Last week I had the opportunity to visit Germany and speak at a conference and in churches. Just hours prior to my first speaking engagement, one of my hosts gave me a tour of the city of Eppingen and shared with me a bit of the history during World War II. This city once had a very vibrant Jewish population, where Jews were integrated into the make-up of the city and saw themselves as German. It was striking to see how in just a short amount of time these German citizens, because they were Jewish, soon became a non-existent community. The town has a memorial, remembering those Jews who were once an integral part of this city.
My guide also shared about the religious wars and tensions among Catholics and Protestants. The divisions in this area are reflected in the villages, churches, and with the absence of communities that once existed in these places.
The most memorable part of this tour was visiting a building that used to be a synagogue. I could still see traces of Hebrew writing on the outer edifices, which were hidden during the Nazi-era. Below the building is a mikveh (a ritual purification bath) dating from the 18th century. What I saw reminded me of the different archaeological sites in the Holy Land. The mikveh was a physical relic of a community that once existed, but in this case, in the middle of Europe.
Later, while sitting in a side-room of a church in Germany, one of the elders approached me with anxiety and concern in his voice as he began to speak. He shared how he was inspired by the work of Musalaha and what we have developed, especially our Six Stages of Reconciliation. “We are in desperate need of it,” he told me, “but we are so fearful.” There is an influx of multi-ethnic and multi-religious refugees from the Middle East pouring into Germany, and they are present in every village. “I know that we need to reach out to them, but we are fearful as we will need to change who we are,” he said.
His words touched on one of the most challenging aspects of reconciliation that as we engage with others, it requires a change in us. We can choose to avoid situations, isolate ourselves, lash out, or reach out. Our Curriculum of Reconciliation addresses how we can engage with others, make space within ourselves for them, and transform our conflicts.
Both of these encounters caused me to reflect on the process of dehumanization, which eliminated entire communities in certain areas, including Jews, Gypsies, and others. On April 16, we commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering the atrocities perpetrated, and committing that history will not repeat itself. May we also remember to look at others as people created in the image of God and seek to be a blessing to them.
By Salim J. Munayer