Who led Israel after Joshua's death?
Survived the Holocaust, a stranger in her new home. The difficult life path of German Jews in Israel
Instead of sympathy, Holocaust survivors in Israel often met with suspicion in the early years. That is overcome today. The story of an emancipation.
On the night of February 13-14, 1945, when the Americans and the British were preparing to bomb Dresden, Liselotte Zeckendorf was standing at the large stove in the kitchen of the SS satellite camp in Oederan, making soup. The German guard sat in a corner and gave her one order after the other in a harsh tone. She said "Lisa" on the duo, Lisa sneered back. She liked doing kitchen evening duty, because that meant one more soup a day, a thin broth of beets, potatoes and a little salt, but still one more soup. Lisa had to cook for the Jewish women who had been transferred from the Auschwitz extermination camp to Oederan in October 1944 and who now had to manufacture ammunition for the total war of the Nazis in the closed sewing thread factory Kabis.
Oederan is located near Dresden. It was ten o'clock in the evening when Lisa felt an unusual breath. She checked the windows, but they were closed. The breath turned into a draft, something began to whir, it turned into a rumble, and finally a roar. The air raid on Dresden had begun. "Turn off the light!" Shouted the guard, Lisa obeyed, and then the two women sat in the darkness and listened to the tremors. In the distance the corona of the fire inferno glowed.
"War is a terrible thing"
Suddenly the guard said this sentence, which had accompanied Lisa all her life: "Would you like to sit down with me, please." The Nazi woman wanted to be comforted by a Jewish prisoner. Lisa was amazed, but moved towards her. "War is a terrible thing," said the guard after a while. "Yes," answered Lisa. "We Germans certainly didn't want war," came next. "We Jews definitely don't," answered Lisa. "Our leader knows nothing about these camps." The young Jewess preferred to remain silent afterwards, the guard accepted it. Instead, she asked, "Do you think we're going to die?"
At that moment Lisa felt that the woman next to her was trembling all over. She was afraid, and fear made her talkative. She talked about her family, about her youth very close to Oederan, about her parents and her fiancé. "I do not wanna die. I'm only 23, "said the guard. "I'm only 19," Lisa replied. "What do you think we're going to die here?" Asked the guard again. "Very likely," replied Lisa. She wasn't afraid. She had been to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz. But she wondered what she would do if the guard asked her to hold her hand. At that moment the siren of the all-clear sounded, and suddenly the frightened person next to her became the old disciplinarian. "Come on, take the broom!"
Lisa Zeckendorf is now called Debora Kutzinski and lives in Tel Aviv, a very alert lady of 95 years, who would be given at most 70 years. She is a well-known psychologist, the leading student of the Jungian Erich Neumann. Lisa came to Israel immediately after the war, in 1946, as an enthusiastic young Zionist - alone after her entire family and her husband had been murdered in the Holocaust. And she is one of those who stayed, although she too had to learn that the survivors in the promised land were often met with suspicion, sometimes even hostility.
From today's point of view it is hard to believe, but at that time not a few Israelis thought that the late newcomers had collaborated with the Nazis, bought themselves out or possibly even delivered their fellow men to the knife in order to survive. "You should have defended yourself" was another, often heard accusation. And the survivors often developed feelings of guilt. In the case of Deborah, these were vague, only occasional self-reproaches that she has long since overcome. She has never experienced public hostility in those years. But it did exist, and how.
Tom Segev, a representative of the “new historians” of Israel, mentions a rather terrible dictum of the founder of the state Ben Gurion: “Among the survivors of the German concentration camps there were those who would not have survived if they had not been what they were : hard, evil, selfish. " "Sabon", soap, was one of the common names for the survivors who came after the war, it refers to - since refuted - reports according to which the Nazis made soap from the body fat of the Jews. It is an attitude that Segev describes as "perverse". As a cultural phenomenon, however, it cannot be denied.
