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The Nice German

The Nice German

At the German consulate with my father, a Holocaust survivor.

by

My father is of the age where he no longer drives very long distances. He is willing to go a few blocks to the bank or to the grocery story, but beyond that he lets others do the driving. It was one such occasion when he recently asked me to accompany him to downtown Miami, to the German consulate. I picked him up from his condo where he stays to escape the Canadian winters and helped him into my car and off we went on our little journey.

We reached our destination and I let him off in front of the building so he would not have to walk too far. As I left to park the car, I reminded him that he is going to the 22nd floor and that I would meet him up there soon.

The nearby municipal parking lot was a bit of a rip-off. They charge $6 for the first three-hour increment, even if you are on a half-hour errand which we were. I made a mental note that when I return to my car, I would give my ticket with the remaining time to someone else to put on their dashboard. Why should I let the city gouge two people if I could prevent it?

Upon entering the building, I told the security guard that I am going to the consulate and he walked me to the elevator and punched in a multi-numbered code and then hit the button for the 18th floor.

"Isn't the consulate on the 22nd floor?" I asked him.

"Which consulate are you going to?"

"The German one," I replied.

"Oh," and he then punched in a new code and hit 22.

When the elevator doors opened at the 18th floor I could see a large panoramic photo of Israel on the wall. I guess my kippa created the assumption. A fellow with me in the elevator commented on the irony that both the Israeli and German consulates are in the same building. "Yeah, we have come a long way, haven't we?" I responded.

I joined my dad and waited in the sparse but clean waiting room while ladies behind glass partitions did their bureaucratic work. Fifteen minutes later they announced over the intercom, "Irving Nightingale, Room 1." As I opened the door for my dad, he said to the young blonde German woman, "This is my son. Would it be okay for him to join me?"

Her smile indicated fine. She slipped the document beneath the glass partition through the bank-like metal tray for him to sign. It was the form that proved that he was still alive and therefore still entitled to war reparation payments from the German government after the Holocaust.

The whole thing took only a minute, but for those few moments that I sat next to my father during this very uneventful process, I could not help but note how utterly bizarre and surreal the whole thing really was. Here was this sweet, pleasant young German woman so kindly and politely assisting my father in receiving funds from the German government and, in my mind, I contrasted this to the horrible, savage treatment that he had endured at the hands of her predecessors over 60 years ago. I wondered if my father sensed the irony of the moment but I could not summon the courage to ask.

We have come a long way, haven't we?

I bear no hatred toward this young woman, nor do I assume her grandparents had anything to do with the treatment of my father or the murder of his parents. If anything, at least the German people have taken some responsibility and have remorse for their history, unlike the Cambodians, Soviets or many other nations that have committed similar atrocities but sweep it under the rug. It was just that ... well, I guess that small exchange I had with the fellow in the elevator summed it all up: We have come a long way, haven't we?

We left the building and I told my dad to wait in the lobby while I retrieved the car. At the parking lot I remembered the promise to myself and searched for someone who could use my ticket. I found a nice young touristy looking couple who were a bit distraught because they deposited only three dollars into the parking machine but received no ticket and had no other cash.

I gave them my ticket and they thanked me profusely. Judging by their accent and their appearance I could tell that they were German.

Published: April 18, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 36

(36) N Kahana, June 8, 2009 3:10 PM

Same Feelings

I felt the same way when my family and I had a layover in Frankfurt and my husband wrapped himself up in a tallis to daven shacharis. My boys with their peyos were running around playing, and I couldn't help but think how ironic it was that 60 years ago we would have been herded up and hunted but now the German flight attendants were there to make sure we were comfortable and taken care of. It was an empowering feeling.

(35) Feigele, May 22, 2009 1:08 PM

Polite but not Forgiven!

It is not for us who are alive today to forgive such atrocities but rather for those 6 millions Jews who perished then. Ask them if they can forgive the people who so unquestionably and so easily followed such evil and cruel monsters? Blood runs deep! And for what? Can you tell me what for and why? I never knew any of my grandparents or extended family, they all perished in Lithuania and in Poland. Two of my mother’s sisters got caught in France and in Belgium, they didn’t want to follow my parents who went to hide in Normandie and survived, thanks to the Americans who arrived on time, few days later, I wouldn’t be here. One of my mother's cousin got caught in Lithuania and while they killed his wife and child and family, he was sent to a concentration camp for 5 years until the Americains came again just on time. Israel is not just for the Jews. It is also for the Christian and Muslims. Between us, it will always and for ever only be “polite” but never ever forgiven nor forgotten. It is our burden, us Jews, to bear this eternal remembrance.

(34) Renate, May 9, 2009 10:10 AM

Dear Feigele! I am German and I have a lot of friends, who love Israel and can´t understand what had happened 70 years ago , we just can ask you to forgive our nation.

(33) Anonymous, April 26, 2009 11:57 AM

Honesty

Thank you for the thought provoking article. I read it to to my family at the Shabbos table. Please permit me a side question. Does halach allow a person to pass over his parking ticket to the driver of a different vehicle who didn't pay for the parking previleges?

(32) Feigele, April 24, 2009 9:17 AM

Guilt!

To # 17 - Of course there are good and bad people everywhere, even Jewish people can be very bad, but all these bad people dont go kill 6 millions human beings! In the German's case, "nice" means "polite". They all feel guilty and hate us and hold us responsible for it. In order to erase their shame, they would do it again and this time try to complete the job, that no one is a witness of what their ancestors did to the Jews.

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