To begin to understand contemporary Germany as it relates to Jews, one must read This Must Be the Place.
In June the city of Frankfurt invited my father and several other “Former Frankfurters” to return for two weeks to the city of their birth. All of them had survived the Holocaust one way or another and we assumed the town wanted to show them how Frankfurt has changed since the 1930’s. The city has done this annually since 1980; my grandmother was among those invited that first year.
My brother and I joined my father on this trip and one evening we were invited to dinner with the other members of the “second generation” who had accompanied their parents to Frankfurt. I thought it was meant as an ice-breaker; after all, we would be spending a lot of time together on a tour bus. But over dinner it became clear that we’d all experienced similar feelings of otherness during our childhood, feelings many of us had never given voice to, and passionate conversation went on into the night.
I realized that the city of Frankfurt organizes these elaborate trips (the best hotel, opera, theater, dinner, museum tours) as much for their own children and the descendents of survivors as for the Former Frankfurters themselves. They want young Germans to meet survivors face to face to hear their stories because their own parents or grandparents are not talking. We heard them worry that the psychology of this has affected the culture.
Another day my father was invited to speak at a local high school about his experience as a Jew growing up in Nazi Germany. When the organizers learned that my brother and I would be there as well they changed the date of the lecture to accommodate us. I was surprised to learn it was because they felt sure the students would have questions for us as well. Sure enough, the students were equally curious about our feelings as “second generation” survivors, a term I’d never applied to myself. What was it like growing up knowing what our father had gone through? Did we hate Germans? How did it feel being in Germany now? My brother answered them with the words our father had told us as children, “To hate Germany and Germans would be to hate him, because he was German, to deny this would be to grant victory to Hitler.”
It was serendipitous then to read This Must Be the Place upon my return home, which embeds themes of identity and guilt for post-war born Germans and Americans, Jewish and not, into a subtly rendered story. Walter Baum is a lonely has-been actor, a German Johnny Drama without the entourage. He pursues Hope, an aptly named American woman living in his building, but first he must deal with his past. In daring and unflinching portrayals, Winger puts us face to face with the innocents who inherited the legacy of the Holocaust.