The heavy cloak of silence
But the hostility had less to do with malice than with ignorance. Many Israelis born in the yishuv, i.e. before the founding of the state in Palestine, simply knew little about the Holocaust. David Witzthum, a well-known television presenter and political scientist in Israel, says yes, there has been criticism of the survivors. But it usually only takes place subliminally and in allusions. For him, the defining feature of that time is the great, overwhelming silence. The survivors suffered severe trauma that they did not want to talk about, the Jews of the yishuv did not ask. What there were were individual narratives, stories about the camp like that of Debora Kutzinski or that of the Italian writer Primo Levi, who wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz. These reports, says Witzthum, were mostly very differentiated. It happened that good Germans were also reported: Witzthum's uncle, for example, was rescued by an SS officer. But who knew anything about the comprehensive German program for the extermination of the Jews? Up until 1960, there were next to no reports about the concentration camps in the media.
The turning point came with the Eichmann trial. This trial, which lasted from April to December 1961, brought the whole harrowing scale of the Nazi crimes before the world and changed the public consciousness in Israel abruptly. The plurality of individual stories turned into a homogeneous, large narrative, the Holocaust became tangible in all of its enormous dimensions. Hannah Arendt's insights into the “banality of evil” and, above all, her strong criticism of the Jewish councils, which worked with the Nazis, initially received little attention in Israel, but moved the Jewish diaspora violently, especially in the USA.
After the Eichmann trial, the state gradually took over the collective memory of the horrors of the Shoah, think of the official Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrations or the Yad Vashem memorial. For Debora Kutzinski this is a matter of course, after all, the state represents the Jewish people. Holocaust research began on a broad scale and continues to fuel international collaboration among contemporary historians to this day. The knowledge of what was once repressed grew. Israeli journalists now went to Auschwitz and Treblinka in greater numbers. And the victims, unjustly suspected for so long, gradually regained their dignity.
Debora Kutzinski still speaks good, somewhat literary German today. She was born in Brno in 1925, into a well-off bourgeois family full of music, with an excellent singing mother and a "heavily introverted" father, a professor. It was not unusual for people to speak German. In 1930, over three million Germans lived in what is now the Czech Republic. Then came the Nazis and the war, in 1942 the whole family was ordered to Theresienstadt. Debora Kutzinski's story is remarkably neutral and differentiated.
Beyond the tracks
Compared to Auschwitz, the Theresienstadt ghetto was downright paradise, she says. Sure, one suffered. Meningitis and jaundice claimed their victims, and there was this eternal, crippling fear of deportation, torture, and death. In addition, however, a "wonderful cultural activity" developed. Operas and plays were performed, and Debora Kutzinski remembers Verdi's Requiem. Well-known professors came and read. Her mother sang, and Lisa, "deeply in love", was able to marry her 22-year-old Peter; she was trusted by the well-known Rabbi Leo Baeck, who in 1943 had also been deported to Theresienstadt. But then the decision came: Peter should be transported away. The cattle wagons were ready. Lisa went to the ramp with Peter and told the young SS man who was watching the loading that she wanted to stay with her husband and drive with him. "Not you! Step back!" Lisa insisted, the SS man remained tough.
Then Lisa said, and she still doesn't know where she got the chutzpah from: "If I'm not allowed to go with you, he won't drive either." The young SS man had a pistol. He could have shot her, it wouldn't have hindered his career. But he didn't shoot, just stared wordlessly for a minute. Then he composed himself and barked: "Both of you step back!" And so Lisa and Peter had another week together in their little attic in Theresienstadt. It should be the last. The next call came a week later. Lisa again asked the SS man at the ramp - it was someone else - to be allowed to accompany her husband, and this time her plan worked. They both came to Auschwitz in the middle of the night. Under the blazing spotlights, women and men and the strong and the weak were separated. It was the last time Lisa saw Peter.
Auschwitz was hell. There was hardly anything to eat, in winter it was freezing cold and epidemics raged. The women died like flies, Lisa still weighed 33 kilograms. She expected to be killed every day. And she was already on her way to death, literally. Railroad tracks ran through the area of the concentration camp. The inmates knew that anyone who walked “across the tracks” would not come back. Beyond the rails were the gas chambers, from whose "showers" the hydrocyanic acid-containing Zyklon B flowed, and the crematoria with the incinerators. One day in October 1944 the command came. Lisa crossed the tracks with a group of other women, convinced that she would have to die now. Then another order came, the troop stopped. The women waited in the freezing cold, then it was said: "Back to the barracks!" The ovens were overcrowded, that had saved Lisa. Shortly afterwards she was brought to Oederan. Four months later came the Allied air raid on Dresden.
In April 1945 the women from Oederan were loaded into cattle trucks again. The train drove back and forth for days and got stuck because the tracks were bombed. The SS henchmen were helpless and almost seemed happy when the captured Jewish women suggested they go to Theresienstadt. The women had to get out a few kilometers before the camp, and Lisa finally came back to the camp on foot. The ICRC was already there, there was soup, clothes and medicine. Lisa says some of the exhausted, starved women died because their stomachs couldn't handle the amounts they were given. At the beginning of May, more people died of typhus.
Lisa survived one more time, and when she heard that there were trains to Prague, she and a friend drove to the Czechoslovak capital. They arrived early in the morning of May 13th, shortly after the liberation of Prague. Church bells rang, flags waved, there was dancing in the street. Lisa and her friend stood there and cried. That night the Czechs took the Germans out of their homes and put them in their own concentration camps. On the same day, Lisa and her friend were given a two-room apartment. An SS officer must have lived in it, the shiny boots still stood in the corner. The shower worked. For the first time in years, Lisa enjoyed the benefits of warm water.
Longing for the old home
Lisa Zeckendorf came to Palestine in 1946. She settled in quickly, came to a Czechoslovak-German kibbutz of the Zionist youth, tried it as a sports teacher and journalist, was enthusiastic about C. G. Jung and finally became a psychologist. She only struggled with Hebrew, and that is symptomatic.
The German-speaking Jews were attached to their language and culture, and many of them never quite learned the idiom of their new homeland. And German was frowned upon. Goethe, Schiller and Kästner might approach. But anyone who advocated cultural relationships had to "explain" it. "Don't speak this Nazi language," a man on the bus said at Herzl biographer and archivist Alex Bein. No wonder that many felt strange in their new home. Max Brod, the administrator of Kafka's estate, valiantly praises his new home in his readable book “Argumentable Life” and tries to win what is good for it. And yet you can feel in every line how strange this hot country full of rough, loud people was to those who fled at the last second in 1939.
For years, the Tom Segevs family also thought that one day they would return to Germany. The longing was understandable: the German Jews did not live in ghettos like the Eastern Europeans, but in the middle of society, often as successful and valued bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs and artists. Most of them did not come to Israel as Zionists, but as refugees. They were proud of what they had created, and this pride was due to the fact that not only they, but also many Eastern European Jews recognized the dominance of German culture and its universal validity. In Poland and Russia, too, the legacy of Goethe and Heine was seen by many as something like “culture par excellence”. Even in the USA after the Second World War, German culture dominated: The fact that tens of thousands of scientists, writers and artists, many of them Jews, fled to America or resettled, was not without effect.
So it came about that many German Jews secluded themselves, dreaming of their lost old homeland in their fortresses on Mount Carmel in Haifa, in Nahariya, in Tel Aviv and in the Jerusalem district of Rehavia. The disillusionment was enormous, Tom Segev wrote that many simply did not have the courage to emigrate again.
