California Rabbis Find Germans Need More Holocaust Education

When Rabbi Abner Weiss was invited to visit Germany, he gave a non-committal response.

The German consul in Los Angeles asked him: “Don’t you travel abroad?”

“I certainly do,” Weiss answered. “But when it comes to Germany, I have 6 million reasons for not visiting.”

Weiss, of the Beth Jacob congregation in Beverly Hills, Calif., was eventually persuaded to make the trip in order to see how Germany is educating its people about the Holocaust. But some of his congregants were skeptical about his trip to the land that was home to the Nazis.

Weiss traveled to Germany with Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, president of the board of rabbis of Southern California, and Rabbi Aaron Kriegel of the Conservative Ner Maarav temple in Encino, Calif., for 10 days this month.

The three rabbis, representing the board of rabbis, said they had seen no manifestations of right-wing extremism, renewed Nazism or visible signs of hatred against foreigners or Jews. Rabbi Weiss purposely wore a kipah at all times to see what kind of reactions he would encounter.

After speaking with education and culture officials and reviewing teaching material regarding Holocaust education, the rabbis agreed that too little was actually being done to raise the awareness of young people on this issue.

As if to confirm this observation, Miriam, an 18-year-old student who has just finished German high school, told the rabbis that nothing about the Holocaust had been taught in her class.

“The main problem is implementation,” said Goldmark. “Many teachers know too little, or just have no motivation, and find it uncomfortable to talk about the subject.”

Weiss added that one student said a single day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., had taught him more than years of education in the German school system. “It’s no use having the best programs if the teachers do not know how to convey the material,” he said.

Nevertheless all three rabbis found that they were talking about a different Germany today from the one they had imagined back in California. According to Rabbi Kriegel, many Jews in America “stop at the Holocaust and talk too little about modern Germany.”

“I feel I bear guilt,” he added, “for how I viewed Germany before coming here. Now I have seen the Germans as individuals, and the picture is really very different.”

Weiss said he doesn’t feel guilty. “I had a right to be suspicious, and I was proved wrong. I am certainly impressed by how they try to curb right-wing extremism, but I am disappointed” about how Germany is teaching the Holocaust, “particularly at schools.”

All three rabbis said they were leaving Germany last weekend with positive memories about people who are trying hard to cope with their terrible past.

“We are talking about a whole generation which feels guilt and shame about their German ancestors, although they personally do not bear responsibility for what happened,” Weiss said.

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