Just after 9/11, in a little town not far from Frankfurt, Germany called Rotenkirchen, from where my maternal great grandfather had immigrated in 1848, we were being shown around by the daughter of the town's very long time Lutheran minister. She mentioned that as a girl right after WWII, she asked her father what had happened to all the Jews who were there before the war. His answer was: "I do not know. They just went away."
That prompted her to spend much of her life trying to track down those people who "just went away." Some close German friends from Hanover somehow found her, and asked her to show us the community where my mother's family roots began, in about 1850.
The Jewish cemetery was well out of town and thus had been spared destruction simply because the SS had never stumbled on it. It was amazing to read on headstones, virtually all still standing, familiar names such as Sondheim and Lehman.
It appeared to have been a Jewish community of educated, striving and upwardly mobile but oppressed people. Many of their descendants did well by their ancestors.
Few people are aware that the number of people who self-identify as Jews in America today is roughly the same as it was in 1900. Given normal patterns of population growth, that number would be much greater today, except for the exceptional assimilation process of Jews into the miasma of America.
A family that I know very well began with two Jewish parents, who had three children.
--One of those children married a non-Jew and they raised their four children in a secular fashion.
--One of those four children married a non-Jew and they raised their three children also in a secular way.
-- And one of those children also married a non-Jew who has two children. One of those children - who is, of course, 1/8 part Jew -- currently goes to a Synagogue day care school where she, at age 3 has become very aware and interested in the reasons for Jewish holidays. Told that her great grandfather is 100 percent Jewish, she insisted on seeing him on the VERY next holiday so she could tell him what she knows.
Is that little girl part of a cutting edge renaissance for Jews everywhere?
One of her great uncles, who attended a Catholic school years before, went to the Bar Mitzvah of another cousin - who was half Jewish with a Catholic name, because his father was a Spanish Catholic. The cousin with the Catholic name had met a rabbi who introduced him to Judaism and the structure of religion.
At the Bar Mitzvah of the Catholic cousin, the boy from the Catholic school crossed himself, as he had been duly taught when the rabbi said "Amen," The presiding rabbi visibly went into shock!
These pictures of scrambled religions and customs is another piece of evidence that may help partly explain "where they all went" after the holocaust and after changes that followed WWII.
The staying power of religion and beliefs transcends lots of secular developments and pressures. Those underlying truths are sharply illuminated in the glowing innocence of three-year-old minds.
The young people of today truly cannot comprehend what caused the WWII Holocaust because the rise of interpersonal religious tolerance may be driving out many forms of historical prejudice.
Perhaps we may begin to see even more tolerance in coming generations of political thought built on a new era of religious tolerance?