by Rabbi Donald Kunstadt

Why would a rabbi want to travel to Berlin, Germany? Certainly there are more pleasant places to visit, from Tahiti to Hong Kong, on the bucket list of life. Well, for one, Germany is closer. Second, I must admit a curiosity as to what modern-day Berlin is like. It has a reputation for being über hip. After traveling there, I don’t know if I would characterize it in that way; however, it certainly is a progressive city by American standards. Third, my father leaving Vienna at the age of 16 as a refugee from the Nazis must have had something to do with it.

In fact, I had traveled to Germany in the past and found the German people to be among the very friendliest of all Europeans to Americans. It does seem an odd turn of events that the Germans, at least ostensibly, would be the warmest to Americans. Certainly it is difficult to visit Berlin and not think of World War II and all the people who died to vanquish the terror of the Nazis. Bullet holes can still be seen in a few buildings, if one looks carefully. Sixty-seven years later, it is clearly a different generation.

We had the wonderful experience of spending two days with friends we had known from Mobile, AL. They were both born in Berlin and both had experienced World War II as very young children, and lived through the immediate destruction in the aftermath of the war. One friend’s father, I discovered, had lost his arm fighting in the German army against the Soviets as they entered Berlin. My father had served in the American Army.

I will only elaborate upon one historical site for its Jewish significance, though there are certainly many to see, from the Holocaust Memorial to the new Jewish Museum. It is a new museum called the Topography of Terror, only recently opened, and built upon the site of the SS headquarters in Berlin. Though almost all of the original building was demolished, to know one is standing on the site of the central Nazi police headquarters, the place from which a hideous reign of terror was orchestrated, is a powerful emotional experience. Today, it is an outstanding museum documenting the rise of the Nazi movement. In the pictures presented, it is clear Hitler was an expert in media manipulation long before many realized the importance and effect of well-made propaganda.

How a country’s worst enemy becomes a country’s best friend is a powerful lesson in many things. If ever there was a just war, it was the war against Hitler – but still an estimated 50,000,000 to 70,000,000 people had to die. And now Germany and the United States are the best of friends. The banality of evil in war is almost incomprehensible, but unfortunately sure to be repeated.

A Rabbi Visit Berlin

Left, first SS Headquarters Building in Berlin during WWII; right, new museum, “Topography of Terror,” built upon the site of the former SS Headquarters Building.

Rabbi Donald Kunstadt serves as the rabbi of the Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile,  AL, a position which he has held since 1987.

Originally posted at Finding Meaning