German-Israeli Relations

by Heidi Obermeyer

In light of current events in Israel and Gaza, I thought I would share a relevant little story. In Munich, I took a class called History of German-Israeli Relations, or more directly translated, History of the German-Israeli Relationship. It wasn’t necessarily my first choice for courses (nor my last… I felt fairly neutral about it), but it fulfilled requirements for 2/3 majors, and I wasn’t going to say no to that. It turned out to be my best class of the semester- I had never learned anything about Israel before, and studying it through a German lens was probably the best decision (or random selection) I could have made. Thanks to the insanity of the Third Reich, the Germans don’t mess around when they discuss the Holocaust and its aftermath; they comment on and discuss it with the utmost seriousness. From a young age, Germans learn about the War pretty strictly with the footnote of “…and it’s imperative that we as a country ensure that this never happens again.” It’s no joke.

This is a part of what made my course so interesting- because the Germans tend to be (and I’m going to make a few blanket comments on Germans here, which of course have exceptions, yadda yadda) so hyperaccurate in their discussion of the post-WWII era, they are therefore also some of the best people to discuss those events with. Lots (probably about half) of the German kids in my class had visited Israel before, and some even had relatives or friends who lived or worked there, either permanently or short-term. As an American, I found this particularly surprising- I only knew one or two people who had ever travelled to the Middle East back home. As we went through the course (which was organized chronologically from the pre-War period to the modern day) it was really interesting how the class turned into a space for everyone to safely and without judgement discuss some really difficult topics, like the payment of reparations by Germany to Israel for the Holocaust, or the more recent sale of German U-boats to the Israeli army.

Compounding all this cultural exchange was the fact that our instructor, an extremely nice guy probably in his early 30’s, was an Israeli himself. Over the course of the semester, it was interesting to see how his interaction with our group and sharing of stories and personal experiences became more open- he wasn’t necessarily keeping his nationality a secret, but it certainly wasn’t something that was broadcast from day one. One of the more interesting things I learned in the class is that Israeli citizens often keep their old passports/citizenship, and their children can also get dual citizenship if they prove that they had a relative from x country. It’s unknown how many Israelis come to Germany and vice versa each year because so many people have dual citizenship and don’t necessarily show their Israeli passport. Additionally, Berlin has apparently become the happenin’ place to be for young Israelis looking to get away from home for a while. There was lots of discussion about the vibrant young Jewish community in Berlin- kids who were trying to venture out into the world, and chose Germany as the place to do it. Isn’t that amazing, considering what happened there 70-some years ago?

Anyway, I hope that was an enjoyable, slightly-academic foray. As far as the current situation goes, I don’t know what to say- I just hope for the safety of the many civilians who didn’t choose for this conflict to exist on their doorsteps.