In this text I try to slowly work my way to one of my first spiritual experiences. I am not even sure if one can call it a spiritual experience, so bear with me.
As a German kid there comes the time, when you will be exposed to the horrors of the Holocaust in school, it´s kind of mandatory, so it will happen, one way or the other.
It will happen in the later years of school, so kids will have the capability to sort of grasp what the teacher is talking about, not that anybody can really grasp that, but at least one can try.
I got introduced to the topic by our social studies teacher, who used some kind of shock and awe approach. Since words can not really describe what happened there, he had a book called „Faschismus“ (facism) with lots of photographs. Remember, this was the early 80s, no internet, no youtube. We would look at what we would call the mountain pictures, mountains of dead bodies, mountains of glasses, of shoes, of clothes, of tooth gold, of human hair, mountains of all sorts of stuff the Nazis deemed valuable.
So there we had it, there we saw it, there was no way denying it, we belonged to the most horrible people on earth. In typical German perfectionism the Germans had tried their hand at total annihilation, killing 6 million Jews.
One day, they even took my best friend out of our classroom, brought him to another room and did the Milgram experiment with him. The miracle was, when he got told by the "scientist" to give "electro shocks" to the test person behind the screen, he simply refused! When we learned about the real purpose of this, admittedly cruel, experiment and all its implications and we got to know that he was, in the history of this experiment, among a tiny minority of people who did not electro shock the test person when told, he became quite a hero at our school.
I was very happy that they did not choose me, because I thought, with my authoritarian upbringing and state of development at that time, I would have pressed the button till the bitter end.
When my girl friend, who is 20 years younger than me, for reasons I don´t know, I guess love needs no reasons, had her compulsory Holocaust education in school, they were watching „Schindler´s List“, she refused to go on a guilt-trip, told the teacher that Schindler wasn´t such a good guy after all if he profited from forced labor, doubted everything the teacher told her, was therefore called a Nazi by him and the whole class, so she told him he was a Nazi himself, using authoritarian methods of indoctrination. So this gives me hope that young Germans nowadays are better equipped to stand up to authority.
So thanks to my teacher, I worked up quite some guilt complex about the Holocaust, deeply saddened by the fact that my people had committed such a horrible crime. When you are young, you´re quite perceptive for any kind of input, so the good news was, that those pictures made me a livelong opponent of anything Nazi, even leading to violent clashes with neo-Nazis later on in my youth, the bad news was, that, in the beginning, it really made me feel bad about myself just for being a German.
So in 1983, after graduating from school, the last two countries I would want to visit were South Africa and Israel. South Africa because I thought that just because of my skin color I would be on the wrong side and Israel of course because of the Holocaust.
So, I don´t know why, but in summer of ´83, Israel was where I went. I think it was my thirst for adventure and Israel was not your usual German tourist fun destination, but still Western enough to be somehow familiar, I thought. So I hitchhiked to Athens and caught a cheap flight to Tel Aviv.
In retrospect, it was a pretty good time to visit Israel. They had just given back the Sinai to Egypt (ever heard about any other country voluntarily giving back conquered territory?), the first Intifada had not started yet, so a pretty peaceful time by Israel´s standards.
I had a very adventurous time in Israel.
Never before had I seen that many guns in public. Whereas in Germany in those days, they kept the army pretty much in their barracks and the only people with guns in public were policemen with their small pistols, in Israel there were soldiers everywhere carrying their machine guns. In the buses, you could tell immediately when a soldier wanted to get off the bus. He would put the magazine back into the gun before he would even get up, leading to many uncomfortable situations for me, with a loaded machine gun pointed at me, the muzzle just a few centimeters away from my face. Muzzle tov!
I got scolded at the Haifa GPO for leaving my styrofoam covered, 5 liter water canteen unattended at some counter and finally understood their concern when I heard a bomb go off inside the old city of Jerusalem, while walking along outside of it along the city walls, almost getting run down by a policeman on horseback who was rushing towards one of the city gates.
I got stuck at Massada, the Jewish Alamo, during Sabbat, scavenging the bins for something to eat.
I was stupid enough to want to sleep at the Mediterranean beach in Gaza. Luckily a friendly jogger warned me that the IDF patrols at night would shoot first, ask questions later, so I withdrew into a field behind the beach and sure enough I was woken up later that night by the sound of army jeeps on the beach and the gleaming beam of their search light, but they didn´t see me.
The next morning I was cornered by a bunch of angry Palestinians who wanted to know what I was doing in their grape field. When I told them I had hidden there from the Israeli night patrols, they smiled and stuffed me with grapes till I couldn´t say Allahu-akhbar anymore.
I spent a weekend at the Kibbuz in Rosh HaNikra, close to the Libanese border, without having Katyushas raining down on me, but having a blast swimming in the surf in front of the grottoes.
