Though born there and forced to leave with my parents in 1939, I have never resorted to accusing all Germans of responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich – particularly those who were not of adult age at that time and, of course, not those born long after. The Steeg family will never forget the Gestapo officer who was so very instrumental in my father’s release from Dachau, the neighbors who took risks and shopped for them during those horrific times, and the friend who hid a valuable ring for my father, and made certain he received it after arriving in New York.
Holding all Germans guilty for all time for these atrocities brings to mind the axiom that had been drilled into the psyche of Roman Catholics - namely that all Jews for all time bear the guilt of Jesus' crucifixion. Yes, the Jews were clearly complicit in that event, but Vatican II finally put an end to the 'curse be upon you and all your children." We Jews are not a hating people. We should not wait millenia to understand the difference between guilt and innocence!
Post-Holocaust Germans and Jews have had to embark on a very special relationship. A significant number of Germans is honestly coming to grips with the reality of what the Hitler years denoted, not only to the German- Jewish population, but to the German spirit. There is a drive to restore a very meaningful part of German history and German life. It is as if African-American history were erased from our American culture and we Americans were coming to realize what was lost, and how this loss left a deep hole in our cultural history, a hole that we really felt had to be filled.
Many Germans are now dedicated to restoring old Jewish synagogues, community centers and similar physical structures; discovering and re-creating a very important part of their history - a history that had vanished. My wife and I have been actively involved with such an organization - an organization dedicated to the restoration of the Jewish Community Center in Breisach, the village where by mother was born and her forbears had lived since 1755. This association was not started by Jews, has no Jewish members and solicits no Jewish contributions.
Those who do not wish to visit Germany should also consider refraining from visiting Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, and even Switzerland and France. Let us not forget their complicity. Germany initiated the Holocaust - Europe helped insure its success. Let us also never forget the inaction of many countries, including our own - their silence and their indifference to the plight of the European Jewry.
The German-Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim added to Jewish law what he termed the 614th Commandment: Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler! It can be argued that not to 'set foot on German soil' disobeys that commandment.