German Burdens – 2
Fern Schumer Chapman
Since the 1940s, one of the few ways that American Jews protested the Nazi regime was to avoid certain German products. High on the list was the Mercedes. (Volkswagon and German wine were other targets.) Evidently, the protest didn’t make a dent in Flick’s financial portfolio.
Still it was a matter of principle. When Chrysler Corporation bought a majority share of Mercedes manufacturer Daimler-Benz, some newspaper and magazines posed the question of whether some Jews would begin to boycott Chrysler. Jewish writer Cynthia Ozick said that, as a “private memorial” to the Nazis’ victims she would boycott Chrysler. But others say that mega-mergers and the global economy make it impossible to know who owns the product. Others think it’s simply time to move on.
If this is a conundrum for American Jews, I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the problem Flick and his company posed for generations in Germany. What a complicated legacy!
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On a trip to Germany in 1999, my mother and I the guests of an organization called “The German Society to Preserve Jewish Culture.” In 1988, fifty years after Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” churches marked the mournful occasion by creating a “Night of Remembrance.” Services were held, candles lit, names of survivors and escapees read at memorials and churches. During those ceremonies, many church leaders asked elder members if they remembered the Jews who once lived in their towns.
A grass-roots movement emerged and Germans began to research the Jewish families who once lived in the area, restore the local synagogues, and
create organizations formed at that time to remember the Jews and their contributions in Germany.
This German Society to Preserve Jewish Culture brought back to Germany all the “children” in my mother’s religious class. Of the seven, all except my mother had gotten out of Germany with their parents (like Kandel).
“It is a very different experience to get out with parents,” one of my mother’s religious school classmates told me on that trip. “Yes, it’s traumatizing since they have lost the means of earning money, their home and homeland, but the family is still in tact.”
For my mother, as I described in my new book, Is It Night or Day?, to lose your parents as a child to genocide is devastating and incomprehensible. In addition, as I’ve described in this blog, the psychological consequences live on in the generations that follow.
On one of my trips to Germany, I came upon a metaphor for the effect of genocide on victim and perpetrator.
A 30-year-old man who worked in a nursing home in Crumstadt, Germany said he had only “encountered” Jews through the intrusive memories of his patients. Some had served in the SS. Sometimes, when disturbing memories flooded, they blurted out what they had done at that time. The caregiver said, “They are haunted.”
Interestingly, some concentration camps survivors living in American nursing homes also are plagued by persistent, painful memories. Uniquely challenging to the nursing home staff, survivors often refuse to take showers or do anything that triggers the memory of their traumas.
Sounds like Flick was so lacking in empathy and so well defended that he didn’t suffer with the consequences of his actions.