other pope to combat anti-Semitism in church teaching and among Christians in general. Church teaching on the evils of anti-Semitism is very strong.

The meeting adjourned at 9:55 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
Back ] Home ] Up ]