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    They kicked me out

    The second of the three sections of the Rosh HaShanah Musaf says that on this day, sentence is pronounced upon countries.

    Dr Samuel Billigheimer z"l

    Dr Samuel Billigheimer z”l

    When I say these words I think of Germany and my teacher, Professor Samuel Billigheimer, who influenced much of my life and thinking.

    His expositions were sometimes over my head, but nothing could prevent me coming to him and trying to understand. Even now, many decades later, I still remember and quote what I heard from him, though I puzzle over some of his sayings.

    He was one of the products of pre-war German Jewry, a poet, philosopher and teacher whose life changed forever with the advent of Nazism. Released from a concentration camp, he left Germany with his wife and sons (and his library) and recommenced life in Australia.

    After the war he decided to accept an honour from the German government, but he would not travel to Europe to be invested with his award. He said, “They kicked me out. I’ll never go back.”

    I still often think of those words, “They kicked me out”. It happened to so many German Jews. Their dedication to Germany – even fighting in the German army – was brushed aside. German Jewry was systematically destroyed. So much was owed to the Jews by German culture, science, philosophy, law, commerce and even sport – but they kicked the Jews out.

    Hermann Cohen, who knew that German Jews had political problems, thought the Jewish and the German spirit were companions. But as Nahum Glatzer pointed out, “The layer of humanity in Central Europe must have been pretty thin if the Holocaust could have taken place”.

    Yes, the financial, political and social aftermath of the Great War encouraged antisemitism. But how could a nation stigmatise, sacrifice and expel some of its best citizens? If it can happen in Germany, can it happen elsewhere?

    Professor Billigheimer never found the answer. I fear that I have.

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