Last night I went with my friends to hear a most remarkable speaker. Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger
When his own children began asking questions about their grandparents, he decided to break the wall of silence and tell them the truth about himself and his family. He needed to express what compelled him to dramatically change his life.
He finally had to explore the relationship with his father and how it was overshadowed by the Holocaust. Their unresolved conflict and his fathers denial motivated him to search for answers, and he found them within himself and his acquired faith
Born 13 years after the end of World War II, Wollschlaeger grew up in Bamberg, Germany, ironically in the house where Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg — who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1944 — had lived.
Curious about his parents’ past, Bernd as a child heard conflicting versions from his mother and father. His mother, a refugee from the Sudeten region, was the daughter of wealthy industrialist parents who lost everything in the war, which she described as “as a terrible catastrophe for the country.”
On trips with his father, an avid fisherman and hunter, the boy heard a markedly different description.
“My father described it as the best time of his life,” said Wollschlaeger. “He was awarded the Iron Cross, which is like a Purple Heart, by a man he very much adored at the time, Adolph Hitler. Of course I was very proud of my father. He was a hero.”
Then an event occurred that changed his life — 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Wollschlaeger, who at 14 had never met a Jew and knew nothing about the Holocaust, saw headlines in the German media proclaiming, “Jews killed again in Germany.”
Unable to get a straight answer from his parents about what that meant, he did his own research and was horrified by what he learned. After several years of increasing conflict between father and son, his father made a startling declaration: “Somebody had to deal with Jews.”
Over time he began to lose all respect for his father & dispised all that he stood for. He felt guilt and shame. And, soon after he went to Israel to immerse himself in Jewish culture and teachings and find out all he could about this society living in the shadow of the Holocaust.
He fell in love with the Jewish people, with Israel and with Judaism.
After many many years of study he eventually converted to Judaism and not only became an Israeli citizen but served in the Israeli army. His father had, long before, disowned him and he never saw or spoke with them again. He explaned that he finally made peace with his parents at the cemetary where they are buried in Germany.
Dr. Wollschlaeger, who now practices in Florida, said his aim in telling his story is to help others understand “how we as individuals can stand up and make a difference to prevent something like the Shoah (Holocaust) from happening again.”
He has written a book called A German Life, available in both softcover and on Kindle.
He says "Against all odds, change is possible..."
It was a most enlightening evening, well spent.