Joshua Shafir sits on the Presidium of the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin, which in fact consists almost exclusively of German speakers. His parents, who came in 1935, did not speak Hebrew either. When the television came, they stuck to the German channels. The Israeli documentary “Die Wohnung” from 2011 exemplifies the persistent nostalgia of German speakers. They had lost the ground under their feet, which made them inclined to scatter the gold dust of the Transfiguration over the past. Debora Kutzinski speaks of a “love-hate relationship”. The German Jews were torn between their love for German culture and language and their hatred of Germany.
The Jeckes have a career
The German Jews with their backwardness did not make themselves popular in dynamic Israel. The term "Jeckes" had been used even before the war. Presumably it goes back to the suit vests, the "jackets" that the German Jews wore even when they did heavy physical labor. At first he was meant to be derisive and condescending, and the Jeckes did a lot to confirm the cliché. The anecdote is known to every Israeli: The Jeckes had to go to the building, because there was only work on the building site, and they passed the bricks to each other: "Here you go, Doctor - thank you, Professor, very friendly." The cliché wanted the Jeckes to be intellectual, pedantic, aloof and arrogant, quite "German" in fact. And as is so often the case, the cliché did not completely ignore reality.
But a lot has changed. At first, many German Jews may have found their nickname offensive, but later most of them tolerated it or even adopted it in good-natured self-irony. The Jeckes knew their cultural weight and could take ridicule. What was flawed up to twenty years ago is proudly held up today. The sticker on the car reads “Jecke am Steuer” (Jecke at the wheel). The driver is saying: “I blink when I turn” (which is, to put it mildly, not the norm in Israel). And when the Yemeni worker advertises his work as "jeckish", he means that it is better than what you get in often rather sloppy Israel: more precise, more solid, more beautiful.
But not all jackets are the same. Should one also count among the Jeckes the German-speaking Jews who came to Israel from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary? Most of the Israelis consulted firmly denied this. Debora Kutzinski has never been referred to as a Jecke, she does not see herself as a Jecke at all, and in fact it does seem questionable, the Viennese Jews, for example, who are neither jagged nor pedantic, but cozy and grumpy and also happy to be an eighth drink, to be called Jeckes.Teddy Kollek, the Mayor of Jerusalem, born in Hungary and raised in Vienna, was known for taking a nap in public every now and then, a real Jecke would not have done that.
Jews from Prague, Krakow, Brno and Warsaw sometimes place a surprisingly high value on not being Jeckes. Was Herzl, born in Pest, a jerk? He is said to have agreed with Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, that a Jecke is someone who really comes from Germany and doesn't really understand any Jewish idiom. The advice of the Israeli forefathers should be respected here, even if it must be clearly stated that outsiders hardly ever placed any value on this distinction. For them everyone who spoke German was Jeckes.
The German-speaking Jews were not among the most zealous Zionists. By 1933 only a little more than 2000 came into the country, the glowing appeals of the Zionists of the first hour left many German Jews indifferent. Between 1933 and 1936 around 60,000 came, most of them on the basis of an agreement between the Jewish Agency and Nazi Germany, some even with a fair share of their property. The cooperation of the Jewish Agency with the Nazis has led to bitter debates in the Jewish world and has brought the agency the charge of collaboration, just like the Jewish councils, which Hannah Arendt sharply criticized in her report on the Eichmann trial.
The debate is still controversial. But today many Israelis concede that the Jewish organizations were compulsory corporations created by Germans, forced to cooperate with the Nazis. Debora Kutzinski is crystal clear in this regard. The Jewish councils, she says, who had to select up to 1,500 people per week in Theresienstadt to be transported to the extermination camps, were in a desperate situation. Ultimately, they would always have done anything to save lives. "Hannah Arendt should have been there." But Debora Kutzinski believes this debate is largely over. What worries them more is the accusation that the Jews went "like lambs to the slaughter", a variant of the assumption that the catastrophe could have been averted with a little more resistance.
