Ghetto Fighters' Museum Sends First-ever Group to Germany, Ends Boycott

After 60 years of boycotting Germany, Museum sends 9 of its instructors to Berlin for seminar about Holocaust.

After 60 years of boycotting Germany, the Ghetto Fighters' Museum has sent nine of its instructors to Berlin for a seminar about the Holocaust attended by German educators, Haaretz has learned.

The unwritten prohibition, initiated when the institution was established, was maintained long after Israel and Germany normalized relations. Until last week the management had refused to send delegates to Germany or receive official visitors from that country.

"We realized that we needed to change our ways," museum director Simcha Stein said.

The museum is next to Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot [Ghetto Fighters], south of Nahariya, which was founded by Holocaust survivors. Over the years, the museum has seen some angry discussions about cooperating with German institutions. Some veteran workers even walked out on some of these discussions. Most of the museum employees were members of the kibbutz, which declared a ban on the use of German-made products. "With time this sentiment was eroded," Stein concedes. He himself has never visited Germany, but he says he supports the decision to send the teachers and instructors to Berlin.

That erosion, Stein recalls, included the museum's hosting of German university students in the 1970s, after the students presented written approval for their visit by then-chancellor Willy Brandt, who had helped fight the Nazis.

A decade later the museum agreed to host the Federal Republic of Germany's ambassador to Israel, but only as part of a private visit and not in his official capacity as a representative of the German government. The visit, Stein says, was hotly contested by some of the older employees.

The current landmark visit was made possible because of a German activist working to promote dialogue between Israelis and Germans. The activist, Mania Kasten, called the museum from Germany a few weeks ago to talk to Tanya Ronen, who is responsible for relations with Western and Central Europe for the museum.

"I heard rumors that the museum did not participate in visits to Germany, but I did not know that I was trying to put together the first visit ever," Ronen told Haaretz.

Kasten described Ronen as a person "who is not rigidly attached to conceptions from the past," adding Ronen had visited Germany several times. Ronen was also responsible for setting up the current delegation. Eleven people were originally scheduled to make the trip, but two of the female participants decided in the end that they could not set foot on German soil after all.

And so on Thursday the nine educators from the Israeli museum sat across from a few activists from the Kreuzberg Initiative against Anti-Semitism (KIgA), a non-governmental organization that works to combat anti-Semitism and Muslim radicalism in Berlin's immigrant quarters.

Before that meeting the Israeli delegation took part in a two-day seminar near Wannsee with activists from Kasten's organization, One Hand. They also toured the grounds of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, outside the German capital.

"I had a serious dilemma about visiting Germany - something which I hadn't done in years," said Esti Katz, a member of the Israeli delegation and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. "But I had taught about the Holocaust for years and I realized I would not have the complete picture until I visit the place where it all began. I came here to place the final piece of the puzzle."

Another teacher, Sarin David, said that "after visiting Germany I understand that the Holocaust is alive in other places besides Israel." He colleague, Tzipi Naveh, said: "Most of us dealt with the subject of the Holocaust without ever getting to know the German side. Before the journey I was apprehensive about meeting older Germans from that generation [of the Holocaust] but I got over that." Naveh said she asked to meet one of her German hosts' grandfather "in order to to gain a better understanding."

The director of the Ghetto Fighters' Museum's educational department, Hedva Hadar, told Haaretz that the seminar deals, among other issues, with passing on the lessons of the Holocaust to "the third generation" - a term denoting the grandchildren of both survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust.