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My First Swastika

It was supposed to be just a pleasant walk through the woods by the picturesque River Trave in Bad Segeberg. The moss at river’s bottom gave the water a green hue I had never seen before. Tree branches with leaves still green despite the beginning of fall drooped over the bank. We rounded a bend and there it was: a crudely painted swastika scarring the trunk of a tree to our right.

I shuddered! I whirled around as for a fleeting second imagined Nazi soldiers hiding behind the trees waiting to drag me away. But the fear vanished as quickly as it came.

Our host, Pastor Martin Pommerening apologized profusely that we had to see this sight. “But Martin,” I responded, “You have nothing to apologize for! You are the antithesis of this swastika. We bask in the warmth and love of your hospitality.” “Moreover,“ I continued speaking silently to myself. “You and Ursula (his wife Pastorin Ursula Sieg) work tirelessly to learn about Judaism and to educate Germans about Jews. You both have spent countless hours over many months preparing every detail of our ten-week visit. We are partners in a sacred enterprise, and I will not let a random reminder that there are a few who wish to return to the past do anything but strengthen my resolve to work with you toward the goals we both cherish.”

Often people tell me, why don’t you just forget the past and look to a brighter future? There are two answers to that question.

First my walk in the woods proved once again as Dionne Warwick and others sang several years ago, “There Is Always Something There To Remind Me!” Even if I wanted to forget, I cannot.

More importantly, though, remembering the past is crucial if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Several people including George Santayana and Winston Churchill, have said, “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it!”

No, forgetting the past is not desirable! Forgiveness without remembering is meaningless. Creating a better future is impossible if we fail to recall the things about the past we are trying to improve.

After we saw the swastika in the woods of Bad Segeberg, Pastor Pommerening immediately called the mayor of the town to tell him what we saw. I am very confident the swastika has already been painted over or will be soon. But I would not the tree chopped down and its stump uprooted in order to pretend that it never happened.

Germany’s efforts to atone for the Holocaust and prevent its recurrence are more than admirable. They definitely deserve our forgiveness. But never, ever ever should we forget!

12 thoughts on “My First Swastika

  1. So sorry that you had to have this horrifying experience………..hopefully you will find peace from this event in the wonderful bridges that you are building.

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  2. Was that the first you have ever seen in your life? Did I ever tell you about the tragedy at my mother’s synagogue? In the late 1980s, I remember it well, so it has to be late 80s, it had just snowed. Some guy walked from his house, lit the temple on fire, and walked home. It was very easy to find the guilty person, because all the police had to do was follow the footprints in the snow. The synagogue burned to the ground, pretty much eveything in it was destroyed, including a Torah scroll thay survived the Holocaust . You don’t have to go to Europe to see antisemitism alive and well!
    At the time, my family was unaffiliated. And even though i was a child, this horrific act is still vivid in my mind.
    The nice part of the story. The church down the street was the temporary home for the congregation while they rebuilt.

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  3. Part 2. I thought of this when a kid woke me up in the middle of the night. Great thoughts always when the kids wake me up. When the synagogue burned, it was a sheltered time in my life. I was young enough that i hadn’t seen or heard antisemitism, racism, or prejudice…and had no idea what any of those words meant. The town was sheltered too. Most people were Irish Catholic or English Episcopal. The only house of worship to this day in the town that isn’t Christian is the Reform synagogue. I didn’t think of myself as different except for holiday times. And diversity for me came later in life, 1st when they bused students in from Boston for high school, and second when I left the town. (And I love the diversity of the town of WH!) When the temple burned, I learned very quickly what hate and antisemitism was. And it wasn’t until a few years later when I learned the word Holocaust, learned what happened, what happened to my family, and learned that it wasn’t just really horrible that someone destroyed the synagogue, but that a Torah scroll that survived that horror was a generation later burned by hate.
    The new synagogue was built about a half mile down the road. The site of the old one is an empty field. In over 25 years, nothing has been done with that field, except mowing, and nothing will probably ever be done with it. Every time i go to my parents house, when I get off the highway, i have to go by the field…then the synagogue…then i reach their house. That experience in my youth prepared me for the multiple times the Hillel sign was destroyed at UConn (the church signs weren’t touched) and the antisemitic patient who went on a rant…and then saw the star of David around my neck.

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    • Don’t know what happened to them . Quick google search told me that it happened march 14, 1987. That was a few days before I turned 7. So i remember things through the mind of a 7 year old. Evidently two men were involved. No idea what happened to them. If you are super curious to research it is Temple Beth David, Westwood, MA. If you are less curious, you can wait for me to go back there and ask…and that will be a long time before i go there.

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  4. Dear Steve, I haven’t been on FB for quite sometime and was just trying to catch up a bit when i was drawn into your world through the beauty and depth of your words and wisdom. As a Lutheran of German descent, i would have loved to have heard your sermon in Leipzig…….and am shamed by the horrendous acts of inhumanity, past and present, that are perpetrated against Jews or any faith. The love and empathy that you preach and exude will change and soften the hearts of many. May God bless you more each day……….peace be with you. Always, Diana

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  5. Diana, hearing from you is so very special. Thank you for this very thoughtful response. Leipzig is still a month away, but it is in the center of my emotional radar screen. Our experience so far has been unbelievable. I hope you have a chance to look at the other experiences–all so wonderful–that I have mentioned on FB. Bless you, Diana!

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