Standing in the square where Hitler delivered many of his speeches, Mr. Cheses pictured throngs of Nazis with swastikas over their hearts, raising their hands in salute. “It was hard for me to separate the Nazis of the past from the German pedestrians now walking through that same square,” Mr. Cheses said.
Mr. Cheses was part of a student deluegation sent to Germany by the Center for the Jewish Future to learn about contemporary attitudes in that country.
Like him, the 19 other students on the trip arrived with a tainted image of Germany, but found that the more they spoke with the students, teachers, politicians, and everyday people they met, the more that image began to fade.
“I saw Germany from a new perspective,” he said. “I could not blame the youth for what their grandparents chose to do, especially when they were sincerely attempting to establish a new Germany, marked by religious tolerance and compassion.”
The students traveled to Munich and Berlin, and visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the Holocaust Museum, and the Lauder Yeshiva, where the Yeshiva College students in the group learned with their local counterparts.
The YU delegation met with officials from the Ministry of Education for Bavaria, Klaus Schutz—the former German ambassador to Israel who was the mayor of East Berlin—and German-Jewish leaders and community members.
The Center for the Jewish Future organized the trip with Bridge of Understanding, which, since its inception in 1994, has brought more than 500 American Jews to Germany.
“We wanted students to discover modern-day Germany and learn about its Jewish history and political views towards Israel,” said Aliza Abrams, Presidential Fellow at the CJF and a Stern College for Women alumna, who helped coordinate the trip.
The center also explored ways to assist in strengthening Jewish life in Germany, Ms. Abrams said. All students on the trip have since volunteered to return to Germany to help its Jewish community.
“The trip put the past in perspective,” said Stern senior Yardanna Platt. “It was an intense examination of where Germany is now, in relation to its past, and how it is moving forward.”