Reflections on My Experience in Mannheim, Germany
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
It is really impossible for me to adequately explain last night.
Diplomats aren't supposed to cry. But being in Mannheim Germany, I am actually wearing two hats. I am here as an official, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (SEAS), and privately, as my father’s daughter. As SEAS I commended the German government for its commitment to face its role and responsibility during the Holocaust, for its creative memorial in the center of the city, showing what is missing from the vibrant city because of the Holocaust. As SEAS we discussed how Holocaust education is or is not working. But I am also in Mannheim on a personal journey.
The last time I was in Mannheim was 50 years ago. My father, the only Holocaust survivor of his family, brought his wife and two daughters to Germany for two major reasons: to show his family part of the life he lived before his deportation to Buchenwald, and to have his personal triumph, showing his family that the Nazis didn't win, that he not only survived, but thrived in his new life in the United States. And two more critically important messages: Mannheim was good to him; he was their rabbi, he built inter-religious relationships and worked with the poor to provide medical and social services, even in the face of potential Nazi extermination. And also, he wanted us to meet the Lutheran minister who helped save his life - Pastor Herman Maas.
And last night, the City of Mannheim honored my father's memory and presented my sister Deborah and me with an official "Stolperstein" a brass brick that says that Rabbi Franz Rosenthal worked here (at the site of the former synagogue which was ruined on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938 -- the unofficial start of the Holocaust).
As a diplomat, I am not supposed to cry. But when the Mayor asked me to speak after the presentation, all I could do was sob. Not only had the Mayor unveiled the Stolperstein, but he also gave us an archival photograph of Dad with Dr. Neter, the German doctor who provided his medical services for free to the needy of Mannheim.
The city of Mannheim also researched and identified the locations of my dad’s daily life. We stood in front of 20 Lamey Strasse where Dad lived. We sat on a park bench in front of the famous watertower where he was to be killed. We walked on streets we knew he had walked. We passed the police station where he had to regularly report. We were reliving history, and Mannheim was honoring his life and work. It was so very personal, and yet met the goals of my job as SEAS. In fact, I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.
Often people ask me how I can be the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, when there is so much anti-Semitism still in this world and seemingly intractable. My answer is simple: I get to do something about it. Often, I must go to Foreign Ministers or Ministers of Education or Justice or other officials and express concern about their lack of response to incidents of hatred. Sometimes, I publicly call them out. Sometimes, I strategize with communities. Sometimes, I bring diverse constituencies together. Sometimes, I even get to praise a government for doing the right thing.
But never before have I met government officials who honored my family and heritage. It was a once in a lifetime experience. Diplomats are not supposed to cry, but this diplomatic visit was an overwhelmingly emotional experience, a high point of my life. Tears were better than words......