Engaging in exchange

“A transformative experience”

Germany Close Up – North American Jews Meet Modern Germany offers an opportunity to experience the many facets of Germany. This transatlantic programme is aimed at Jewish students and young professionals from North America.

Issue 1 | 2022

Text: Christina Pfänder

What is life in Germany like for Jews today? How does the country deal with the darkest chapter in its history – the Second World War and the Holocaust? Germany Close Up – North American Jews Meet Modern Germany, a programme that the DAAD has been responsible for since March 2021, gives insights into Germany’s culture of remembrance, as well as into topical issues relating to culture and politics. In co­operation with Jewish partner organisations in North America, the programme arranges an excursion of around ten days to Berlin and other German cities. Jewish students and young professionals aged 18 to 39 who have US or Canadian citizenship are eligible to take part.

“What is special about Germany Close Up is that most groups come to Germany with a certain reticence”, says Programme Director Kathleen Gransow. “Considerable reservations about Germany still exist within the Jewish communities of the USA and Canada, reservations that are shaped to a large extent by the ex­periences of war and the Holocaust.” She adds that things are gradually changing now, however, and that opinions are becoming more diverse. “While some still carry this scepticism around with them and basically do not want any kind of relationship with Germany, others now view the country as a ­pioneer in the fight against anti-Semitism within the European Union.”

By including visits to a former concentration camp, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the excursion delves deeply into the Holocaust and the Nazi era. Other activities showcase the reunited and modern Germany – and bring about a lively dialogue with representatives of academia, politics and the Jewish community. “We do not paint any specific picture of Germany but rather encourage participants to arrive at their own personal opinions through their encounters and experiences”, Gransow says.

“I was very pleased by the many discussions we had, especially with the tour guides. It was interesting to see how people live and handle everyday things.”

Igor Rozenblyum

In October 2021, a group of young Jews visited Germany with Germany Close Up again for the first time since the programme had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. In co­operation with the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations (COJECO), 18 US citizens who have roots in the countries of the former Soviet ­Union travelled to Berlin and Frankfurt am Main. “Many of them emigrated to the US as children or ­adolescents during the 1990s, or were born there shortly after their ­parents arrived”, explains Gransow. “Among their ancestors are not only Holocaust ­survivors but in many cases also Red Army soldiers.” One of the guests was Igor Rozenblyum, who was born in Ukraine and has been living in Brooklyn, New York for 22 years. “I was curious about modern-day ­Germany and wanted to see what its attitude is to Jews from the former Soviet countries and ­Israel”, he says. “I was very pleased by the many discussions we had, especially with the tour guides. It was interesting to see how people live and handle everyday things.”

What impressed Rozenblyum particularly about the excursion’s diverse programme was the focus on the subjects of war and persecution. “The visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp stressed me psychologically, though I did not feel what I had expected to feel”, he recounts. He did feel a deep sense of connection at the Gleis 17 memorial in Berlin, on the other hand: this central memorial site at the city’s Grunewald station remembers those Jewish citizens who were deported by train.

Intensive discussions, room for criticism and an openness to opposing views and questions: “By the end, numerous participants describe the excursion as a transformative experience”, explains Gransow. “Some are keen to persuade their families to travel to Germany too, while others decide for example to study at a German university – that is a great endorsement for us.” Rozenblyum also wants to return to Germany and visit other cities. “I really liked the country, especially its numerous programmes that educate people about the Second World War”, he says. “In my view, Germany does a great deal to ensure that history never repeats itself.” —