Blog by British born, London based, Sara Leshem, on how life led her to become intrinsically linked to Germany, the only country she vowed never to visit.
Born in ‘75 into a British third generation family, I always felt 100% British, with a strong traditional Jew “ish” identity. We were not particularly observant but always a fixture in Shul on the obligatory high holy days. Family Friday nights were special, always spent in loving company and I was one of the early few to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah.
My early years were a fuzzy, lovely bubble of friends, family and security. At no point did I ever encounter anti semitism, on the contrary, I was proud and outspoken about being Jewish. Talking about our past and the Holocaust in particular, was seldom and in most cases, blame obviously went to Hitler, the Nazi Germans and conspirators. Such discussions of the past would evoke images of ghettos, yellow “Jude” stars, train tracks, carts of rotting bodies and vivid blood red, Nazi flags. I vowed NEVER to go to Germany and NEVER to mix with Germans. Let’s face it, most of them had relatives who conspired, at the very least, and some whose roles were unforgivable. It was crystal clear to me – black and white.
Destiny had other plans. It laughed in the face of my youthful naivety and highly principled beliefs. In 1999, I found myself exactly where I vowed I’d never be – in Munich, Germany, at a UJIA European conference for Jewish youth. Hosting a Jewish event in Germany seemed totally crazy, wildly inappropriate even but the persuasive powers of my friend, coupled with the promise of meeting “hot guys” proved too tempting. As a former French & Spanish student, I was excited at the prospect of dating a European guy, perhaps even a dashing Italian but definitely NOT a German.
The rest, as they say, is history with serious sprinkling of irony. I did indeed marry a German from that conference, a Munich born, Jewish guy, from precisely the country I vowed NEVER to visit. We live happily in London with our two boys and they too, have German Citizenship. With regular trips to Munich, they often refer to their Grandparents house in Germany as their “second home”.
With the birth of my first son in 2004, I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable when my husband applied for his German passport. Thankfully, I didn’t allow my former prejudices to veto the application. Now with the Brexit fiasco, I’m deeply grateful (admittedly still a touch bemused), that my boys have German citizenship and full EU rights.
This Spring, to add to the irony, together with a partner, we are launching GCR, German Citizenship Restoration, a legal service to help former Jewish German citizens and their descendents, unlawfully stripped of their citizenship, in the country’s darkest period (1933-45), to restore them and access their EU freedoms.
Holding onto hate, resentment, and preconceived beliefs won’t help us survive as British Jews today. We are in uncharted waters, anti semitism is rising globally, even here, in my beloved UK. Hence why, despite my former self, I’m applying for a German passport of my own. Hopefully, I’ll never have to use it to leave the UK but history has already bitterly warned us, expect the unexpected.
My friends, the lovely bubble has burst, those black and white days are over …..