I stepped out of the airport onto the cobblestone road and gazed out onto the traffic crowding around me. People with their luggage running to get a taxi, tourists asking for directions, businessmen on the phone and lots of noise. I closed my eyes and opened them again. Why was I, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, standing in front of Tegel Airport in Berlin, Germany?
The director of Baruch College Hillel approached me about going on this trip called Germany Close Up; a trip in which the German government brings modern Jews to explore and learn about modern Germany. I had heard great things about the program but something inside me felt uneasy. I wasn’t ready.
Moreover, I was uninterested. To me, Germany was nothing more than a black hole of bad memories and pain. I had grown up with the stories of what the Nazis had done to the Jews and to see where it all began, the center of the violence, was not something I was okay with.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt something pushing me to go. Something inside was telling me that this journey was something I needed to do and would never receive the chance again. If Germany was really changing and trying to make amends I needed to see it for myself. With a little courage I sent in my application and waited.
Standing waiting for a cab with my group outside the airport I suddenly placed my hand over the Star of David that hangs around my neck. "Should I take it off?”
With each passing day the feeling of walking through history hit closer and closer. We spent ten days tracing steps and forming new ones. It wasn’t until we visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, that I knew what I wanted out of the trip. Walking through the empty camp I was disturbed but not angry like I thought I’d be. I was proud. There I was amongst a group of young Jews walking freely through an empty camp. That was the first time, out of three, that I said " See that Hitler, you failed!"
The second time was at a restaurant. We all sat eating our dinner and I stopped for a moment and looked around me. Everyone was different. There were white skinned people, olive skinned people, Jews, Turkish people, homosexuals, everyone together in this one place. There was no indication that a “cleansing” of any kind took place there. I thought, " See that Hitler, you failed!"
The last time I said it was Friday night. It was two days before the end of the trip and we were all sitting in the courtyard of a synagogue singing Jewish Songs and the top of our lungs. That was the most meaningful moment to me. There we were out in the open. No hiding. We were there and we were proud of who we are and where we came from. "See that Hitler, you failed!"
My trip showed me a lot. It showed me that Germany really has changed. They are trying to do as much as they can to make up for the past.
I also learned that there are a lot of people, non-Jews, who have devoted their lives to teaching about what has happened.
My trip did its job in showing me that Germany has changed and will continue to try to make amends for what happened there. Each day the steps Germany, as a country, along with its inhabitants are taking were shown to us. Moved by the past and inspired by what the future may hold they work hard to right their wrongs.
I am happy that I was able to see that. I was able to listen and to learn and share this experience with my peers. But the one thing, the most powerful thing that haunted me throughout the trip is the one thing they can never change; the streets. How it feels each time the soul of your shoe hits the pavement and another memory is sparked sending chills through your body. That feeling can never be removed. I can’t begin to express what it feels like to walk where I have walked. I wish I could have brought that home with me, bottled it up and showed it to all that I knew. Because those sparks, that feeling, will stay with me forever.
My gold Star of David stayed around my neck the entire trip. “See that Hitler, You Failed!”
Daniella Bondar is a junior at Baruch College majoring in journalism.