Measured by their number, the German-speaking Jews have had a major impact on Israel. Culture, science, music, architecture and the media were their domains. Max Brod, Arnold Zweig, Heinrich Jacobi and Martin Buber do not need to be introduced. Those interested should also be familiar with Josef Burg, a left-wing, moderate rabbi and politician, the painter Anna Ticho, and Lotte Cohn, a Bauhaus architect from Charlottenburg.
The Bauhaus settlements in Tel Aviv and Haifa are jeckish projects designed by Jewish architects who received their training in Dessau. German-speaking Jews could be found at universities and in the banking industry, they worked as agronomists and company founders, the most famous of them is probably Stef Wertheimer, 93 years old, founder of numerous industrial parks, today the richest Israeli and initiator of the «Center of the Cultural Heritage of the Jeckes »At Nahariya. Schmuel Federman, born in Chemnitz, founded the largest Israeli hotel chain, the Dan-Hotels.
The Jeckes are still well represented in bourgeois culture and science. In pop culture and the entertainment industry, on the other hand, the Mizrahim, the Jews from Africa and Asia, dominate.
The Jeckes were less common in politics. It was practically the natural home of the Eastern European Jews, who were highly organized and with the dogged élan of the ideologues built up the socialist Israel of the first decades. The Jeckes lacked the elbows of the Eastern Europeans and their determination. They were the bearers of the Haskala, the "Jewish Enlightenment" of Moses Mendelsohn and David Friedländer, which had a much harder time in Eastern Europe than in German-speaking countries.
Many Israeli diplomats around the world were jeckes. And paradoxically, it was they too, the displaced and fled, who were the first to help Ben Gurion to bring about rapprochement with post-war Germany. The subsequent efforts to achieve what was sometimes called “reparation” - an absurd word, there is nothing “to make amends” about the Holocaust - were also carried out by German-speaking Jews; Several Israeli newspapers were founded by Jeckes. The newspaper “Maariv” is the child of Ezriel Carlebach, born in Leipzig in 1908, the “Haaretz”, founded by the British in 1918, came into the possession of Salman Schocken, a German-speaking Jew from Posen, whose descendants still 60 percent of the Own shares.
Pause for the Holocaust victims
On the Memorial Day for the Holocaust victims, the sirens sound for two minutes in Israel. Then life in the country stands still for a moment.
More liberal and less ideological
In the great conflict between Jews and Arabs, the Jews of the German language, as Ashkenazim, tended to play a more moderate role. The emphasis is on “tendency”, because the German-speaking Jews never appeared as an ideologically rigid group, so they cannot be assigned a uniform stance. There were left, middle and right, there were religious and atheists. "Their mentality," says Witzthum, was on the whole more liberal than that of the Eastern European Jews. A typical Jeckish group on the left is Brit Shalom ("Friedensbund"), an association of intellectuals that was founded in the mid-twenties and committed to fair coexistence between Jews and Arabs in one state. Its founders included such illustrious figures as Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, the historian Hans Kohn and the philosopher Hugo Bergmann.
German-speaking Jews were strong and influential, especially in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Today they hardly appear as a group in public discourse, unlike the Mizrahim, the Yemenites or the Ethiopian Jews, the Beta Israel. Joshua Shafir estimates that around a quarter of a million second, third, fourth and fifth generation Jeckes live in Israel today, but no one has exact numbers. In any case, the Jeckes and the German Jews of Eastern Central Europe have long since mixed with Mizrahim, Sephardim and non-Jews. And the quarrels of yore have lost their sharpness.
Debora Kutzinski never went back to Germany: "I had no cause," she says. While the second generation was often ashamed of their parents' German, German courses are in vogue today. Many of Jeckes' children and grandchildren moved to Berlin, partly because of the relaxed life, but also because they suddenly became curious. They want to know what their ancestors did in Germany, how they lived and loved until they were driven into exile by the Nazis. Of the many forms of rapprochement, it is certainly the most sustainable, the best.
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