The descendants of Nazis who became Jews

The Guardian today had this feature on descendants of Nazis, including a shirt-tail relative of Adolf Hitler, who became Jews, and in one case a rabbi, supposedly to cleanse themselves of the sins of their fathers. Naturally, this aspect of their conversions is what was focussed on:

I walk through the Old City, pondering my encounter with this strange, kindly man. Something seems to be missing from his story. To stand in front of a rabbi whose father was in the SS and to hear he became a Jew because he doubted the Trinity is absurd. So I telephone Dan Bar-On, a professor of psychology at Ben Gurion University, and a world expert on the psychology of the children of perpetrators. He tells me, flatly, pitilessly: “The motive of the converts is to join the community of the victims. If you become part of the victim community, you get rid of the burden of being part of the perpetrator community.” He interviewed Shear-Yashuv for his book Legacy of Silence. “For me,” he says, “Shear-Yashuv [a rabbi whose father was in the Waffen-SS but has himself served in the Israeli army] represents a person who ran away from the past.”

Speaking as one who has been through a religious conversion myself, I cannot accept that everyone who converted in such circumstances must have done so solely out of guilt for their parents’ actions. Such a motive of disgust for the behaviour of one’s own people and perhaps the sense of disgust at being expected to collude in it or excuse it later may contribute to starting one’s journey, but that does not necessarily mean that conversion itself has an ulterior motive. I cannot speak for any of these individuals, but this article seems to be generalising about the motives of these people and everyone else. It is, of course, quite likely that someone who is unconvinced by the Trinity seeks another religion, whether one’s father was a Nazi war criminal or anyone else; Tanya Gold’s contact, one Dan Bar-On, a professor of psychology at Ben Gurion University in Tel Aviv, dismisses the converts’ “obsessive” talk of the Trinity as their way of rationalising a desire to “join the community of the victim”.

The article does briefly touch on the curious choice of Israel as an emigration destination for ex-German Jews disgusted by their parents’ or grandparents’ actions. It is noted that one emigrant and convert appears to regret her decision as immaturity, and professes shock at the racism she encountered towards the Arabs; she now monitors Israeli soldiers’ behaviour at checkpoints. Another interviewee, a supposed descendent of Hitler’s brother Alois (junior), but who is in fact descended from a woman his illegitimate son married, calls his Israeli son a fascist because of his attitude towards the Arabs.

I am not saying I regard the Israelis as no better than the Nazis - their attitudes and behaviours are more typical of those of white colonials dealing with natives than of Nazis - but it does seem odd that people traumatised by associations with racially-motivated atrocities should think that moving there, of all places, and assisting the Jews in oppressing another people and sharing their contempt for them should serve as some sort of expiation.

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