May 20, 2008

The miracle of education

Last week I returned from my first trip to Berlin. I have been to Germany before, but never to Berlin. My stay there was brief but intense.

On May 5th., I attended the opening of the Robert Hans Olschwanger Exhibition of anti-Nazi caricatures, which took place at the Protestant Vaterunse-Gemeinde Church of Berlin. I represented the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an NGO devoted to honor, preserve and divulge the legacies of the rescuers of victims of the Holocaust. We have sponsored the Exhibition together with the aforementioned Church.

Olschwanger was a German-born Jew who fled his native country with the advent of Nazism and found refuge in Peru. There, he was hired by the main newspapers of Lima and drew remarkable anti-Nazi caricatures.

More than 150 people attended the opening, including various ambassadors and heads of the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities of Berlin.

The morning after the event, without any warning, my dear friend, Pastor Annemarie Werner, who skillfully curated the Olschwanger exhibit, asked me if I would like to join her to her weekly teaching session at the Oppenheim-Oberschule, of Berlin, where she taught Ethics. I immediately agreed and there we were, exactly at 10 am, with German clockwork precision. I was greeted by the rector of the school, Mr Dettmer Besier, a sweet and gentle teacher who explained to me that his school takes care of children with special needs, due to their problematic social and family backgrounds. He introduced me to Annemarie’s class of sixth graders and translated my makeshift lecture from English to German.

I explained to my audience who Raoul Wallenberg was, how he managed to save 100,000 lives, what is the mission of our Foundation, and also some bits about my personal background, especially about my late grandfather – Michael – who was killed by the Nazis, and how his wife and daughter (my grandmother and mother) had managed to escape to the nearby woods, in Wolyn, thus surviving the war.

They also wanted to know about my country, Israel, and my life there. All and all, I was in front of a 20-strong audience of mesmerized German children who, under the thoughtful and caring guidance of their German teachers, listened to my story with respect and with love.Their eyes said it all. There was a human connection between us. There was empathy in their glances.

Seven decades earlier, their ancestors would have killed me without flinching.

These children are different. They have been shaped by the miracle of education.