Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Holocaust Justice?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Holocaust Justice?

Article excerpt

'Sie dreckiges Judenschwein!" - "You dirty Jewish pig!" someone screamed at us from across a busy street in downtown Berlin.

We didn't look up. At that moment we wondered if we could escape without someone spitting at us. Instinctively we headed home, though we knew home would offer us little protection: The name-caller was Frau Wirth, our next-door neighbor.

It was 1939, and although this woman had been harassing my mother for years, we realized then that there was no more recourse for abuse, no more refuge, no more safe haven for a Jewish person in Germany.

My mother was Jewish, my father was not. As a "half-Jew," I was spared being sent to the camps. But my mother and most of her relatives weren't so fortunate. They perished.

Six years later, soon after the war ended, I emigrated to the United States.

In the early 1950s, I returned to Berlin. As I stood in front of the burned-out ruin of what had been my birthplace, a woman dashed out of the house next door, raced down the street, and disappeared into the subway station. It was Frau Wirth.

As she darted away, clearly avoiding me, I stood there realizing that my chance had arrived to get back at this woman for all the harassment. During the years Hitler was in power, Frau Wirth had made life miserable for my mother.

I would not have been alone in seeking redress. In those years after the war, many scores were settled by the few Jews who survived, or by their relatives, through fist fights or court cases. In my instance, I could have filed charges against Frau Wirth for defaming my mother's character. If anything, she might have been reprimanded by the court, or required to pay a fine, or got off altogether, depending on the inclination of the judge.

But didn't I owe it to my mother's memory and dignity at least to try to bring this woman to justice? …

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