Thursday, October 2, 2008

Reflections on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – in 1970 Germany

In the sequel to MRS. LIEUTENANT – MRS. LIEUTENANT IN EUROPE – when Sharon and Robert are stationed with the U.S. Army in Munich, Sharon is on a German train traveling north from Munich when she reflects on a Yom Kippur experience in Munich:

Once more being on a German train made Sharon think about the German trains that had carried so many Jews to their deaths. For those Jews the answer to their Yom Kippur prayers had not been a long life.

The chaplain had asked Sharon and Robert if an enlisted man and his wife stationed in Oberammergau where there was no Jewish chaplain could stay with Sharon and Robert for the High Holidays. Sharon had said, “If they bring their own sheets.”

Although the couple had not come up to Munich for Rosh Hashanah, they had come up last weekend for Yom Kippur. For the meal before the start of the 25-hour total fast Sharon had only two plastic soup bowls loaned her by their sponsor’s wife. They had used two pots for the additional soup bowls.

The wife, Greta, had been born in Germany after the end of World War II in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp. Her Holocaust-survivor parents spoke German to her as her first language. This stood her in good stead when her husband Paul had to find housing for her “on the economy.” They had rented rooms in the home of an Oberammergau family who did not know they were Jews.

The summer of 1970 had been the every-10-year summer-long Passion Play pageant in Oberammergau. The town had put on this pageant for hundreds of years, and through the years different versions of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus had been used. In recent years the pageant had been charged with anti-Semitism. Thus this past summer surveys had been handed out to attendees to gauge the level of anti-Semitism.

“We had to move out of the family home for the entire time of the pageant,” Greta said. “The family could rent those rooms for much more money.”

“We found rooms in a nearby hunting lodge,” Paul said, “and we returned to our original rented rooms at the end of the summer.”

And that’s when the family offered to show Greta and Paul the surveys. “The surveys said that the Oberammergau Passion Play wasn’t anti-Semitic because it was true. The Jews killed Jesus.” Greta’s hands twisted together when she said this falsehood.

“And that’s why I wore my uniform up here for Yom Kippur services,” Paul said. “The head of the motor pool is a German whose daughter is Greta’s friend. If he had seen me in civilian clothes going to Munich, he would have figured out we were Jews going to Yom Kippur services.”

Greta nodded. “Then his daughter might have stopped speaking to me and I wouldn’t have any friends.”

Now from her seat in the train Sharon can consider this story in its entirety. She realizes that, because Yom Kippur this year had been a Friday night and Saturday, the motor pool German would not have thought it strange for Greta and Paul to be going away for the weekend. And as Rosh Hashanah this year had been a Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday, Greta and Paul probably didn’t come up to Munich because it would have been a giveaway, even with Paul in uniform, to be going up to Munich mid-week the same days as the Jewish New Year.

Sharon glances out the window at the seemingly peaceful German villages as the train rushes past. How terrible for Greta and Paul to feel persecuted in Germany 25 years after the end of WWII.

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