Menachem Meir is a Jerusalem academic. Successful and a careful observer of the Jewish faith, he is blessed with a wonderful wife, children and a smiling group of grandchildren. Around 1942, he was separated from his elder brother Fred in France. The younger sibling eventually made his way to the States, forgot his German, abondoned the family name and and has seen the next two generations happily embrace Christianity.
Few have the right to judge either; how they have survived and why they lost touch with each other. Even fewer have managed to explain the Holocaust – how and why it happened.
I was honoured to attend a private showing of an international film, depicting the childhood, separation, and the families of Fred and Menachem. The session took place yesterday, less than a week before the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calender. Yom Kippur, as it is known in Hebrew, features a 25 hour fast, where Jews come together asking for forgiveness and offering repentence.
In this light, viewing the film suddenly became amazingly pertinent.
1) The Meir family was originally transported in 1940 from Germany. In charge of the operation was a nazi officer called Hopp. He was a local commander. His son is associated with a many charities and successful businesses in Germany. Inteviewed on camera, he repudiated the actions of his father, publicly offering to fund part of the film and a ceremony, which remembered the horrific deportation.
2) Fred had spent decades running from his past. On camera, he was clearly the more openly moved of the two, when handling the horrors of yesteryear. His parents had asked him to look after Menachem, who had refused to join him in America. Were his tears partially a sign of relief that Menachem had lived and confirmed the family’s honour? Waas this guilt being removed?
3) Menachem found the old family home. He explained to the current inhabitants why they had come to visit, accompanied by a camera crew. Shocked and surprised, the occupants offered no apology and no regret. The brothers left the scene with evident disappointment if not disgust.
4) In contrast, Menachem was reaquainted with a former school friend. The gentleman explained how he had tried to help them with their clothes on the day of the deportation. He bore a look that signified relief – as if to say, the reunion signified a form of individual repent after 65 years. In return, the brothers showed hope and forgiveness
And there was one further point for the Israeli; religious or not, elderly or at school, a plumber or an academic. Menachem was at home in Israel. For all of the countries problems, the 3 generations were safe. His non-practicising relatives from America noted after a family meeting in Germany – by definition, it was not a reunion – that Israel provided true bonds for its citizens. It is place with roots and which can grow further.
Fred has recently retired to Florida. Clearly beautiful and idyllic, he was asked if this was his home. He could not give an affirmative answer.