I am about to return to Germany for my 2nd visit this month. The first was a business trip, nothing special about the location other than the right facility for doing some testing happened to be in Essen, near Düsseldorf. The second is more exciting. I am traveling with the Zamir Chorale of Boston to participate in the Louis Lewandowski Festival commemorating a German Jewish composer of synagogue music from the 1800s. Amazingly, some of his melodies are the “traditional” ones used in Ashkenazi synagogues worldwide.
The choir I sing with is one of several from around the world coming to participate in the festival. We will give concerts in a church, the Krankenhauskirche im Wuhlgarten, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and in the large Rykestrasse synagogue.
Germany makes many Jews uncomfortable. Germany was one of the first places where Jews could participate fully and excel in the culture of a Western nation state. Before World War II, there were many prominent Jewish musicians, philosophers, scientists and other professionals. Then came the Nazis and the Holocaust, something with personal resonance.
My father was born in Germany and left in October, 1939. For years, he spurned everything German and would not think of supporting their economy by buying anything German made. His only exception was when he picked up his childhood instrument again in his 40s. His instrument was the bassoon, and the only good bassons were German.
I was with him for a couple days on his only return trip, so far. The state of Württemberg and city of Stuttgart flew in and hosted a group Jews originally from that region, along with some family members. They were euphemistically called ehemalige Bewohner, or former residents. The group was received by the mayor of Stuttgart in city hall and welcomed with dignity and with formal speeches. I saw this act of bringing back the Jews who were forced to leave as a way for Germans to do Teshuvah, or repentance. In a strange quirk, the musical entertainment for the ceremony was a classical piece for Fagott-Trio, a bassoon trio !
I am inclined to consider modern Germany and its inhabitants as having a clean slate. After the war, modern Germany has been a better friend and support to the state of Israel than many other European nations. I do not have negative associations with present-day Germany due to the Holocaust, so I am looking forward to this trip. In fact, this trip gives me a chance to continue some family legacy. Until 1939, my grandfather sang in and conducted a synagogue choir. In Germany.