Jewish Unity in Hitler’s Shadow

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04 Sep 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Though not as well-known as other Nazi centers of death, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg held political prisoners from 1936 until the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. We visited the camp on the third day of our recent OU NCSY Alumni/Germany Close Up trip, which I staffed along with Rabbi Jack Abramowitz.

As we sat in the main room where the prisoners ate their meals, a participant turned to me and muttered under her breath, “Compared to Auschwitz, this camp is so nice.”

Having never even been to any other part of Europe, I couldn’t imagine what the other camps were like. Sitting in a smelly, congested room with twenty people, I couldn’t comprehend what it must have been like with over 1,600 prisoners at a time.

We entered the room where the Nazis murdered prisoners and removed their teeth if they had any gold fillings. As we continued through the rest of the camp, we bumped into a tour guide from a different group. He was holding an Israeli flag, and explained that an Israeli group had just left and accidently forgot their flag. A participant asked the guide if she could have the flag, and he gladly handed it over.

It was an educational and emotional trip. We visited Jewish memorials and several Jewish cemeteries, including the Holocaust Memorial and Information Center in Berlin, the Jewish Cemetery in Weißensee, the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Volkswagen factory where we visited the permanent exhibition “Place of Remembrance of Forced Labor in the Volkswagen Factory.”

On day 9 of our trip, one day before the last, we were in Nuremberg, visiting the Documentation Center at the Reichsparteitagsgelände. The tour guide walked us through the area and we ended up at Zeppelin Field, where the Nazis used to rally. Hitler would stand on the podium, giving his speeches after waiting in the room above the stadium, which is covered by swastikas.

We sat on the field, listening as the tour guide spoke about the rallies that took place in the ‘30s and the sports center it has turned into. There is an ongoing debate at the moment whether to keep the stadium or get rid of it.

Suddenly, I spotted the girl who had obtained the Israeli flag earlier. She sat in the stadium and wrapped the Israeli flag around her—and I had an idea.

I approached our Germany Close Up tour guide, Toby, and asked him if we could take a picture, placing the Israeli flag where the large swastika used to be. He mentioned that in some places it is illegal to drop a flag from another country, so I would need to ask the tour guide from the Documentation Center.

Hoping that wouldn’t be the case, I asked the tour guide if she could run to the bottom of the field and take a picture while we stand on the podium, holding the Israeli flag. She smiled and responded, “Absolutely!” Everyone approached the podium and gathered where Hitler once stood as he promised to exterminate the Jewish race.

It’s been seventy years and three generations later— here we are—proudly holding the Israeli flag, with smiles on our faces and emotion filling our hearts.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.