World War II is over, Nazi Germany is defeated. Humanity, its amazing unquenchable spirit, begins living anew. At the end of the war, millions were dead and all but 15,000 German Jews were in foreign lands. There is to be a remarkable migration of Jews back to Germany closely following the end of the war.
Susan Stern is a renowned international lecturer of intercultural issues, author of numerous books, economist, journalist, editor and professor of English and American studies at the University of Frankfurt in Germany. She is currently on leave to present a lecture series. Monday night at Cal Poly, Stern gave a lecture of her experiences, understanding and insight into Germany’s contemporary jewish community.
Stern has done extensive research and has the perspective of a Jewish woman who spent 30 years living in the Jewish community in Germany. She emphasized in a phone conversation that her speech wasn’t about religion or about Germany, although that is part of the story.
“My talk isn’t concerned about religion. It is about Jews and the curious and wonderful thing of returning to live and stay in Germany after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust,” she said.
At the end of war, Stern said only 15,000 Jews remained in Germany, and by 1946 that number grew to 200,000. Many Jews returned to Germany because other countries were denying their visas if they didn’t believe Jews had considerable value, such as an education or money.
The Polish and the Eastern European Jews couldn’t get visas to the West so they went to Germany. Germany welcomed them, and let them speak for themselves, Stern said.
“It makes me feel good to see how Germany has behaved. They are more tolerant of Jews than most other countries,” said Saeed Niku, professor of mechanical engineering.
Stern said even today, Poles come across the border as guest workers. They pick asparagus for three weeks, earn Germany’s fantastic labor wages, then return to Poland, according to Stern’s presentation. As the economy in Germany begins to falter, unemployment ranges from 10 to 30 percent in northern Germany.
Germany has done a lot of reparation for the Jewish genocide, Stern said, which took time.
“In the seventies, this was what is called a ‘Veil of Silence’ It was an unspoken rule, no talking about what happened in Germany during the war,” she said.
She said it was an American TV series that was the catalyst for the silence to finally be broken. It was good in the end, Stern said, but painful. When children learned of their parents acts, their anger was palatable. They hated their race, their parents, and their past. Stern said it has healed.
The German government sponsors Stern’s lecture circuit. She was heard giving a lecture and was approached by a government official with an offer to tell the world about how Germany and the Jews are doing, she said.
A Jewish audience member asked Stern why, when they visited Germany recently, there was an armed escort always in front and behind their bus, and why there are soldiers at all synagogues.
“The German government is so very concerned for the well-being of the Jewish people,” she said.
“They will do almost anything ask of them.”