Monthly Archives: November 2014

Wolf Blitzer’s Journey

The CNN correspondent uncovers his roots

The Peace Bridge author, me in other words, has just watched the amazing journey that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer undertook to uncover his roots. It took him far back to Auschwitz where his grandparents were murdered but his parents survived, and then to Buffalo, NY, actually Kenmore, where I also spent most of my childhood. We went to the same high school – Kenmore West. He graduated 2 years before me in 1966.

At Ken West there was a large contingent of really bright Jewish kids in my classes and I was always in awe of their intellectual development – far beyond mine, that was for sure. But at the tender age of 15-17, I had no idea about their backgrounds, that some of them must have been children of Holocaust survivors. In the late 60s I had only just about heard of the Holocaust and no way would it have occurred to me to make any connections between it and the Jewish kids in my classes.

But I do wonder if it was my memories of those bright kids, like Wolf Blitzer, that left me with a permanent historical fixation on the Holocaust, where some of the brightest and most productive members of European society were murdered. It may well be this that led me to write a story about a Jewish family trying to overcome the late and lasting consequences of Hitler’s Reich.

I am thankful to Wolf’s film for bringing this connection home to me. Better late than never! On a more upbeat note, I loved that he, too, when on a visit back to Buffalo, also goes on a pilgrimage to Anderson’s Custard and Ted’s Hotdog Stands on Sheridan Drive. Funny, the things you take with you on life’s journey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MaiaIdjcK8

 

 

 

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Filed under German History, Holocaust, Remembering, Roots

GERMAN REUNIFICATION – 25 YEARS AGO

WE’VE COME SO FAR – WE MUSTN’T TURN BACK

I am shaking off the stupor caused by house-related renovations to comment on a breath-taking event that took place 25 years ago. Throughout the spring and summer of 1989, the situation in the German Democratic Republic escalated. East German “tourists” went on holiday to Czechoslovakia and Hungary – just about the only places they were allowed to travel. But they did not return home. They ended up camping on the grounds of the German embassies in Prague, Budapest and even Vienna, while behind-the-scenes frantic diplomacy was deciding their fate.

Back in East Germany, while the powers-that-were were gearing up to celebrate the up-coming 40-year birthday of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in October, activists in Leipzig and Dresden and other eastern cities continued their weekly Monday Demonstrations. The meetings and marches were non-violent and centered around the Protestant Church, an institution just about tolerated by the government. Plenty of “unofficial” Stasi operatives took part, to be sure.

What did these people want anyway? Just everyday things really. Like being allowed to travel unhindered and not be walled in. Like the freedom to speak their minds without fear of arrest. Like not being spied on by neighbors and “friends” who had been enlisted for this purpose by the Stasi – the secret state security police. Just simple things really, things we in the West have always taken for granted.

Of course on the west side of the wall, West Germans watched expectantly, fearfully. There was no telling where it would all end. And from past experience, there was a good chance it would not end well. But bit by bit, the regime granted concessions. And then, almost by accident, on November 9th the wall opened. People turned up at various Berlin border crossings, demanding to be let through. East German border guards who were not able to get any clear orders from above, raised the barriers. Thank heavens, they had no desire to fire on their own.

And my husband and I watched this spectacle, wide-eyed and incredulous, from the comfort of our West German living room, along with most other “Wessis” (West Germans). From one day to the next, separated families could be reunited, ordinary “Ossis” (East Germans) could suddenly go where they pleased. And over the following months the road taken in Trabis and Wartburgs would lead to what became an inevitable destination: reunification.

Those were heady days, weeks and months. We became addicted to following the news reports on TV and radio, anxious to hear of the next unbelievable milestone in the journey to once again becoming one Volk. And 25 years later a generation has grown up that did not know the sorrow of a Germany rent in two by the post-World War II settlements. Those young people can’t imagine what it means not to be free.

And although the east of the country still lags behind economically, huge strides have been made, billions have been invested in infrastructure. BMW builds cars in Leipzig, VW in Dresden. Berlin is now, once again as it should be, the capital of the country. Both the Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Federal President, Joachim Gauck, hail from the east.

Of course, the fall of the inner-German border was just the beginning. Along with it, the entire Iron Curtain came crashing down and the Soviet Union dissolved. Voila, the end of the Cold War and the commencement of a new world order.

Unfortunately, black shadows loom overhead. Need I list the crises that dominate the news every night? The new world order has not brought world peace but new instability. One of the crises in particular seems to me to be so stoppable. That would be the Ukraine.

Why, dear Mr Putin, do you want to go backwards rather than forwards?
I wish he’d give us an answer.

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Filed under Beginnings, Cities, Endings, German History, Remembering