A Letter to the Memory of My Father as I Stand in the Leipzig Zoo

Vickie and I are standing (R) next to the wonderful Kinder-und Jugendchor of St. Nikolai Lutheran Church in Flensburg after the Kristallnacht commemoration in their magnificent sanctuary that was completed in 1480.. Pastor Thomas Bornemann is on the left.
Vickie and I are standing (R) next to the wonderful Kinder-und Jugendchor of St. Nikolai Lutheran Church in Flensburg after the Kristallnacht commemoration in their magnificent sanctuary that was completed in 1480.. Pastor Thomas Bornemann is on the left with Choirmaster Gerold Jensen and Translator Barbara Winkler behind him.

The Union for Reform Judaism has published the letter I wrote to the memory of my father and read last year in the Leipzig Zoo on Kristallnacht.  This year I accepted the invitation to present it at the Kristallnacht commemoration of the Kirchengemeinde St. Nikolai in Flensburg. Vickie also spoke during the service about her mother’s journey from Breslau to Spain, to Switzerland, to New York and eventually to Los Angeles and San Francisco. She was wonderful!

The music featuring famous Yiddish songs and “Jerusalem of Gold” provided by the Kinder-und Judendchor under the direction of Gerald Jensen and the organist, Michael Mages was absolutely amazing.

I am especially grateful to Pastor Thomas Bornemann  for the care and devotion which went into the planning of the commemoration and to Barbar Winkler who read a German translation of my letter after I shared the text found in English below.

Is this the place? Is this where they took you, my precious father, on that horrible night?

Is this the place where they spit on you, cursed you, threw mud on you, and reviled you for the crime of being a Jew?

I am so thankful, my father, that you made it out of Kristallnacht – and out of Germany – alive. I am thankful that Uncle Allie and Uncle Morris, who spent the best years of their lives in this city, could get you out and bring you to New York. I am thankful that you met my mother and that my sister and I could be born. I am thankful that you raised us as proud Jews, and I hope you are proud that I am standing here today.

But I cannot be sure.

I cannot be sure because you never, ever spoke to me of the night I have come to this place to commemorate.

You spared me the trauma that – as I now know – scarred you. But I thank you, for though you were scarred, you persevered, you and Mother created a warm, loving Jewish home for Rochelle and me.

You taught us of our ancestor, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, the first Orthodox rabbi to encourage Jews to settle in the Land of Israel in fulfillment of their sacred Covenant with God.

You taught us of your father, Hirsch Wolf Fuchs, who was murdered at the beginning of World War I, leaving you as a baby to grow up without a father to teach you the things only a father can teach.

But we were blessed to have you.

You told me one story that I recall now: When you were born, your parents named you Leo Eliezer Fuchs. Eliezer means “God is my help,” but the German government – even in 1913 – informed your parents that Eliezer was not an acceptable name for a German boy, and so you became Leo Elias Fuchs.

Your silent protest was to never – ever – use your middle name. It was a subtle protest, but it was not lost on me, and so when your oldest grandson came into the world, my wife Victoria and I proudly named him Leo Eliezer Fuchs in your memory.

I am here today with Vickie, whom you would have adored, but you never got to meet her. As we stand in this place today, I fight back tears – but I did not come here only to weep.

Today, my precious father, we have come to a different Germany than the one you left, in the words of the Prophet Zechariah, like, “a brand plucked from the fire!” (Zechariah 3:2)

Yes, Dad, Vickie and I have come to a Germany that is very different.

We have come to Germany as welcome guests in the home of German pastors who have planned for months to make our visit comfortable and productive.

We have come to a Germany where anti-Semitic speech and actions are forbidden.

We have come to a Germany where rabbis, cantors, and Jewish professionals from all Europe learn and train at government expense.

We have come to a Germany that has paid billions in reparations to Israel and to families like ours, whose members suffered the ravages of the Shoah.

To this land of those who perpetrated the greatest horror that I can imagine, I come to say: Remember!

And indeed, I shall remember.

I shall remember the horror as long as there is breath in my body, and my children – and, I pray, my grandchildren and those who come after – will remember as well.

But I also forgive.

I forgive because Germany has asked for forgiveness so many times and in so many ways. I forgive because of all that Germany has done to repent the horror of the Nazi era.

I forgive.

Speaking for myself and my family alone (for that is as far as my influence extends),

I feel called to say, as God said to the children of Israel long ago, “I forgive as you have asked!” (Numbers 14:20)

I accept their teshuvah, their repentance. I forgive, and I join hands with all who stand with us here and with all of those around the world who commemorate this day, seared into memory.

I also pledge – and I ask others to pledge with me – to use whatever talents God has given us to bring nearer the time when the world will become the place of which the prophets dreamed, a place when all will live in peace, a place where everyone will sit under his vine and fig tree with none to make us afraid.

6 thoughts on “A Letter to the Memory of My Father as I Stand in the Leipzig Zoo

  1. My comment could not do justice to such a profound communication. I can only say, with tears in my eyes, thank you Steve, who has always been, continues to be and will always be, Donna’s, Kenny’s and my Rabbi.


  2. I am really enjoying the process of reading about your wonderful journey through Germany and learning about the knowledge and experiences you are sharing. You and Vickie are doing meaningful and important work; it is inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marion, it means so much to me that you are finding meaning in the things I have been writing. I felt so connected to you when we worked together at Temple Isaiah, and your comments on what I write are helping me to feel that connection again.


  3. I will always remember the Kristallnacht family service you led at Congregation Beth Israel, and your description of your father’s experience at the Leipzig Zoo.
    Best wishes to you and Vickie on your journey

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much, Bonni! It is not easy to relive these moments, but I am glad people find it meaningful to people like you when I do.It is so nice to hear from you!


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