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Justice Matters: A Response


This morning we posted a documentary about Psychologist Mona Weissmark‘s visit with the Germans that saved her father’s life. Below are excerpts from emails sent to Weissmark about the impact of the documentary. Emails have been edited to remove personal information (if you are the author of one of these notes and would like it removed please email me at blog(dot)us(at)oup(dot)com.) To learn more check out Weissmark’s book here.

Dear Mona,
…I must admit that as I’m typing this, things are blurred a bit because I teared up by the end of your story (I must admit that I bear the burden of Holocaust history through my parents as well. I also share some of it, since I was born in a DP camp in Munich after the war, and I still have memories of a poverty-filled immigrant’s life during our early years in this country.) What’s so important about the message you’re sending, particularly in a world that’s showing signs of increasing violent conflict, is that if humanity is not able to manage past injustices, then there’s little hope for achieving peaceful outcomes in the future. It’s an important lesson for Arabs and Jews, Sunnis and Shiites, devotees of the various world religions, and on and on.

I’m coping with these issues here…as well, examining how burgeoning media technology has affected the way people manage conflict, or attempt to achieve consensus…We have a fledgling Web site at www.csclm.org if you’re interested in seeing some of the things we’re doing…

Dear Mona,
Thanks…It was simple and very moving. Freeing oneself of paralyzing hatred, the revelations from engaging with the other, and emphasizing the fact that there are good, righteous people who feel compelled to rescue the victims of vicious oppression are central lessons that come through loud and clear. Congratulations.

Good Afternoon, Dr. Weissmark:
…Your story is poignant, particularly at a time when popular culture places a degree of hero worship not Justicematters
on character or ethical behavior but on materialism and hyped pseudo-news events that have little to do with the human prospect or the advancement of civilization. The choice of a black and white medium was a superb one; I thought your facial expressions, particularly when expressing your childhood disdain for the German people, were accentuated and quite powerful. But the blending of the black and white film with the black and white photos of a past era made quite an impact. I don’t think the effect would be lost on our young people, who are pulled to and fro by superficial cultural influences that attempt to overwhelm or gain their attention. In an era where the Digital Revolution encourages our young people of all nations to supercede national boundaries and ethnic hatreds, this film has a rightful place. The family that saved your father acted on principles of humanity greater than the artificial constraints of government, at the probable cost of their lives. Like Mona Golabek’s “Children of Willesden Lane” or Gerda Klein’s “All But My Life,” the film reminds all of us of the capacity of humanity to fight the enormous evil that other humans can create.

I am now very much anticipating reading your book, “Justice Matters.” Thank you for the introduction.

Dear Mona,
I am here in the early hours of the morning crying in front of my computer at the end of the movie you sent me. It is wonderful to be able to show the circle of “will to live” and “love” as a way to overcome violence and hatred. There are many parts of the film that makes it unique: your own personal story and struggle to keep your identity and overcome the hatred and the presence of real participants and witnesses of the holocaust. It is very special that one of the persons that saved your dad is a nun. It was very touching to see the movie because it speaks about the truth (for me) for the only hope for the survival of the human race, love and forgiveness, even renouncement (the daughter who cares for your father in spite of her risk of dying from his illness).

Dear Mona,

Thank you for sharing this documentary. It filled my eyes with tears and my heart with compassion for you and for the Seebass family…

oh my god – i’ve watched twice now and am overwhelmed with emotion – but i can’t see how connecting with those two jewels of humanity can make you say that you see the other side — they were the exceptions to the other side and it’s only by some super-human effort that you have managed to overcome your resentment and hatred of the German people. I’ve always told myself that today’s Germans are not the Nazis of the past – but in truth I find it hard to really believe that. Every now and then we see someone on television who says she/he forgives the person who murdered their child (or other loved one) and that they bear no animosity toward the murderer. To me that is saintly – Christ like – but it’s not me.

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  1. Mona Sue Weissmark

    It will not be long before there are no living voices left to speak to us of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I feel gratified to have it all recorded now, for generations to come.

    The film presents valuable documentation on my legacy of the Holocaust. A legacy that has two edges: one of hatred and bitterness, one of kindness and gratitude.

    I grew up without any relatives outside my immediate family, but it’s only when I was 7 that I understood why my family tree was little more than a stump. It was 1961, and my mother was watching coverage of the Eichmann trial from Jerusalem on TV. “He should be tortured and then killed,” my mother whispered, before explaining that the number on her arm was not their phone number but had been tattooed there at Auschwitz.

    She also told me that my father was a survivor of both Dachau and
    Langenstein-Zwieberge, a Buchenwald sub-camp, and that all other family members had been murdered by the Nazis.

    Later, when I was about 15, I heard another story, from my father, of a “nice German pastor who saved my life.”

    In April 1945, weeks before VE Day, the SS were rounding up all the prisoners in Langenstein-Zwieberge, with the intention of taking them to a nearby mine to shoot them. My father Adolf Weissmark and his friend managed to escape and reach the nearby village of Bornecke. There, starving, covered in lice and ill with typhus and dysentery, they collapsed on the door of Pastor Julius Seebass. The pastor’s wife and his daughters, Renate and Ricarda, bathed and clothed the two fugitives and nursed them back to health, and they remained with the family for several months, until they could immigrate to America. Ricarda who had contracted typhus –probably from my father — died the following January, and soon after Renate moved to England, where she became an Anglican nun.

    I never discussed the rescue or Ricarda’s death again with my father, and buried the memory deep inside me for more than 30 years. I held fast to the view that all Germans were accountable for the Holocaust. There was no room it for a guiltless German or a kind German girl who sacrificed her life to save my father’s.

    It is only when I was writing my book “Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II” that the memory of the Seebass’ kindness resurfaced and forced me to re-examine my feelings. After months of soul searching — and Internet research by my husband — I succeeded in tracing the pastor’s surviving daughter to the Convent of the Holy Name, in Derby, England. And I succeeded in tracing the pastor’s two sons, one who is himself a pastor to Germany, and the other son a professor of music to Germany.

    Now more than 60 years later, I managed to have the Seebass family awarded the Yad Vashem “Righteous Among the Nations” title for saving my father’s life in April 1945. The recognition represents a long time in coming. And the route has been circuitous, involving as it does my identity, my family’s history, my Holocaust legacy, and how I came to view it.

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