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Return to Göttingen


By Diana Kanter --- At the invitation of my mother’s former high school in her hometown of Göttingen, I spoke to more than 300 students over two exhausting and very meaningful days in early April. My Mum missed graduating from the now-called Hainburg Gymnasium.  She was one of the last four Jewish girls – all close friends – expelled from the  school in spring 1938. There is an iconic picture of her (second from right) with those three friends, hanging in a corridor of the school (see below).  Two perished during the Holocaust.


When the school contacted me late last year for some family information, I mentioned that I was willing to talk to students. They jumped at it, putting aside a special budget for me and Ben to travel there and stay in a nice hotel. Three students facilitated each session, sending me questions in advance to make my visit easier.


Even so, revisiting my family story going back to the 16th (yes) century in this part of Germany was not easy. As I stood there with so many faces looking at me, it became starkly clear that but for Hitler, this would have been my high school and possibly  that of my kids and grandchildren. While it was painful to delve into our story yet again, I was doing it for the right reasons, to be a ZeitZeuge (life witness) for a new  generation. And once in the school, I realised how important this visit was for me and for them.


The teacher and students were so welcoming, attentive and interested it was amazing. Topics ranged from how I felt about visiting Germany, the image of Germany in the wider world, why is there antisemitism and how do we get rid of it, and what can we do about the AfD - to more personal questions such as  do you wish you’d asked your Mum more about the past, how do you handle trauma and can it be passed down generations.. and I could go on.


Apart from class room presentations, I joined a group of 7th graders on a history walking tour of fascist Göttingen which started in the house where my Mum was born. I had with me her photo album of how each room looked 90 years ago which was very moving (see below).


The teachers mentioned in passing that they are planning a summer school trip to Auschwitz. It was so oversubscribed that they had to interview every applicant to decide who should go. This blew me away. I came away wondering whether Germany might just be the safest place for Jews right now. Is that even possible?

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