I read yesterday about a survey carried out by the German magazine Stern, which found that over a fifth of German youth do not know that Auschwitz was a death camp. This finding rewound my memory some twenty five years ago to the late 80s, when I worked on a project in the developing food factory of a young Kibbutz. The project manager, a Kibbutz member, knew someone from the food industry of Kibbutz Lokhamei haGetaot (The Ghetto Fighters) and arranged for us to meet him and receive his advice on subjects relating to the project we were working on. Two young German female volunteers who heard that we were about to travel to another Kibbutz somewhere in the western Galilee asked if they could join the trip, so that they could see ‘another landscape’ as they termed it. We set off on our way and during the journey explained to them the geography and history of the places we passed along the way. We did not expand on the unique history of the Kibbutz we were about to visit – why open old wounds, we thought.
We arrived at Kibbutz Lokhamei haGetaot. We had the planned meeting with the food industry man after which my friend went on to sort out a few things, while I waited for him and passed the time by walking along the Kibbutz paths with the two volunteers. To the side of one of the paths there stood an old building, the Ghetto Fighters Museum as it was before it was renovated and expanded in 2005. Before I had a chance to distract their attention from the building or to pull them the other way, the two girls swiftly marched towards it and entered the building to ‘see what was inside.’
Silence immediately fell upon them. The young German girls froze where they stood, slowly passing their gaze over the large photographs hanging on the walls. When they overcame the initial shock, they started walking slowly and silently along the displays, reading the English descriptions. I walked behind them, still not sure if it not had been better to give the place a miss altogether. When we reached a large and detailed map of Germany, one of the volunteers pointed at a death camp site marked on the map with a shaking hand, turned to her friend and said with tears in her eyes: “This is where my family and I go on holiday every year…”
The journey back was very quiet. Each one of us was occupied with their own thoughts. I cannot remember if the advice we received from the food industry man was useful to the project we were working on. If we inadvertently contributed to the reduction in the percentage of German youth who know nothing about the holocaust, then this alone justified the long trip.