Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Visiting German Historic Sites with Two Coptic Christians from Cairo

The Altar at the Cathedral in Worms where Martin Luther 
was tried for heresy nearly 500 years ago.

When Cliff and I visited the first Concentration Camp, the Cathedral at Worms and the Jewish Cemetery, a young couple from Cairo joined us. Mariam and Sameh are Coptic Christians. Sameh is a gastric surgeon. Mariam is pursuing a Ph.D in math education. They were staying in a guest house at Canaan also. Mariam had visited Canaan several times before, but this was Sameh's first visit.
The Cathedral in Worms.

On the long drive to Worms Mariam told us about their life in Cairo, their Church community and the work they do. They love their home and their community, but the longer they talked the more thankful I was to hear that they have skills that transfer well to other cultures, up-to-date passports and no kids.  They said things that eerily reminded me of things I read about victims of the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing who could not quite believe the worst could happen to them, and that their neighbors could be complicit.

After a while I asked, "Do you worry about living under an Islamic dictator in a country that is home to the Muslim Brotherhood?" Mariam said she tried to put the danger out of her mind and continue her work and studies, but that the recent bombing of a Church not far from theirs she could not ignore. A very close friend lost her mother in the blast and many friends.

As we walked around the city near the cathedral, Sameh told me about how he came to specialize in gastric surgery. Mariam was quite animated about her future work teaching math. I was happy to hear they saw the future so brightly, but I could not shake the foreboding I felt thinking about their future in Egypt.

They left Canaan two days later, the morning Cliff and Dmitri and I went to visit the former East-West German border in Fulda. At one point I was telling Cliff and Dmitri about my admiration for Ariel Sharon as a tank commander in the '73 Arab-Israeli War. Cliff said, "It's a good thing we didn't come here with Mariam and Sameh. They have a different view of that war than you do." Of course, he was right. They are Egyptians. They are real patriots, working to make their country better, so they think the '73 War was a tragedy in the same way I see it as a great victory.

In "Survival in Auschwitz" Primo Levi describes an inmate who earned the Iron Cross for gallantry under fire in World War I, but was killed in Auschwitz. He was a patriot. I so hope I am wrong and Mariam and Sameh have a wonderful life in the city they love. In a way, I will be like the families of soldiers back home. Families who saw a bombing in Mosul on the news were worried their soldier was injured, even if the soldier they love was hundreds of miles away. When terror against Coptic Christians is in the news, I will be thinking of Sameh and Mariam.

The First Nazi Concentration Camp and the Oldest Jewish Cemetery in Europe

The very ordinary look of mass murder. This small industrial building in 
Hesse was the very first site of slaughter in the Nazi regime, in operation the month after Hitler took power.

In the state of Hesse, I visited the first concentration camp of the new Nazi regime. It was a pair of industrial buildings near a railroad track in a small town. The state of Hesse authorized the site in anticipation of Hitler's need for prison facilities for enemies of the Reich.

Hitler took power in January and the next month Hesse provided the first Concentration Camp. Soon it was a jail for communists, journalists and other enemies of the regime, and, of course, Jews.
"One People, One Nation, One Leader" 

But the facility is an illustration of how authoritarian regimes commit greater and greater outrages--those who want to impress the leader find ways to anticipate his needs. Eight years later, the SS would industrialize the transport and murder of Jews in Auschwitz and other camps. The subordinates, anticipating the Hitler's desires, found a way to kill on a much greater scale than the Nazi leadership thought possible.
The little camp in the state of Hesse was the site of the torture and death of small numbers relative to Auschwitz, but it anticipated Hitler's desire to imprison and kill his enemies out of sight of the population. In that, this facility is sadly significant.

Later in the same day, we visited Worms where Luther was put on trial for heresy nearly five centuries ago.  Not far from the great cathedral is a small Jewish cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, nearly one thousand years old.  Berlin ordered the cemetery destroyed, but the Mayor of Worms resisted. He did not openly defy Berlin, but as one bureaucrat to another, he continually was faced with other priorities. He said he would comply when questioned, but then another emergency would present itself. In a country that was being bombed and then faced Soviet invasion, there was always an emergency and the cemetery still stands today.

The Mayor, instead of anticipating the demands of the tyrant, stood for civilization against barbarism.  Tyrants are always barbarians, whether they wear suits or animal skins. And even when they have the pretense of supporting civilization, the barbarism becomes the center of what they do. Every tyrant is self-seeking scum who will eventually destroy his own nation through greed and arrogance.

Admiration of other dictators and strong men is an infallible sign that the leader wants to be a tyrant even if he has not yet shown his hand.

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