One day in August when I was walking around downtown Leipzig, I suddenly started hearing Hasidic music. I thought the heat was getting to me, but as I got closer to Primark, it only got stronger. When I arrived at Goerdelerring, I saw it - a kosher Jewish food market, stands of the soccer team "Maccabi Bar Kochba," and a central stage with songs in Hebrew and dancing!
As soon as I let it all sink in, I approached the stage area to read the information on the flyers. Then a nice woman named Talitha approached me and told me about the March of Life, on which I will expand in a future post, but here's a little bit of its history:
"The March of Life is an initiative by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner and TOS Ministries from Tübingen, Germany. Together with descendants of German Wehrmacht soldiers and members of the SS and police force, they have organized memorial and reconciliation marches at sites of the Holocaust all over Europe. Since the beginning of this movement in 2007, marches have been held in 20 nations and in more than 400 cities in cooperation with Christians from different churches and denominations, as well as from many Jewish communities" (MarchOfLife.org).
Talitha told me that TOS Gemeinschaft, of which she is a member, was organizing an exhibition next to the church about the Jews of Leipzig during the Holocaust, besides the March of Life and everything in between. What's more, a kosher cafe would go in next door. Filled with excitement, I asked to be informed once it had opened.
And now, in October, it really happened. I was invited for a guided tour of the exhibition and coffee and cake in the cafe and now I want to share with you the experience I had and what awaits you when you visit this amazing place.
It is important to note that the people who opened it all, came up with the idea, did the research, collected all the materials, and actively participated in the construction of the coffee and exhibit spot "Hamakom" ("the place" in Hebrew), were all part of the church, i.e. Christians. I was interested to know: What makes someone wake up one day and ask themselves, "what did my grandparents do during the Holocaust?" This is a question many Germans are afraid to know the answer to.
Talitha and the museum guide named Constanze spoke of a movement that started in the church and asked the exact same question. Most people who were confronted with this intriguing (and somewhat intimidating) question usually responded with "my family was not involved with the Nazi movement."
"Most people don't want to believe their family history somehow took part in the horrors," they said. "Understandable, but it does not help us understand the history at all. This is nothing [for them] to be ashamed of since this was part of the past."
So they began looking into their past and found some troubling but important information about their grandparents.
That's how it all started. From then on, the March of Life was established, and later the idea for this exhibition. The entrance to the exhibition is from the small and warm cafe, which in cooperation with the Jewish community of Leipzig is qualified to sell kosher food and currently offers cakes and coffee to anyone interested. On the walls, you can see pictures related to Judaism and even a Chanukah menorah near the window. Inside the cafe, right next to the entrance to the exhibition, you can see a map that shows and explains all kinds of places associated with Jews locally in the period before the Holocaust - schools, synagogues, businesses, and cultural spots. You can also see the places in existence today associated with the community (mainly the synagogue and the Holocaust memorial).
At the entrance to the exhibition on the right side, you can see posters concerning anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitic sayings in Germany. These images provide answers to some burning questions: What were the thoughts that led to the Holocaust? What is the role of the church in the waves of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism? What forms of expression does anti-Semitism have? It was quite unsettling to see the look of disappointment and pain on Constanze's face, as she explained the meaning of the posters. When you move further through the posters, you see what happened in Leipzig during the Holocaust and also the progress of the Nazis over time.
From there we move on to what I would consider the most thought-provoking part of the exhibition: What happened after the Holocaust?
Constanze explained that the general way of thought in Germany after the Holocaust was "it's better to look forward and not back," or "we too were part of those who suffered," or "we didn't know the scale."
In some cases, the stories were hidden and buried, and in the worst cases, they were changed so that the grandparents were heroes. In the corner, you will see a table with a photo book on it; photos representing proof that the family took an active part in the Holocaust were torn from this book. If you open the drawer on the right, you can see some of the photos that had been ripped out of the family albums to cover up the history. In the drawer on the left, you can see a document that any German can ask to receive, which tells their grandparents' life histories. That's how the church members found out what really happened, or what the real story was that their families didn't want to tell.
On the central pillar, you can read about the experiences of active church members whose families do not share in the narrative, or change it so that it sounds nicer. They tell of their discoveries regarding the reality behind the characters in their lives. I personally found it extremely brave to try to investigate their families' past, knowing that there is definitely a chance to find tales that may be difficult to live with later. One of the things that really amazed me was that, especially after the revelations, they said that this was their way to fight anti-Semitism, show that they recognize the past, talk about it in the present, and prepare the population for a future where such an occurrence will not repeat itself.
The rest of the exhibition has personal stories of Holocaust survivors and information about the March of Life and its involvement with Israel and the world these days. At the end of the exhibition, you will be able to see a video about the March of Life, the whole concept and how it spread to the world, what activities the organizers do, and how they even came to Israel to establish the "March of the Nations" every year on Holocaust Day. The stories and explanations show shame for the past, but above all, they provide a spark of hope for a future where this past does not repeat itself. The March of Life continues to spread and exists in many countries and cities around the world and its goal is to make sure that the parades from here on out will celebrate life. Although the exhibition is small, it tells so much. I can say that the feeling I got is mainly one of joy and hope and it seems that we will hear a lot more from them.
Information about the exhibition-
The exhibition is open for free on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 15:00-18:00 and Saturdays from 11:00-16