Dorothee Haas participated in a most remarkable event which I witnessed last November in Ceasarea. Together with a group of friends I had been invited to meet some men and women from Germany, members of the March of Life movement.
We were shown to the terrace of a charming villa in the town built by Herod where we were greeted by a colorful buffet of dairy canapés. The pleasant ambience extended to the garden where we were seated for a presentation.
The extraordinary nature of the presentation became clear with an introduction from the leader of the movement, Jobst Bittner: “Every one of us here is a descendant of a Nazi who was involved in the Holocaust,” he declared in German. “Every one of us grew up unaware of this… a veil of silence has covered our past. We are here to break the veil of silence!” he concluded.
One by one the youthful, attractive German women and men stepped forward and divulged the secret of their individual pasts – the horrific deeds of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, providing exact details of the atrocities they had committed, culminating in a heart-breaking crescendo of tearful atonement.
Dorothee Haas’s whole being trembled with convulsions as she related: “My name is Dorothee Haas and I’m 47 years old. My grandfather was part of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. He lived in a small East Prussian village named Drughenen. At the end of January 1945, some concentration camps attached to Stutthof were closed and 5,000 Jewish Poles and Jewish Hungarians, most of them women and girls, were forced on a death march 50 km to Palmnicken on the coast,” she sobbed.
“2,000 died along the way, their bodies laid on the road the whole way to the coast. They passed the village of my grandparents… all the inhabitants of the village saw them. After staying a few days in a factory building in Palmnicken, the SS forced the 3,000 Jewish captives into the freezing Baltic Sea and shot them… My grandfather was part of it. He never talked about this massacre,” she cried.
Taking a deep breath, she went on: “Several years ago in our church, we dealt with the history of the Holocaust. I only knew historical facts; nothing about my own family. So I did some research and asked some relatives. My grand-aunt told me about the massacre, based on what she had heard from my grandfather. But she trivialized what happened. When I found out the true facts, I was shocked and ashamed. So many times my family talked about their own terrible flight/escape from East Prussia, but they never talked about the cruel massacre in their neighborhood and that my grandfather was a part of it.”
After a pause, she continued: “Because of the history of my own family, I became a part of the March of Life movement. I must break the veil of silence at a time of increasing anti-Semitism, and will stand with Israel! It is a privilege for me to have many Jewish friends in spite of the family’s history!”
As she stepped off the stage, I approached her, and we embraced. She held me in her arms and said, “I’m so happy! You’re Jewish and you’re Israeli, and you are my friend!”
“And I am a Holocaust survivor,” I said simply but to her my statement came as an enormous shock.
“A Holocaust survivor and you forgive me?” Dorothee cried.
“What you and your movement do for Israel is cause enough to forgive,” I replied, referring to the information I gathered doing research on the activities of March of Life, advocating for Israel throughout the world.