Tuesday, April 26, 2005

a jewish-american in berlin

MonkeyScientist is going to be writing something that requires him to interview members of the NPD, understood in these parts to be neo-Nazis. When he left the house yesterday morning for work, he was still waiting for a return phone call from the party spokesman. Don't answer the phone if it rings, he instructed me. We joked about what I would say if I did in fact answer the phone (and did in fact speak any German); it was all ugly. Now that the meet has been arranged we're discussing whether I should tag along as his photographer. He doesn't have to know [what I am], I said. I'll tie up my Judische Haar. But apparently we're not the problem anymore...there aren't enough of us to get blamed for the thinning of German blood. Plenty of other auslanders around for that.


There are little plaques set between the cobblestones outside some of the buildings here. They're imprinted with the names, birthdates, and deportation dates of Jews who lived in the buildings and died during the war. Hier wohnte Jenny Shneeman, jg. 1908, deportiert 1943, gemordet in Auschwitz. Murdered at Auschwitz. Sometimes there will be a few together, three or four or five, and you can guess at the family relationships from the ages: here the grandparents, then their son and his wife, and finally a three-year-old child. All the ones I've seen so far have been Gemordet Auschwitz, or Riga. Some of them went through Theresienstadt on their way to Auschwitz...as a kid, I was in a production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which is set in Terezin (another name for Theresienstadt). I wore black clothes and makeup designed to make me look gaunt. I really had no idea what I was representing. I was just happy to be in the play, and not a member of the crew.


Anything remotely Jewish here has a member of the polizei standing outside. Even the Beth Cafe. Which, when we walked past it last night, had two cops. Looking mighty bored. So you're telling me, I asked MonkeyScientist, that if I wanted to open a business in Berlin, and I wanted free protection from having my windows spray-painted, all I'd have to do was make it clear that it was a Jewish establishment?


An aimless wander left me in front of the New Synagogue, which at one time was the grandest and most beautiful synagogue in all of Europe. The architect was inspired by the Alhambra, and the Moorish influence is evident in everything that remains.

Which is not very much. The New Synagogue was attacked during Kristallnacht, although it escaped complete destruction because a lone police officer rushed over and drove away the arsonists, and made sure the fire department came and put the fire out. Which is pretty extraordinary, considering that most of the rest of Jewish Berlin was allowed to burn that night. However, the building was eventually commandeered by the army, and then used as bomb shelter. Bombs pretty much finished it off.

In 1988, the Jewish community here decided to restore part of the New Synagogue, to show how beautiful it had been. For three euros you can visit the reconstructed part. I was doing fine until I came across a photo of the last wedding ever held at the synagogue, of a rabbi to a young woman with glasses; four years and four months later they went together to Auschwitz. Gemordet. I started crying and then realized that the guards--one, the largest and blondest man I had ever seen in my life, the other a creepily gaunt fellow with bags under the bags under his eyes--were watching me very closely. And I wanted to throw myself on the floor and start screaming, what do you think I'm going to do? I'm certainly not going to hurt anything. You people did enough of that.

And I realized that I was carrying more anger than I realized.