I even got a bed there in the kibbutz and lots to eat, so much in fact that I got stomach ache.
I got wasted by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, courtesy of an Israeli family who filled me up with raki till I couldn´t say Mazeltov anymore.
All the time I slept mostly somewhere outside, in the parks of cities or somewhere in nature, roughing it was the name of the game.
But then one day, the dreaded thing did happen.
I was sitting in front of a fallafel shop, doing my muesli routine. I had brought a big plastic bag full of muesli from Germany, a mix of oat flakes, hazelnuts, raisins and milk powder and was putting it dry into my mouth in hopes of finding a friendly fallafel donor and sure enough, out of a group of middle-aged men, one man came forward, bought me some fallafel with bread and salad and invited me to sit and eat at their table.
All was fine until they asked that dreaded question „Where are you from?“.
Now I didn´t want to lie, so I answered uneasily “Germany“.
They immediately understood my concern, smiled and said
“No problem, you have nothing to do with this, you´re too young!“
Wow, there it was, my first absolution by members of the people my people had murdered by the millions. They didn´t even mention the Holocaust, they just referred to it as “this“. A few years later, I encountered much more hatred on holiday in France from old French people who I guess were prepared to hate us Germans till they died, but it didn´t bother me much, maybe because I had gotten my absolution before in Israel.
That day in Israel I felt some big relief that those Israelis were able to see me for what I was, innocent like any child or young person who wasn´t even born when this happpened.
But even nowadays, after having been acquainted with the idea of karma many years ago, I still sometimes ask myself:
What kind of karma must we Germans, as a people, have, that it was us, the people of poets and thinkers, as we like to call ourselves, that had to give the world this? Why were we chosen to kill the chosen people? Why, in a continent with centuries of anti-semitism, of progroms, of an unforgiving Christian church who never forgave the Jews for sentencing Jesus to death, not understanding that their very religion was based on Jesus´death on the cross, and if there really existed this omnipotent God they believed in, the Jews were just his instrument, why it had to be the Germans to excel in genocide? Because we are so efficient? Because nobody can imagine an Italian or a Frenchman planning the Holocaust? Why not? Because their lunchbreaks are too long?
Was Eichmann the only one who could have done it?
In her book „Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil“ , Hannah Arendt describes him as a normal guy, no monster. That got her a lot of flak. I guess people wanted to see him as a monster, meaning instant absolution for them, because they are no monster and only a monster could have planned the Holocaust. Apparently not. Arendt called him an administrative mass murderer, not a monster, but your typical German, who was exceptionally good in what Germans are very good in anyway, following orders, without questioning them.
Now I have never been to Auschwitz and I don´t intend to go, but in 1983 when I was in Israel and after I got my absolution at the fallafel shop I felt brave enough to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
It was an experience out of this world.
There I was, a member of the Tätervolk, “people of perpetrators“ standing under a dome-shaped roof with a few hundred pictures of the murdered on its ceiling, looking down on me.
Looking up to them, I first felt an immense sadness rising up in me, tears filling my eyes. Then shame and guilt, the mountain pictures from school reappearing.
Then the strangest thing happened.
I suddenly felt very peaceful in there, as if the dead from the ceiling were forgiving me, like the guys at the fallafel shop had given me absolution, so those two things did come together under the dome, the experience of a real life event with real people and the experience of being forgiven by the dead, if real or only imagined, who knows.
It is said, it is in our generation, of the children of those people, who were children in WW II, were the work of healing has to be done on a psychological and energetic level, because our parents could only be concerned with the physical level.
As my aunt once put it “We had no time for therapy, we were busy with surviving.“
Science coined the expression “transgenerational trauma“, meaning, though my generation never had to sit in bomb shelters, hearing the bombs falling, never knowing if you would see another day, losing everything, except the clothes on your body in the phosphor fires, never seen the dead bodies of those who didn´t make it to the shelters in the streets, never gone hungry a single day, that all the horrors our parents experienced as children in the war, which they perceived as victims, like any child with bombs falling down on it will, all the trauma will be somehow passed on to their children, still effecting their life on an energetic and psychological level.
And I think, at this day in Yad Vashem, some of this healing took place.
Luckily, nobody asked me in there where I was from, because people don´t talk in there, I guess. I perceived it as a place of silent mourning for some, or of dignified commemoration for others.
You don´t go in there to ask why, you acknowledge the facts and pay your respects, that´s it. There is no room for questions and no room for answers, you just are in there. I didn´t even really know, why I went there, I guess to find some answers, or some kind of redemption, and maybe without even knowing it, Yad Vashem was the whole real purpose of and reason for my trip to Israel, some kind of energetic pull, some karmic washing machine I had to go through.