I grew up in the middle of Germany in a small town from medieval times called “Felsberg,” which had cobblestone streets and even a castle on a hilltop. There was a bus stop in my town called “Kriegerdenkmal,” which literally means “warrior memorial.” The stop got its name from a big, impressive World War I memorial that had a large granite plate in its center. Engraved onto the plate are the names of the town’s sons who died in WWI between 1914 and 1918. There are 37 names altogether. Growing up I could recognize many of those names. They belonged to the families who still lived in my town.
But there were also names of families who no longer lived in my town. Growing up, I didn’t have a friend by the name Dannenberg; I didn’t play soccer with any Weinstein, or Hammerschlag, or Goldschmidt. Though families with these names had lived in my town for hundreds of years, they were no longer there. Only much later did I realize that these names belonged to Jewish families, who spoke the same German language, shared the same German culture, loved their German fatherland, and whose sons had died for Germany. But none of that protected them from the coming political storm.