“There’s Nazis here. Lots of them,” said Vladimir, a Jew living in Munich originally from Russia, whom I met on Saturday morning January 18, 2014 after Shabbat services at the Jewish community synagogue in Munich.
I was in Munich over Shabbat after missing my flight to Israel on Friday morning January 17, 2014, and since I don’t fly on Shabbat, I now wasn’t leaving Munich until Sunday morning.
Ohel Jacob synagogue-named after the former Ohel Jakob synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak
I asked Vladimir his last name.
“Putin. Vladimir Putin,” he said with a half-smile. “But really there are still Nazis here.”
His friend Moshe, a European Jew who is an art dealer who regularly travels to Munich and now lives in Israel, looked me in the eye, and said, “Vladimir, you shouldn’t say that. He paused, and looked at me again, “Well maybe you are right Vladimir, there are still a few Nazis here.”
It was only later after a Kiddush and Shabbat lunch as we walked down a main street in Munich where tens of thousands of people had once come to hear Adolf Hitler speak that Moshe said. “The truth is there are still plenty of Nazis here. A couple of times I have walked into a pub and seen a Nazi insignia, and realized that the old Nazis are meeting down in the cellar.” These would be occasions where the Nazis could reminisce about the good old days.
The synagogue next to the Jewish Museum in Munich and the Jewish community centre. The Jewish day school which goes up to grade 8 is located in the community centre.
Only seven Jews from Munich survived the Holocaust, and today the some 10,000 Jews are originally from Poland and Russia. The Jewish community centre is run as an orthodox institution as is the beautiful main synagogue, which is designed to be reminiscent of Jerusalem. The synagogue is built in such a way that no one from the outside can see in–the windows are all very high as if the synagogue opens onto the heavens. The only way to get into the synagogue even on Shabbat is through the security desk in the adjoining community centre, (and the security is like airport security). After passing security (where a copy of my passport was taken), one goes through a tunnel past a memorial wall of names of all the Jews from Munich who perished in the Holocaust, and the tunnel then leads to the synagogue upstairs.
An orthodox man told me there are two other ultra-orthodox synagogues in Munich and a “liberal synagogue, with maybe 60-70 members.” After every Shabbat service and lunch at the main synagogue there are two classes for congregants, “one in German and one in Russian.”
Being a witness to this Shabbat service at the main synagogue in Munich was uplifting–in fact it was the only thing that calmed me somewhat since the day before I had gone alone to see the Dachau concentration camp, my first experience seeing a camp. There in Dachau I thought for a moment that I would faint when I realized I had walked into the shower room which was in reality the gas chambers. I was haunted by my day in Dachau, where the rain poured down like tears from heaven, leaving me chilled and emotionally exhausted, but unable to sleep. It was only hearing the sweet renditions of the ancient Hebrew prayers of the Jewish people sung that morning by about 150 congregants in the Munich synagogue, led by a choir of ten men, that I began to recover from the experience of Dachau the day before. And a tear came to my eye as I began thinking that the fact that there is any Jewish life whatsoever in Munich after the ravages of the Holocaust is nothing short of a miracle.
Women’s Showers (Gas Chambers), Dachau concentration camp
Photo by Rhonda Spivak
After Shabbat lunch in the community centre, just before we left to go outside Moshe had taken off his kippah and put on a cap. “You never know,” he said. He felt more comfortable not wearing a kippah outside, and being a visible Jew. “It’s easier just to put on a cap.”
As we walked in downtown in Munich, past the many Churches and the gold sculpture of Mary and Baby Jesus in the Marianplatz, Moshe explained that he was an art dealer. I told Moshe that I had been reading a lot about Nazi looted art, and read a report in YNET news that an art historian had found two art works stolen by the Nazis inside Germany’s parliament, in a new embarrassment for authorities after a huge stash of looted art came to light last month.
“Where art is involved, it’s all about money,” Moshe said.
Moshe asked if had ever heard of a German artist Christian Schad, an artist with whom I was not familiar.
“I have a painting of his” Moshe explained, noting that he himself had bought it years ago from a Holocaust survivor, and could prove where Schad painted it.
“Schad ‘s father was a wealthy lawyer who supported Schad for much of his life,” he noted. Schad was married and then separated in 1927.
In 1937 the Nazis included Schad in Great German Art, their antidote to the Degenerate Art show.
Moshe explained that he suspected Schad was gay, but Hitler had not realized this. One of his overtly sexual paintings in 1929 was “Loving Boys,” (http://www.johncoulthart.com/ feuilleton/2011/04/26/loving- boys-by-christian-schad/ ), although others suggest that Schad was not gay. There are also suggestions that Schad was horrified by the Nazis, but may not have been condemned by them since he was not a commercial success.
Moshe added that because he was Jewish he did not think he could sell the painting without the assistance of a German art dealer.
“I will need a German involved and will have to share half of any profit,” he said.
“I am not one of them, and no one here will buy it directly from me.”
This article is the second in a series of articles I will write about my recent trip to Munich, Salzberg, and Vienna.