This is one in a series of dispatches from David G. Newman, who attended the recent Rotary World Peace Conference 2016 in Ontario, California. These stories are inspired by the organizers and presenters to this peace conference and are posted by Mr. Newman on CNC as part of the process of advancing Positive Peace in Winnipeg.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger told an impactful story about freeing himself from the burden of having a highly decorated Nazi officer as his father, who never acknowledged the atrocities he was part of and glorified.
A raging alcoholic, his father would call those who did not agree with him, traitors.
When Bernd was 14 years old in 1972, the Munich Olympics changed his life. After Israeli athletes were massacred by several gunmen, the truth about the Jewish genocide perpetrated by the Nazis was discussed for the first time in his school.
Bernd’s father, Major Arthur Wollschlaeger, defended what he did and called the targets of genocide, “Riff raff from the east who had to be cleaned up.”
“I realized my father was a murderer,” said Bernd.
Eventually, Bernd went to Israel. While living there, he recalled serving his Jewish hosts in humbling ways as a non-Jew for five years.
“I learned from Jews and Arabs how to live together,” Bernd said. He asked himself, “How can they forgive me: what makes Jews so strong?”
Bernd severed all ties with his family. He was invited to convert to Judaism by a maverick Jew who became like a father to him.
Bernd was now in medical school. In the spring of 1986 he was permitted by the Rabbinical Court to do become Jewish. As a citizen of Israel, he was drafted into the Israeli military where he served as a Medical Officer, responsible for 30 or 40 soldiers.
He ultimately ended up as a doctor in Florida and never talked about his family and his transformation until his son was 28 years old.
“On family history day at school, his son, my grandson, told my story,” recalled Bernd. “Ever since then I have devoted my life to make sure this [mistreatment of other human beings] never happens again.”
Bernd reminded all of us how we must be vigilant and stand up to perpetrators.
“Hatred is something we generate every day. We must speak up against [expressions of hatred] every day or [allow them to] become habits and social norms.”
“Do not act out of fear,” Bernd continued. “We have the power to not let in words of hatred.”
At the end of his presentation, a Holocaust survivor was invited to come on stage. With tears streaming down their faces, they hugged each other.