06 January 2009

Young German, Jewish seniors bridge history

Gerrit Wiezoreck, 20, is one of 25 young Germans volunteering in the US with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, a Berlin-based organization dedicated to addressing the repercussions of Nazism worldwide by working in Jewish communities and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

He's living with a Jewish host family and volunteering in the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, Massachusetts. He said he had never met a Jew before coming to the US.
On his own and through the program, he is working to address a dark era of German history in a Jewish setting.

"In general, anybody can't just apologize . . . because it was too deep, it was too horrible," Wiezoreck says of the Holocaust. "We can't return it, it is a part of our history."

Read about Gerrit and the residents of the center here.

With strong features atop a thin, 6-foot-5 frame, Wiezoreck has to stoop over to push wheelchairs, and occasionally kneels down to talk to someone at eye level.

But the 20-year-old German volunteer seems perfectly at home speaking German with his Jewish friend Sarah Greenspan, despite the historical barriers that might otherwise divide them. Greenspan, 85, is a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family, with the exception of a single brother, in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Yet she smiles as she praises Wiezoreck.

"He's diamonds - the best," gushes Greenspan of the young man who has taken an interest in recording her Holocaust story.

Wiezoreck demurs, teasing her, "But what about when I disbehave?"

The young man is the fourth German volunteer to work at the Center since Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow first arranged to host the program in 2005. Some residents, she says, were initially upset by having a German citizen there.

Wiezoreck, like many young Germans, is troubled by the thought of his country and family having been involved in atrocities.

"With this work, I started to ask my grandparents more things and more things, and to ask harder questions," says Wiezoreck of his struggle with the past. In his own family's case, he says, while no family members joined the Nazi party, one of his grandfathers attended an elite Nazi school and served in the military at age 16 for four months.

Wiezoreck helps to run a club for residents of German descent, which gives members a chance to talk and sing in their native language. He also helps with other activities and clubs, administrative tasks and the residents' everyday needs.

There is much more at the complete story's link above.

1 comment:

  1. A comment from Marilyn Newman (a technical glitch prevented her from posting this herself):

    "This program, Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, has been part of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, PA for many years. Several well intended German youths have spent their 18 month internship in the U.S. at centers connected with Holocaust survivors. As an aside, asking a young German student translate a letter from 1947 Eastern Europe, outlining the family's atrocities, was something he politely refused to do--"just can't deal with my country's part at that terrible time" was his response.
    Marilyn Newman