Experiences of a Jew backpacking through Germany

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A Jew backpacking through Germany

By Aryeh Katz

It was a cold, dreary winter Sunday in what was then called West Berlin. For a young, adventurous American backpacking through Europe, this was a "museum day". I had spent most of the day in a museum exhibiting photographs, posters, and other memorabilia from the Nazi era. The final part of the exhibit focused on the Holocaust and the destruction of Nazi Germany.

Up to this point, I knew little about the holocaust. Without a Jewish identity it didn't have that much meaning to me. I didn't consciously relate to the horrendous scenes I saw as being directed against my own people, my own family. Nevertheless, the exhibit was horrifying, and I left feeling deeply disturbed and shaken up. I kept wondering how people could possibly have so recently acted so cruelly and bestial towards other humans..

I wondered about the people I saw around me in the museum, and out on the street. Was this something they too were capable of? Had the older ones I was seeing been involved in these heinous acts? I rationalized that that the younger generation was surely different. The younger Germans I had met were good people, nothing like the ones in those exhibits.

After finishing the exhibit in the early afternoon, with nowhere in particular to go and a lot on my mind, I walked from the museum to a large park. I was feeling depressed by the cold-gray weather, and especially by the exhibit I had just seen. I couldn't seem to get it out of my mind. I walked alone across a large grassy expanse, lost in thought.

Suddenly, I felt a rush behind me. I quickly turned my head, and saw a huge and vicious-looking German shepherd dog bearing down on me at full speed! I immediately froze, fearing that any movement would likely trigger an attack. The dog skidded to a stop just inches from my chest. With his mouth at my throat, and eyes staring coldly into mine, the dog seemed to be daring me to blink, or make any kind of a move.

I was helpless. There was nothing to do but stand there as still as I could, and wait. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I heard a shout from off in the distance. The dog turned away from me, and obediently ran back in the direction of the shout. Relieved to finally catch my breath, I turned and saw a boy, who looked to be perhaps eleven or twelve years old, walking along about 200 meters to my right and behind me. He was saying something to his dog, presumably scolding it for what it had just done. My assumption was that the dog had misbehaved, and taken off after me on it's own, when it's owner wasn't looking. Now back under his masters control, I felt reassured there was nothing to be concerned about. Though shaken up a bit, I calmed back down, and continued on trudging across the park in my blue mood, thinking about the exhibit.

I walked for perhaps another 20 meters, when suddenly I heard the rush behind me again. In a split second the earlier scene repeated itself, with the dog in my face again, daring me to move. He seemed to be laughing at my situation, at my helplessness, as I stood there frozen, afraid to move.

Another eternity of infuriating powerlessness passed. The beast was holding me hostage and there was nothing I could do. Finally, the owner called back his dog again with a slightly annoyed and bored tone of voice. It was as if I was no more than some squirrel his dog had chased up a tree.

I was shaking uncontrollably. I felt chilled to the bone. I was furious. This was clearly no "accident" - the boy had sicked his dog on me. I wanted to run after him and give him a good shake, to give him a piece of my mind, but what could I do? Standing between us was that huge dog, and the last thing I wanted was to confront that beast again. The boy and the dog nonchalantly walked away in the other direction, perhaps looking for more interesting prey.


from theJanuary1999Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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