My son is applying to become a naturalized German citizen. He is my wandering son and is more of a world citizen than an American. He has an open perspective of respect and possibility that seems so necessary today. He is eligible to do this because his grand parents were deprived of their citizenship as German Jews in the 1930’s. The German government reaches out across nations to make amends and to reclaim it’s lost countrymen.
I asked my husband how he felt about this and he hesitated and said, “ok, I guess.” His parents escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, coming to the US in hope of freedom and sanctuary. We have documents and records that chronicle the loss of family members in concentration camps. The surviving family is dispersed throughout the world from South America to Hong Kong to South Africa to the US. They escaped to any country that would take them and many didn’t escape at all.
A student in the town his parents lived in before the war contacted my husband about 20 years ago. She was writing a dissertation on what happened to the Jews of Gerlachsheim a small town near Frankfurt. She invited him to travel to Germany to meet with her. It was the beginning of a long process of peace making that culminated with my in-laws visiting there too; the trip was offered and paid for by the German government. They were in their eighties, eager and cautious and a bit frightened. I remember the stories of visiting the store their family had owned and going into the apartments where they had lived. They were positive and pleased to go back and talked about the cruise on the Rhine. They felt at home again.
In the days before my mother-in-law passed away she often slipped into her native tongue, which I didn’t understand, but in the darkest hours she seemed to relive the horror of the Nazis. I wondered then how a soul could hold such love and atrocity. But I see now, seventy years after the terror, that the healing is complete. Over the holiday break, my youngest son and his dad will go through the fading papers, gathering the documents to prove the lineage. They will come full circle and my son will become a German and an American.
I’m writing about this because there’s not much good will these days and peace is illusive and yet it’s what we celebrate and wish for during the darkest time of the year. This story brings hope to the tragedy of war, to the healing of time and to the willingness of humankind to reach out in peace.