Americans Need A Dose Of German Guilt

Rabbi Ken Chasen is Senior Rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, California and Vice Chair of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

Americans Need A Dose Of German Guilt

November 19, 2018

Former German President Horst Koehler, politician Daniel Guenther, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Central Council of Jews President Josef Schuster, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble, First Lady Elke Buendenbender and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a ceremony at the Rykestrasse synagogue to commemorate the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms, also called the November pogroms, on November 09, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. During November 7-13, 1938, Nazi supporters attacked over 1,400 synagogues as well as Jewish businesses and individuals that led to the deaths of over 400 people in a violent outburst of anti-semitism that preceded the horrors of the Holocaust. Germany is officially commemorating the 80th anniversary of the pogroms today.

Former German President Horst Koehler, politician Daniel Guenther, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Central Council of Jews President Josef Schuster, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble, First Lady Elke Buendenbender and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a ceremony at the Rykestrasse synagogue to commemorate the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms, also called the November pogroms, on November 09, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. During November 7-13, 1938, Nazi supporters attacked over 1,400 synagogues as well as Jewish businesses and individuals that led to the deaths of over 400 people in a violent outburst of anti-semitism that preceded the horrors of the Holocaust. Germany is officially commemorating the 80th anniversary of the pogroms today.

12 years ago, I met with a young German Christian woman who sought my assistance in converting to Judaism.
As I listened to her reasons for wishing to be Jewish — her marriage to a Jewish man, her partnership in raising a Jewish daughter, her affection for the customs and traditions of Judaism — I could see tears welling in her eyes.

When I inquired about those tears, the dam burst, and she began to weep openly.

“My marriage and family are inspiring me to convert,” she told me, “but my history stands in my way. How can I ever become a Jew, after the horrors my people brought upon the Jews? How can I be welcomed? How can I ever be forgiven? I can’t even forgive myself.”

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