JERUSALEM, Israel – Against a backdrop of growing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Christians who are descendants of Nazis are asking forgiveness from Holocaust survivors, their descendants and the Jewish people; and this move is leading to a greater sense of unity.
Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum welcomed the Christians to the city. She told them, “I saw you all marching and it’s so heart-warming to see our city filled with lovers of Jerusalem. Thank you for being here!”
Christians from some 30 countries came up to Jerusalem for what they call “The March of the Nations.” They came to say, “From the Holocaust to new life, Shalu Shalom Yerushalayim – Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Hassan-Nahoum told CBN News, “The founders of this march are essentially descendants of Nazis, and you know, to have the human beings coming and saying something so awful happened, we’re going to spend our lives trying to correct and compensate for that; and to create a movement like that.”
Jobst Bittner, from Tubingen, Germany, is the founder and president of the March of Life. “I am from a city in which the university is where Nazi perpetrators – SS murderers – were educated and trained,” he explained. “And they were responsible for the death of 700,000 Jews, and that’s why we started really researching the history of our city.”
Bittner says German families usually don’t speak about their Nazi past.
“We discovered that only once we are willing to actually speak the truth about the past, we will be able to take responsibility both for the present and the future. And that’s why we decided to give that call into the nations and to call hundreds of thousands to the streets to raise their voices against anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews and for Israel,” he said.
Bittner, like many in the march, has a personal story.
He recalled, “My own father was an officer in the Wehrmacht (German army), and he was in France and in Northern Africa; and as an officer of the Wehrmacht, he shared in that responsibility for the deportation of Jews, for the murder of Jews, because everyone who was in the Wehrmacht shared that responsibility,”
Now he sees their responsibility is to stand with Israel, especially in times of crisis.
“United to be a light, and together with our Jewish friends, hand in hand, we want to walk and stand for Israel and that’s our theme: ‘united to be a light.'”
Heinz Reuss, the international director for the March of Life, said the past was revealed to them over time. “Many of us found out that our fathers, great-grandfathers, they were Nazis, they were part of the Shoah. They were concentration camp guards. They were part of the Wehrmacht,” he explained.
Reuss’ family shared a mixed past. While his Dutch great-grandmother hid Jews in her home, his German-Austrian great-grandfather took a different path.
“He was not a Nazi,” Reuss stated. “He was part of the Lutheran church and was not supporting Hitler. So, I thought, okay, everything was okay. But then I started to read his diaries and his letters, and what I found out is that…he withdrew from his Jewish friends at that time. So he didn’t speak up. He just didn’t want to have anything to do with that. And, that’s the problem, because at that time, people who knew better didn’t do anything.”
The march began as a movement of repentance.
“We realized that the same silence towards the Jewish people, it’s also in our own hearts.” He related that “in 2007, we learned that there were eight concentration camps around our little town of Tubingen in southern Germany. And there were death marches at the end of the war towards Dachau. And then we had …a word from the Lord to say, why not do a March of Life on these trails of the death march?”
They walked 300 kilometers, re-tracing the steps along those different routes for three days. The result was powerful.
“We had, reconciliation meetings in the middle of it, and beautiful encounters between the descendants of the Nazis and the Holocaust survivors and the descendants of Holocaust survivors,” Reuss said.
What they initially saw as a one-time event is now worldwide. Marches have been held in hundreds of cities in 25 countries. In the U.S., it is called the March of Remembrance.
Ahead of the Jerusalem event, Israeli President Isaac Herzog commended the group for its courage in facing their dark past. He wrote:
Your presence demonstrates unwavering moral support for our nation-state and its people, and the State of Israel welcomes you with open arms.”
Gerd Gekeler, a participant from Germany, noted, “I know that my, grandfathers were part of the army and they were – I don’t know much about it – but they were part of the system. And, so, I’ve learned that everybody who is part of the system has his part in it.” He added, “I was in Yad Vashem last week. And to see the dimension of that grief and that murder that was really hard; and I’m happy that I could be a part of this movement because I know, also in Germany, most people say it’s passed, it’s gone. But that’s not true. It’s part of our heritage.”
Susan Haueter took part in the march from Colombia. “I can take a stand for the past, the present, and the future with being part of the March of, (life in Spanish) in Espanol. I was three times, involved in organizing a march, in Colombia, in Bogota, (in the capital). Also, the Jewish community, the chief Rabbi of Colombia, is in favor of the march and just a few weeks ago, we had the fourth march, in Agua Sierra,” she said.
Nikolai Gagarkin, a participant from war-torn Kyiv, Ukraine, said, “We are praying for Israel. We are praying for the Jewish people in all countries, in the whole world.”
Global Zionist Movement leader, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, welcomed the marchers, saying he hoped to see many more visiting and standing with Israel for the future.
He also had an exhortation: “After the people of Israel came back home and established our state and established Jerusalem as our capital, now it’s the time that to raise the banner of God on the place that He chose in Zion. It’s time for the nations. Just like we – the Jewish people – took our destiny in our hands and came back home, now the nations have to stand up for Zion and make sure Zion is the House of Prayer for all Nations.”
In a powerful and emotional show of unity, the Jerusalem march and event participants sang the Aaronic Blessing from the Book of Numbers over Israel and the Jewish people.
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